Moral Choices Posed on Environmental & Human Costs of Electric Vehicles

Two readers have offered a much more expansive view on the wave of electric cars, solar batteries and daunting, unintended consequences. The news ain’t good. Plus news from Retake Leadership retreat.

In Brief

Saturday, August 3, 12:30-2:30pm, EarthCare and the Youth United for Climate Crisis Action, Center for Progress & Justice, 1420 Cerrillos Rd. are holding a planning meeting to prepare for the September 20 General Strike. Their last meeting was jammed with people and enthusiasm. Find out how this youth-led coalition is injecting clarity and urgency into local climate crisis action.

Retake Our Democracy: Critical Organizing Meeting, Tuesday, August 6, 6:30-8:30pm, 1420 Cerrillos Rd., Santa Fe.

Retake leadership met in a full day retreat on Tuesday and it is beyond encouraging to see a group of ten committed volunteers cohere around a clear vision and plan for the future of Retake. At the beginning of the retreat each person was asked: “Why do you commit time to Retake?” The responses and a goodly part of what we discussed throughout the day was that in these increasingly challenging times, there is great value not just in having an avenue within which to express your activism, but also the critical value of forming friendships based upon a common goal, a shared ideology and creating an advocacy “home.”

Over the past 2 1/2 years many of you have come to a Retake meeting or two. We want to invite you to consider coming home to Retake next Tuesday. Let’s advance our values and priorities while forming a sustainable organization and community.

We now have a formalized structure with four Action Teams offering you ways to become more involved on a sustained basis. And while we want you to come to our meeting to help us build an advocacy home, we also now can integrate you into the work no matter where you live.

At the retreat we clarified how Action Teams will function and examined how we can work with YOU to help build a sustainable organization, how we can grow new leadership, and how we can grow an advocate community. We will share some of our long-term plans in the first 30 minutes of the meeting and then break out into Action Teams. Can’t make it, we have contact info below, so you can get involved.

  • Media & Marketing. We are looking for people who want to write letters to the editor and op-eds on a rotating list of critical issues. Interested? Contact Joyce Begosian at
  • Outreach & Organizing. Are you livid that our Senate failed to decriminalize abortion? Our Outreach & Organizing Team is reaching out to advocates in all eight Senate Districts represented by one of the eight Senators who voted no on HB 51. We are organizing in those districts to make sure abortion decrim passes in 2020. Interested? Contact Sandy Dransfield at
  • Research. Do you want to use your thinking and research skills to prepare white papers on making a just transition in New Mexico? Or on the economic benefits of investing in early childhood? Or exposing the false narrative projected by pro-lifers and the NRA? Interested? Contact Katie Bruell at
  • Climate -Environmental Action. Methane capture? Chaco protection? Transition to renewable? Fracking regulations? Holtec? Chromium plume? Our Climate-Environment Action team is forming to monitor how NM commissions and departments protect our planet. The team will collaborate with the Research Team to develop positions in relation to these and other issues and then funnel information to Roxanne and I to encourage written comment or hearing attendance. Interested? Contact Sharon Shoemaker at

Revision to Report Card. Over the past two days, we have been contacted by a handful of allies who were concerned that by being listed in the Report Card, it might be inferred that they had in some way contributed to or approve all of its contents. Their fear is that as 501-c-3s they can’t make the kinds of claims found throughout the Report Card. To accommodate the concerns of our allies, the list of Retake Our Democracy’s allies was removed in a July  31, 2019 revision of the Report Card. FYI–restrictions on what a 501-c-3 organization can and can’t report is precisely why Retake has chosen to be a 501-c-4 which has far more latitude in what it can say and do.

To be clear, none of our allies participated in the writing of this report, nor do they necessarily support all the views stated in this report. We consulted with allies to learn about their work during Roundhouse sessions and to get their input on legislation of shared interest. We also relied on allies, as experts in their respective advocacy areas, to help us develop speaking points to advocate for the issues they support and to gather information about the status of legislation as it moved through the session. In case you haven’t read the 2019 Legislative Report Card, click here. It has received a good deal of praise for getting behind the scenes at the Roundhouse and disclosing how legislation becomes law and how bills are killed without discussion or votes. Check it out.

