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Clean Energy, Not Dirty Mining

Earthworks supports the transition to a 100% renewable energy economy that no longer depends on fossil fuels—an essential shift to avoid climate catastrophe.

Solar, wind power, and battery technologies are competitive and growing rapidly, while their costs continue to fall. But the lifecycle of this technology begins with industrial mining for minerals and generates toxic waste, often violates human rights through displacement, conflict and lack of consultation, pollutes freshwater, and threatens ocean health through the risky practice of mine waste dumping and deep-sea mining.

Without proactive steps, the pace and scale of the transition to renewables will cause significant collateral damage to people and the environment as a result of destructive mining.

Skyrocketing Mineral Demand

Renewable energy and battery production rely on minerals such as cobalt, nickel, lithium and copper. Demand for these minerals is skyrocketing.

Mining is Getting Dirtier and Riskier

Mineral extraction already brings devastating harm to people and the environment, fueling human rights violations, water pollution and wildlife and forest destruction. Metals mining is the leading industrial polluter in the United States, and contributes 10% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, according to the UN Environment Programme. Rising minerals demand means human and environmental costs of mineral extraction are likely to rise steeply as well. 

Battery Metals are of Greatest Concern

Lithium, cobalt and nickel–key minerals used to make the lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles (EVs)–are of principal concern. The skyrocketing demand for these minerals is driving the expansion of mining in geographic “hotspots” throughout the world – even to the depths of the ocean – with disproportionately negative impacts in the Global South.

Making Clean Energy Clean, Just & Equitable

Renewable energy innovation must be accompanied by innovation in the way we obtain and use minerals. Only then will clean energy be truly clean. To avoid the mistakes of the past, a responsible materials transition must accompany the renewable energy transition. We have an opportunity, if we act now, to ensure that our emerging clean energy system moves away from its dependence on dirty mining. We can meet our climate goals while also protecting community health, water, human rights and the environment. 

In solidarity with workers and communities around the world, we demand:

  • Ensure that the minerals in electric vehicle (EV) batteries are sourced responsibly. Recycling can offset much of the demand, reducing the need for new mining;
  • Require better battery design that allows for easy reuse and recycling of minerals;
  • Enact stringent, independent environmental and human rights standards for mining that require consent from fully-informed local communities;
  • Drive transformations in energy consumption and transportation, including investments in electric-powered public transit to help decrease demand for private passenger vehicles.

Additional Resources:

Circular economy fact sheet

Making Clean Energy Clean one-pager