There is so much anti-electric vehicles propaganda around, I’ve started hearing kids repeating it recently: “Oh, EVs aren’t clean because of how batteries are made” and “oh, we don’t know what to do with batteries when discarded.” In this Episode 31, The Angry Clean Energy Guy sets out why this is propaganda; where it’s coming from; why it’s flat out wrong; and what to do about it
Photo by Assaad W. Razzouk
I was in my car recently, driving back four kids aged 10 from football.
It’s a shiny new Tesla model 3 and my son was just ecstatic to be in it, not only because it’s clean, but because of all the amazing functionality of the car.
One of the kids in the back, however, started taking the piss and criticising electric cars and bringing out the point that they are, in fact, dirtier than normal cars because of how the batteries are made and what happens to the batteries at the end of the their life. He floored me. The propaganda of Big Oil & Gas companies has seeped all the way to 10 year olds!
This podcast is about countering this propaganda vigorously.
There is a huge game of smoke and mirrors playing out all around us, and its stakes are very, very large. Did you know, for example, that the collective revenues of the oil and gas industry are approximately five trillion dollars a year? That’s $5 trillion each and every year. I mean, that’s huge. That’s colossal. That’s just enormous. You get the point. Sinopec, the Chinese oil and gas company, alone generated $430 billion last year; Shell over $380 billion; BP almost $300 billion; Exxon almost $300 billion. Imagine what that money can buy if spent to push for more oil and gas. Actually, you don’t really have to imagine. Just listen to that kid repeating the propaganda that somehow has reached even him.
And what’s at stake is enormous because the gasoline that we use in the car is the most consumed petroleum product in the United States, for example, where it accounts for 45% of total U. S. petroleum consumption. That’s before taking into account diesel fuel, which is used in the diesel engines of heavy construction equipment, trucks, buses, tractors, boats, trains, some cars and electricity generators. So out of that five trillion, at least 25% is completely dependent on what type of car we drive. And that’s why the stakes are enormous.
Welcome to Episode 31 of The Angry Clean Energy Guy with me, Assaad Razzouk. I am so happy you’re here. Thank you. And just a reminder that if you like this podcast or appreciate its content, it would be great if you rated it and left a review wherever you listened to your podcasts.
So why is what I heard a kid repeating propaganda? Why am I calling it propaganda?
It’s propaganda because its source is there for anyone who cares to see: It’s an oil, gas and coal industry in desperate mode now.
They were not in desperate mode as recently as 2015 but we’re making huge progress in the climate fight, and I have seen them get increasingly more desperate with each passing year.
They fund fake think tanks, fake scientists, bots and politicians to spread evident lies, falsehoods and lots of disinformation. They spend that at a clip of more $200 million a year. So they’re spending $200 million a year “lobbying” and, in fact, just the five largest publicly traded oil and gas majors, that’s Exxon, Shell, Chevron, BP and Total, have invested a $1,000,000,000 (a billion dollars!) of shareholder funds in the last three years on misleading climate related branding and lobbying.
BP admitted as much recently when its new chief executive decided to cancel its current advertising campaign, which is spreading falsehoods for all to see – even him. Credit to him for cancelling it.
So just last year, Exxon spent $41 million on “lobbying”, BP spent $53 million and Shell spent $49 million. And that kind of money buys you a lot of voice, and it buys you the ability to make us look somewhere else.
For those of you who have heard me before, you know that it’s making us look at beef and at plastic straws, for example. Now, yes, of course, how we generate our beef must be sustainable. And, yes, of course, plastic straws need to go. But don’t let that distract you from what matters.
What matters is the electrification of everything and that, in turn, threatens a large majority of the $5 trillion in annual revenues that big oil collect from all of us.
I have to say that this propaganda is rich, coming from an oil and gas industry that is having all of us without exception, all 7.5 billion of us, breathe, eat and drink plastic with zero effort to build a recycling infrastructure; and without paying for the environmental destruction of their product: Not more than 9% of the plastic that we’ve ever produced have been recycled. The numbers are enormous: In 1973, each of us used two kilos of plastic per year. So if you took the total amount of plastic produced worldwide in 1973 and divided it by the total population, you got two kilograms. Now that sounds kind of reasonable to me, but today, today we’re using 23 times that number. Each one of us is using 46 kilos of plastic a year, most of which is completely unnecessary and almost all of which is produced without any recycling infrastructure and without any thought as to where it’s going to go, which is our oceans, our rivers, our air and our food.