Readers Add Much More to Post About Electric Cars

Tuesday’s post, Are Electric Cars a Solution to the Climate Crisis? discussed the environmental and human rights costs involved in the supply chain for renewable energy battery storage. Since its publication, we’ve had two very thoughtful reader comments on that blog. We also received an email posing concerns about the post as from his view, if we don’t go full speed ahead on all things renewable, we will have no humans whose rights will need protecting. So we have a worthwhile discussion to have.

I don’t think many readers routinely review the comments on posts, which is too bad, as increasingly there are a dozen or so folks who very often amplify on the theme of a post with valuable insights and links to more information. That is the case on Tuesday and so below, I offer up comments from two readers and pose this question:

What kinds of human rights abuses and environmental compromises can or must be tolerated to accelerate development of energy storage and a 100% renewable energy system? We have advocated strongly for not creating a sacrifice zone in Four Corners. Can we turn a blind eye to sacrifice zones in the Congo? Argentina? China? South Korea? How does a movement that is fundamentally tied to climate and social justice weigh these choices?

After reading the two guest comments, please chime in with your views.

From William Finnoff, a frequent contributor

This article is a useful reminder that one needs to look at the entire production cycle and supply chain of a technology when assessing its environmental impact. For a description of the various raw materials and their sources used in the production of lithium-ion batteries, see:

Lithium-ion (LI) is the predominant battery technology used in EV’s as well as for the batteries used in computers, smart phones and other portable electronic devices. LI is also currently the most cost effective (and common) battery technology used in connection with intermittent renewable energy sources such as wind and solar for supply/demand matching and in power grid supply regulation. See:

It should be noted that there are other battery technologies that are close to competitive in this type of application (in particular what are referred to as ‘flow’ battery technologies, and even in some cases, traditional lead-acid types). Of course, all of these have their own raw material supply chain issues as is the case with many rare earths used in the production of photo-voltaic solar cells.

Many of the rare materials used in these applications are currently produced as by products in the refining of more common industrial raw materials such as zinc or copper (although one, Gallium, is refined from the coal ash residue from coal fired power plants). See:

One of the key challenges (that few people seem to want to talk about) in a large scale transition to renewable energy is finding sufficient sources for many of the raw materials required for these technologies when deployed at the massive scale required for a major transition as well as the associated environmental challenges of the associated mining, refining and (when possible) recycling such materials. One thing that is clear is that the current sources of many of these materials (as by-products of other industrial processes) will not produce nearly enough to cover massively increased demand.

From Mary, another frequent contributor

Nowhere is public transportation, trains and investment in infrastructure for rebuilding the railroad system ever discussed. The media gawks all over Tesla, and rarely covers anything to do with transportation. Adding vehicles to the already dangerously over crowded over stressed highways system, only because they appear cleaner, is ridiculous. Huge areas are devoted to parking, and vehicles, it even impacts housing.

This country needs systemic change, not more of the same, shiny electric vehicles are not going to fundamentally change anything. The corporations continue to use the rail system we paid for, and continue to pay for, while most people have no access. Rail could replace a lot of airplane flights too, as it already does in the Northeast Corridor. In China the citizens have high speed rail, something they have suppressed here.

The batteries in those electric cars require a lot of minerals, and those minerals and their extraction are contributing to Global Warming, and numerous human rights violations and support corruption and terrorism. Numerous mines in Central America are poisoning the water, killing indigenous leaders, and driving migration here.

Electric cars and disposable electronics are driving this gold rush into mineral extraction. In Brazil, the rain forest is disappearing, and more indigenous are being killed, The ravages don’t stop there, right up the hill in Pecos, an Australian mining company is planning to exploit the lax regulations, poverty and corruption, and mine up there.

