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Menopausal Mother Nature

News about Climate Change and our Planet

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The Dirty Truth Behind So-Called ‘Clean Energy’

copper mining

There’s a dirty secret hidden in every wind turbine. They may convert moving air cleanly and efficiently into electricity, but few know much about what they are made of.

Much of the material inside wind turbines are the product of brutal encroachments on our natural world.

Dump trucks, 3,500-horsepower strong, transport multi-ton loads down the terrace roads that line the mine.

The boulders are transported by conveyor belt almost 13 kilometers (8 miles) into the valley, where the copper is extracted from the rock. This processing requires huge amounts of electricity and water, a particularly precious commodity in this arid region.

The project is operated by Antofagasta, a London-based Chilean mining corporation that owns 60 percent of the mine.

The company built a hydroelectric plant in 2013, almost exclusively to supply electricity to Los Pelambres. Farmers protested against it, and have blamed the project for water shortages in the region.

Now, though, the mine is slated to grow even larger. The company is pumping additional volumes of desalinated seawater from the Pacific coast across the country.

Company executives hope this will enable them to continue operating the mine for a few more years. Global demand for copper, after all, is expected to grow immensely, for power cables and electric motors. And for wind turbines.

There are great hopes that green technology can be used to help save the climate, but that rescue also entails stripping the planet of precious resources. And this is the paradox behind what is currently the most important project of the industrialized world: the global energy transition. …snip…

Deposits in the poor South are being exploited so that the rich North can transition to environmental sustainability.

At least to a lifestyle that appears sustainable. Mathis Wackernagel, a resource researcher who lives in California, describes it as a disastrous development. “We haven’t quite thought the future through,” he says.

Wackernagel, who was born in Basel, Switzerland, in 1962, is one of the most influential figures in the environmental movement. He coined two metaphors that have influenced thinking about sustainability around the world.

One is the idea of the environmental footprint, which indicates how much land and sea area is needed to renew the resources that we have consumed.

According to Wackernagel’s calculations, 1.75 Earths would be needed for the planet to regenerate itself. If all the people on the planet were to behave as wastefully as the inhabitants of Germany, it would require almost three Earths.

He’s referring to the daily consumption of around 90 million barrels of crude oil, the use of land for buildings, roads, or arable land – and also the exploitation of mineral resources.

Wackernagel says the biological budget is limited and that humans must decide what they want to use it for. If we use it to mine copper, then it won’t, for example, be available for the cultivation of beets.

He says it’s too short-sighted to think that all we have to do to protect the environment is to recreate the fossil-fueled world with electricity and swap the six-cylinder Jaguar for the battery-powered Tesla.

Few are aware of this fact as they drive their electric vehicle, use electricity from wind or solar power, or have a lithium-ion storage facility set up in the basement – making them feel like pioneers in sustainability.

Many don’t realize how extremely polluting the production of raw materials from which climate technologies are manufactured really is.

Who knew, for example, that 77 tons of carbon dioxide are emitted during the manufacture of one ton of neodymium, a rare earth metal that is used in wind turbines? By comparison: Even the production of a ton of steel only emits around 1.9 tons of CO2.

Almost 50 years after American scientist Donella Meadows and her fellow campaigners warned of “the limits to growth” in their report to the Club of Rome, the overexploitation of nature is taking on a surprising new dimension.

The massive demand for materials has continually been the underappreciated factor in all the technologies that are intended to help make the world more sustainable.

Wind turbines, photovoltaic systems, electric cars, lithium-ion batteries, high-voltage power lines, and fuel cells all have one thing in common: Inconceivable amounts of raw materials are consumed in their production.

In a solar park measuring 1,000 by 1,000 meters, there are fully 11 tons of silver. A single Tesla Model S contains as much lithium as around 10,000 mobile phones.

An electric car requires six times as many critical raw materials as a combustion engine – mainly copper, graphite, cobalt, and nickel for the battery system.

An onshore wind turbine contains around nine times as many of these substances as a gas-fired power plant of comparable capacity.

It is the specific properties they contain that make these metals so desirable. Cobalt and nickel increase the energy density in a battery. Neodymium amplifies the magnetic forces in wind generators.

Platinum accelerates processes in fuel cells, and iridium does the same for electrolyzers. Copper’s conductivity makes it relevant in every electrical installation.

Around 150 million tons of copper are installed in power lines around the globe. And humankind is only at the beginning of its energy transition.

h/t Rúnar O.

Read rest at Spiegel

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