I have to say this propaganda is also rich, coming from an oil, gas and coal industry that has single-handedly created the climate emergency as well as destroyed mountains, ecosystems, lakes, seas and oceans for decades with complete impunity, and pretty much without paying for any of it. Zero.
You probably don’t need reminding that nearly two-thirds of all the carbon dioxide, all the emissions emitted since the Industrial Revolution can be traced to just 90 companies, most of which still operate today. That’s two-thirds of global emissions since the Industrial Revolution. Go back and look at these 90 companies and you find our good friends at BP, Shell, Exxon, Chevron and Total. But not just them.
Fifty of these 90 are investor-owned companies. So that would be the ones I just mentioned, but also Peabody, BHP Billiton and others.
Thirty-one are state owned companies such as Saudi Aramco, and we should not forget state on companies because the dollars that they spend “lobbying” are not actually transparent at all, compared to those of the listed companies.
Nine are government-run industries in countries such as China, Poland and Russia.
Fifty-six are oil and gas companies.
Thirty-seven are coal producers, thankfully most of which are now going out of business, and seven are cement manufacturers.
If you want to dig more into exactly where these emissions are coming from, go to https://climateaccountability.org/. They do amazing work tracing emissions back to their source, the ninety companies I just mentioned.
For context, by the way, because context always makes me angry, I read so many articles critical of how we mine lithium. However, these articles don’t bother mentioning that the deadliest air pollution is caused by burning fossil fuels like coal, gas and coal. They don’t bother mentioning that burning all those fossil fuels transformed our climate. To the extent that we’re all going to fry, these articles should have standard disclaimers that refer back to the damage the alternatives cause.
And don’t you ever stop to wonder why this laser propaganda focus on the batteries of electric vehicles? What about mobile phones? They have the same lithium ion batteries. There’s 150 million mobile phones discarded, thrown away, each year in the United States alone and no smartphones, iPads or laptops would be possible without lithium ion batteries.
So when we criticize lithium ion batteries, we have to do it in context.
We have to also mention that we can recycle up to 98% of lithium ion batteries, depending on what treatment we apply. You can certainly not say the same thing about plastic or most products produced by Big Oil. And what you do to recycle these batteries, is you basically take out the plastic, the aluminium and the copper in them; you separate them, you send these to their own recycling processes, and what’s left after that are the chemical and mineral components, which is referred to as the “black mass”, and that you can treat on an industrial scale.
So simply applying heat to extract the cobalt, nickel and copper, for example, gets you to up to 48% recycling. Then more sophisticated methods promise levels approaching 98%.
So that’s an open and shut approach to the argument about recycling batteries.
THE TESLA CYBER TRUCK
Let me tell you a fun fact, which really bears repeating to anyone you can repeat it to. Remember the new cyber truck announced by Tesla? That cyber truck can power a standard American home, and these are huge compared to everybody else’s home, for two weeks or more. That Tesla Cyber truck has a battery that will last one million miles (you can think about that as 200 years). That’s 200 years without having to recycle or discard the battery, which you can use both as a battery and as a storage pack. I mean, the innovation is amazing.
Contrast that for a second with the waste from oil, gas and coal. Now I am one of the strongest proponents for continuously aiming higher and pushing for legislation that forces the reuse or recycling of batteries. The EU for example, does have such legislation, and it’s called the EU Battery Directive.
So we are doing far, far better than oil, gas and coal because what do they do? They lobby to do as they please, while others pay for the environmental destruction that they sow.
Contrast the behaviour of the green industry with the behaviour of oil, gas and coal whenever you hear their propaganda.
And let me put some numbers on that. Exxon alone, just Exxon, was responsible for $20 billion worth of global climate damage in one year, and that number is going up. Exxon alone could become responsible for $140 billion by 2030 in climate damages – multiple times the gross domestic product of multiple African countries.