There is nothing “Green” about electric cars, but we need a real solution to the environmental and societal damage done by only investing in roads for vehicles. Communities have been destroyed by the over reliance on cars. Other developed nations have robust public transportation systems, and owning a car is a choice. We have not seen one of these “billionaires” go after the destruction caused by the extraction industry, because they are profiting from it.

American media just does not cover any of this, nt 1;

So, should our investment be focused on transportation systems? Can we obtain the needed minerals to construct solar panels and battery storage without gutting human rights or destroying swathes of land in the Congo? Weigh in.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne

Categories: Climate Change, Agriculture, Land Use & Wildlife, Social & Racial Justice & Immigration Reform, Uncategorized

Tags: ,

7 replies

  1. I understand the concern over Li battery manufacturing and the coming EV revolution. In the utility space, there is at least one better idea for large scale storage which is based upon simple sea water!

  2. Even though New Mexico is an arid state, a large quantity of water passes down and through it. A search shows the existence of 28 dams. Only one, Abiquiu Dam, produces hydroelectric power at capacity of 16.5 megawatts. Are we as a state ignoring a significant source of power generation? The dams and roads to them already exist. This isn’t a transportation problem solution but along with Frank Warmath’s large scale storage idea, is there potential here?

  3. As someone who owns and drives an electric car, I agree that electric cars are not going to save us. Just putting out more cars is only going to add to the problem. It appears that it is absolutely mandatory for us to change our life style – walk, bike, use public transportation when needed. We are used to living in excess and with excess. God forbid we inconvenience ourselves. Live style is all about habits, and habits are hard to change. But it’s that or extinction. I think sharing economy is the future. Does everyone really need to have a car or can one car be used by a whole community? Does everyone on the block need to have his or her own set of garden tools or can a residential block all profit from putting up a shed and sharing one set of garden tools? And so on and so forth since the same principle can be applied to a lot of objects we feel we have to own. Even outside of climate and temperatures, think about how fewer things we would need, how much less stuff will need to be produced, and how cheaper it would be for al the participants; that, in turn, would increase quality of life for many.

  4. Climate CRISIS. We MUST view everything through the lens of the climate crisis. On our current trajectory life on Earth might not survive this century.

    If we do not electrify everything and switch all electricity production to renewables (or at least 95%) in the next 10 years or so all is lost. There is no middle ground here.

    The idea that electric cars (EVs) are not green is ridiculous and has been debunked over and over again. Please use google “are electric cars green” and consider the source you are reading from.

    Most complex things you buy have supply chains that are likely compromised. Do you have an iPhone? Have you seen what the production line looks like for them? If you like your iPhone I would suggest not looking into it.

    Fossil-fuel powered cars are literally killing us. As more research comes out it becomes more clear how bad they are for the life around them. From what extraction does to the environment. To refining and the perils of living near a refinery (hint it’s mostly low income and people of color that live near refineries) to the people that work in them. To the folks that live in neighborhoods that border freeways or roads that are heavily trafficked by trucks or those that live near depots or ports (hint again mostly people of color and low income). Whether it’s cancer clusters or asthma and various other issues, it is killing us. Then there’s the noise of fossil fuel powered cars and constant drone if you live near or on busy streets.

    That’s not to say we should ever ignore issues that surround producing products like cars and EVs. Child labor is never okay, no matter where it is. Degradation or destruction of the environment is never okay. We must shine a light on and fight back against this and other related issues.

    We also must not operate under the assumption that technology is stagnant and project into the future that way. For example, Tesla has said they expect their next generation of battery to reduce or eliminate the use of cobalt. And while the current batteries for EVs are using lithium ion (LI) technology there’s a lot of research going on, and most expect that there’s a new battery technology coming along soon.

    In the meantime, if we don’t begin a massive push to completely change the way transportation in this country is powered. Meaning stop using fossil fuels for cars, buses, trucks, trains, and eventually planes. Then it’s likely live on Earth won’t continue.

    Lastly, for now, we are in the beginning of, what will likely be, an incredible change in personal mobility (how we get around). It’s likely that large segments of the population will see changes in the way they go from place-to-place in the next 10 years. And that is a very good thing, because I’d like to see the Earth still be inhabitable in 2050 or 2060.

