Are Electric Cars Really the Green Future?

BY: CLAIRE KIM

In my environmental ethics class this past week, I was asked to answer this question: Electric vehicles appear green, but there remain problems with obtaining raw materials (cobalt), production, and recycling their lithium-ion batteries. Is it more ethical for society to focus on solving these drawbacks before developing more electric vehicles, or continue development and fix the problems in the future?

From an initial standpoint, I believed there was not much to debate about. Electric cars have been proven to release far fewer carbon emissions into the atmosphere than gas cars, exhibiting their efficacy as “green” vehicles. However, upon doing some research on my own, I learned that electric cars are not as “green” as I perceived.

This is my latest response/perspective on the question:

I believe it is more ethical for society to solve the drawbacks of electric car production before continuing their development, specifically in regards to the derivation of cobalt for electric car batteries. With almost 70% of the world’s cobalt supply being mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, workers and children there are at risk of inhaling high amounts of sulfur oxide and other harmful air pollution amidst their work. Considering the grave health and safety impacts of cobalt mining for battery production, I believe that the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo are being stripped of their human dignity and rights. Their consistent exposure to harmful chemicals puts their life in danger, failing to uphold the idea that “all humans have equal value and are entitled to their rights and basic needs.” While batteries may, to some extent, reduce carbon emissions from vehicles, I believe that we need to be more cognizant of the impacts the development of such “eco-friendly” batteries are on minorities and look to stand in solidarity with them by proposing solutions to the unethical working conditions they are currently facing.

To read more as to how electric cars may not necessarily be considered the “green future,” please check out the article below by the New York Times! This article provides some great insight and details as to why attitudes towards electric cars should be more cautious and critical.

Tabuchi, Hiroko, and Brad Plumer. “How Green Are Electric Vehicles?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 Mar. 2021, http://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/02/climate/electric-vehicles-environment.html. 

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