Oliver Balch’s article on lithium extraction (The long read, 8 December) is an important reminder that any sort of economic boom for a certain material, unfortunately, tends to result in a rush to the bottom for environmental and ethical standards. Absolutely, pressure should be placed on manufacturers to clean up and shorten their supply chains.
However, given the urgency of decarbonising and cleaning up our air, it’s also important to flag up double standards. Yes, some of the processes used in lithium extraction at the moment are environmentally destructive, and better solutions are needed. But extraction of oil and gas has been environmentally horrific for over a century, going backwards in standards with tar sands and fracking.
Yes, elements used in some battery chemistries (like cobalt) are associated with child labour and human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is completely unacceptable. But oil has fuelled inequity, war and corruption in most places it has been discovered – and we’ve become shamefully accepting of that.
Yes, lithium is used in electric vehicles (EV) and grid storage. But it’s also in the mobile phones and laptops that many EV critics will use daily without question, while cobalt is required to remove sulphur from diesel. Lithium batteries can power cars for hundreds of thousands of miles before being reused for grid storage, then finally recycled (potentially upwards of 91% of materials). Oil and gas, having taken millions of years to develop, are burned in an instant and the byproducts then spend further generations polluting our lungs and changing our climate.
• Electric cars will not be driven around by the “eco-minded urbanites” mentioned in Oliver Balch’s article. On the contrary, most of the time they will be parked in residential streets, outside the homes of eco-minded urbanites – a testimony to the sheer insanity of the private car, and an even more glaring reason why what we need is, in the words of Thea Riofrancos, “rational forms of transport” – such as trains, trams, e-buses, cycling and car-sharing – and the infrastructure to encourage them – instead of private cars.
Brighton, East Sussex