    So, please, let’s continue to have these discussions. Let’s hold governments, companies and new technologies accountable, even more so than we have in the past. But let’s not take our eye off the ball, as so many politicians, companies, lobbyists and so-called think tanks want us to.



    • Hey Jay,

      Very good comment. I don’t think anyone is denying that EVs need to be part of the solution, but at the same time, we need all electric transit systems that reduce car dependency. But your point is well-taken. Thanks.

  5. I think we need a reckoning, a full fact based assessment of where we are. We need to identify the influences people are under and where they came from. There are entirely too many people who have dropped out entirely, rely on the current mass media, and believe in conspiracy theories and nonsense like Chem Trails or “Wireless.” These conspiracy theories are convenient, they create an alternate reality, and distract from real issues. The Native Americans were cheated out of billions in royalties by the extraction industry, and

    We currently have the Military Industrial Complex, the healthcare profiteers and the Oil and Gas industry feeding lies to the population daily. Like Bernie pointed out in the debate, his points were immediately countered by the healthcare advertisers, who paid the network big money, to sway the conversation.

    A similar thing occurs when there is any media discussion of Oil and Gas, like a pipeline explosion, or when a refinery blows up.

    We are Human Beings, we are not designed to live like this. Cars destroyed our neighborhoods and even the most basic human interactions. A trip to the store is now an expedition, not a relaxing stroll. The big box stores are surrounded by acres of concrete, adding to global warming, and in Santa Fe increasing flash flooding. Everything is designed around cars, and our nation is segregated by cars. The big box stores displaced thousands of small businesses, extracted wealth from our neighborhoods, and used that massive wealth to undermine what was left of our democracy. The media does not cover any of that, and our politicians grovel, and show deference to these corporate malefactors.

    Maybe we should be talking about a Boycott, or a Moratorium on Oil and Gas, and more in the the General Strike. After a there is so much misinformation, lies and fear currently promoted by the industry. Regulations are being undermined, and regulatory agencies dismantled, so we have no way of making any kind of informed decisions.

    No more anything until they have a way to clean it up. We really need to start by getting money out of politics. We need to start identifying the marketing, lies and propaganda, people are exposed to daily. The big tech companies have had a big hand in all of this misinformation and lies.

    China took our recycling at a loss for decades as part of their trade agreement. Now they have cut it off, and our politicians are still unaware of the scale of the problem. The big corporations are sending this garbage to third world countries, and forcing people there to deal with it. There was total silence as more and more plastic showed up in our stores. They use it to lure customers, increase the shelf life of fruit and vegetables, and mislead shoppers. They take old well traveled produce and wrap it in plastic, so that we can’t see what we are getting, and people mindlessly went along with it. Things just look better in a crystal box, profits went up, and shelf life and food waste diminished. The quality and nutrition went down, as people could no longer tell how old something is.

    The stores responded to low wages in the fields and the disruption caused by the anti immigrant policies, by selling larger gone to seed produce, often inedible. The produce that used to go to livestock, is now top dollar in our local grocery stores. Crops are left to rot in the fields, because there is no one to pick them. Farmers have turned to cash crops, and commodities, it is easier and more cost effective than growing vegetables for local consumption. So much of our water goes to exported crops and livestock feed.

    We need to introduce a tax or fee on all of that plastic and use it to fund recycling. Real recycling, not using fossil fuels to ship it somewhere. We have the technology to recycle electronics too, we could create jobs in recycling, and manufacturing things from the garbage we recycle.

    Unfortunately the Oil and Gas Industry is currently investing in plastic manufacturing, turning some of that oil into plastic, is highly subsidized by the government, meaning us. Just like the nuclear subsidies, to an industry that is not proving to be beneficial or able to support itself.

    Eh that is all I got!