RECYCLING, REUSE, INNOVATION
Remember that we’re also building a big reuse and recycling ecosystem for lithium ion batteries. We’re already doing it. That market, just $1.5 billion in 2019, is expected to grow 8 times to over $12 billion by 2025, four and a half years from now.
Any article or paper, therefore, about the mining practices of electric vehicles without context or perspective should be ignored – in other words if it’s forgetting that the very same mining practices and in fact much worse ones take place in the case of everything else that we mine in the world.
So we know that the extraction of lithium has significant environmental and social impacts. Okay, we know that. We also know that it causes water and air pollution and depletion. We know also that mining copper, ammonium, nickel, graphite and cobalt, which are some of the other raw materials used in lithium ion batteries, is not done very well either. We know that. However, we also know that the green industry can and must and is very much trying to mine responsibly. If anybody’s doing that, it is the green and clean energy sector and the industry related to green products like electric cars – in fact increasingly policing itself and trying to do just that.
And here is a very recent proof.
Just a couple of days ago, Tesla seems to have agreed to buy an alternative to cobalt and nickel batteries from a Chinese company for its model 3 cars in China. That immediately dragged down the share prices of Chinese cobalt miners. These so called LFP batteries are already widely used in electric cars and buses in China because they are cheaper than nickel and cobalt-containing batteries. And if they actually have gone through the Tesla quality control machine, then that’s very good news for all of us and very bad news for bad mining practises.
In any case, articles critical of how we mine cobalt for example, must also mention that the alternative, dirty cars, is helping dirty air worldwide cut lives short by 11 years in India, 7 in China and 2 everywhere else around the world. And it’s getting worse.
So articles critical of how we mine Cobalt should have a standard disclaimer that is referring to what dirty cars do, and I would suggest this: Ask yourself this simple question when you hear attacks on batteries or on electric cars. Would you rather keep the diesel flowing? Would you rather have your kids breathe diesel fumes? Of course not.
Surely, the focus should be to push for new laws to create a regulatory framework for lithium mining, but also for all other mining. We can, and we will vastly improve the environmental impact of electric vehicle batteries, and we will maintain pressure on multinationals in particular, to ensure that these methods are applied. Multinationals have a lot more clout than domestic suppliers, and domestic suppliers are frankly speaking, always more difficult to green. But green – and I mean honest by that, in this context – multinationals can force change.
Innovation, by the way, is also coming to the rescue. Don’t forget innovation. Raw materials used in Lithium ion batteries vary, but clean tech is reducing the use of problematic substances, just as I referred to with Tesla’s recent decision in China.
And what’s being done in our green space is already vastly better then what the oil, gas and coal industries have been doing for 100 years – because they’ve been doing the exact opposite. They’ve been weakening rules and regulations, and they’ve been “lobbying” their way around in order to help give themselves and mining the terrible reputation it has.
If you don’t believe me, just look at the roll back of environmental protections in the United States since the new administration took control three years ago.
Remember, you are not being educated or illuminated by that oil and gas propaganda. You are being deliberately confused. They are confusing you in order to make the distinction between dirty cars and clean electric cars, dirty buses and clean buses, dirty trains and clean trains, dirty ships and clean ships, very vague. That confusion then allows them to thrive. But this is exactly what it sounds that it is: It’s desperate rear-guard action, and it’s going to fail. We just need to make sure we call it when we see it, and we keep talking about it.
You know all that talk about eating less beef and using less plastic straws? That’s all good. But keep in mind that it’s also there quite deliberately to distract you because what’s really at stake and what’s clouding the debate is that the collective revenues of the old gas industry are, as I said before, $5 trillion a year, each year. And this buys you a lot of voice and the ability to make all of us look over there at beef and plastic straws.
So avoid that, please, as much as you can. Thank you so much for listening to me, The Angry Clean Energy Guy, and have a great couple of weeks.
There is so much to be angry about, if you are a clean energy guy.
Every day, so many things that happen around the world make me angry when I look at them with lenses colored by the climate change chaos unfolding everywhere around us. And I am especially angry because I know we can solve the climate change crisis if we were only trying.
Each week, I will share with you a few topics that struck me and that I was very angry about – and this will generally have to do with climate change, solar or wind power, plastic pollution, environmental degradation, wildlife, the oceans and other related topics.