Blood Batteries: Liberals Green Colonialism Exploiting the African Poor

Posted on Saturday, August 12, 2023
by Ben Solis

AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis

African child labor for cobalt batteries

As President Joe Biden and his Democrat allies rush to force every American into an electric vehicle, the resulting surge in demand for cobalt and other rare earth minerals used in battery making has brought suffering and tragedy to some of the poorest countries on earth.

During international meetings in Rome last month, African leaders warned that the West’s strategy for combatting “climate change” by building an ever-larger fleet of EVs is both undercutting their supposed concern for the environment and destroying the lives of entire communities. Specifically, mining operations for minerals like nickel, lithium, cobalt, and copper are poisoning the air and water sources, while women and children as young as six years old toil long hours in unsafe conditions.

The catastrophic effects of these mining operations can be observed most acutely in Western and Central Africa, particularly the Democratic Republic Of Congo (DRC) where families are fleeing insecurity and danger. The DRC supplied nearly 75 percent of the world’s cobalt in 2021, and it is estimated that up to 40,000 children under 15 work in the mines.

While the DRC is among the poorest countries in the world in terms of average household income, it is one of the richest in terms of natural resources, including large reserves of oil, natural gas, gold, and diamonds. Three quarters of the world’s silver, valued at $4.44 billion, is mined in the DRC each year.

But many of those mining operations have now given way to copper, lead, and cobalt – the life force of the left’s “green revolution.” The International Energy Agency estimates explosive growth in worldwide demand for cobalt in the coming years, largely driven by government-subsidized growth in the EV market. A typical electric car battery needs around 30 pounds of cobalt – now referred to as “blue gold” in the mining industry.

While mining companies in developed nations today have a long list of safety precautions they must comply with and minimum wage requirements, no such protections exist in the third world countries where the vast majority of cobalt and rare earth minerals are extracted.

A new book released earlier this year from Siddharth Kara, a senior fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, entitled Cobalt Red, reveals just how horrid the conditions are that many of these miners are suffering through.

According to Kara, at least 30 percent of cobalt miners in the DRC are “artisanal” – a polite term for laborers who perform extremely dangerous work for the equivalent of just a few dollars a day. Many own no tools and dig with their bare hands, often contracting severe illness in the wet and filthy conditions.

As a heavy metal, cobalt is toxic to touch and breathe. Yet entire villages work in mines surrounded by a haze of cobalt dust. Mothers toil with young children strapped to their backs. Birth defects have skyrocketed.

Mining for other metals like lead is similarly dangerous. According to Kara, the EPA advises a maximum safe limit of 40 micrograms of lead per square foot inside homes, but in Congo’s “copper belt,” homes average 170 micrograms. These elevated levels can have severe effects on the human nerve and digestive systems, as well as fertility. In children, lead poisoning can lead to irreversible developmental issues.

Even people who are not involved in mining directly but live close to the mining areas have been found to have very high concentrations of heavy metals in their systems. The water sources are all likewise contaminated, and even wildlife such as fish and chickens show abnormally high levels of cobalt and lead.

The miners, meanwhile, earn 11 cents per kilogram of cobalt ore. On a good day, a miner might be able to extract 40 kilograms. One local villager told Kara that although everyone dug, no one became rich: “We do not earn enough to meet our needs.”

Many commentators have referred to these conditions as “medieval,” but that is not exactly accurate. While medieval life was undoubtedly difficult, societies in the Middle Ages also embraced serving the poor, the sick, and orphans, often through the institutions of the mutual aid and social care societies of the Catholic Church.

But no such protections exist in the DRC, and Christians are persecuted there (the DRC regularly makes the Open Doors list of the most dangerous countries in the world for Christians).

Many locals have explicitly called the situation in the DRC modern colonialism, and have compared their lives to those of slaves. Indeed, most of the mining operations in the DRC are controlled by foreign firms – primarily from China, which has made major claims in mineral extraction in Africa.

But while the West has been eager to denounce Chinese human rights abuses in China, the liberal green agenda is now by default hopelessly reliant on Chinese mining operations in other parts of the world.

In some cases, the links between Western leaders and exploitative mining operations are even more direct. As The New York Times reported in 2021, Hunter Biden once helped a Chinese company acquire ownership of one of the world’s richest cobalt mines in the DRC while his father was vice president. Amid new revelations that Joe Biden sat in on at least 20 business calls with his son while vice president, it’s worth asking whether or not the older Biden was involved in this deal as well.

Western liberals have made a virtual cottage industry out of bemoaning the abuses seen during the era of colonization. But now, their climate change obsession is creating a new and in some ways far worse version of it.

Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, and researcher.

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