  6. There are many aspects of this issue, EV as an alternative to fossil fuels. Having done a bit of research into materials and long term costs when I was still working I utilized the concept of “entrained energy”. EE rates almost every material on a scale of 1-100. A lower number means that that material requires lower energy expenditure to make and it also uses less energy over its lifetime. An example is concrete. Concrete seems innocuous enough and pretty green but it is one of the worst materials on the scale. Why? Because it requires huge amounts of energy to mine, transport and cook the limestone that makes it up. It also requires similar scales of energy to transport the raw materials to make it, cement, sand and gravel as well as the costs of mining the admixtures. Also, concrete does not last that long, especially when combined with steel reinforcing (another energy hog) since the two materials interact poorly and the steel rusts and pops the concrete, weakening it. Just look at the approaches to the Golden Gate Bridge and the huge expenses now required to restore the concrete. Concrete is in the top 10% of energy hogs.
    Another example is PVC membrane used for roofs. While there are substantial energy costs in producing the membrane and the materials toxic (as are cement materials), it lasts almost indefinitely and is recyclable. A PVC roof is the last roof you’ll ever need and is far lower on the EE scale than a bitumen or foam roof. PVC is below the mid-way point on the scale.
    Anecdotally I would say that PV panels and lithium-ion batteries are very high on the EE scale. If the real costs (child labor, etc.) are considered and the costs of disposal at their life’s end, not to mention the toxic costs to the environment then they are very high. The overall “costs” should be considered and we should not delude ourselves merely because they are marketed as green.
    As far as batteries go, there are third-party, supply chain, source through production, independent verification services available. It turns out that Toyota uses a battery that is manufactured by a company that they formed with Panasonic. This battery is verified to be “responsibly” produced from beginning to final recycling. These are not accredited flippantly and are pretty trustworthy services. similar to sustainability certifications for wood products.
    Other investigations show that through an EV’s entire life span from origins of raw materials to final recycling to be “greener” than any pure fossil fueled vehicle of similar type. By your Prius with that peace of mind.
    It’s very important to try and buy existing, i.e. pre-owned vehicles rather than newly minted vehicles. We need to slow the production and cycling of vehicles, regardless of type as it can make a massive difference over short time spans.
    Regarding PV, it is not a panacea and does have many negative aspects that have already been referred to in other posts. It has decreased dramatically in price due to lower panel costs but if those are due to slave labor and pollution of environments then it needs a much closer inspection for its use on large scales. A far better alternative is wind and another solar thermal. Solar thermal can be as basic as heating water in flat panels and using that energy to run a generator. No exotic materials of consequence and not dependent completely on sunny days. Unlike PV, energy can be stored as heat directly in the earth to be later extracted with heat pumps, a technology that has been around for decades and works very well. This is known as geo-thermal energy when the stored heat is extracted through the use of essentially water wells that can reuse the same fluid indefinitely to gain heat, power a generator, losing the heat, and then regaining it from the earth.
    As far as mass transportation, the costs across the board to create high speed rail and other very expensive options uses materials of very high Entrained Energy. Steel and the magic of elevated trains running on mag-lev tracks? These are moonshots of very expensive EE. Why do we consider such options when we already have a completely serviceable option? Anyone who has traveled in Mexico via bus knows that the system there moves huge numbers of people at low cost with very low tech compared to bullet trains. We have the most comprehensive highway system, both express and local, in the world yet when was the last time you were at a bus terminal? In Mexico they are akin to airport concourses. The buses are on time and provide any number of options from site-to-site express buses to the ones carrying chickens and children that stop at every village. The express buses have fully reclining seats and elevated foot rests that make our Amtrak sleepers seem coffin-like. Blankets, pillows and isolation are all available and I have awoken, refreshed, at my destination on a 20 hour trip for 1000 miles.
    Imagine what we could do if we had a bus transport system instead of single user cars, or as adjunct to unrealized mag-lev, bullet trains. The routes already exist in the most comprehensive way possible in this country but lacks the transporters; buses and the quality terminals for them.
    These are my thoughts on the topic but I believe they have merit for consideration.
    Brian O’Keefe

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: