The Guardian Weekly

Electric shock US car culture must change, warns report

- By Nina Lakhani NINA LAKHANI IS THE CLIMATE JUSTICE REPORTER FOR GUARDIAN US

The US’s transition to electric vehicles could require three times as much lithium as is currently produced for the entire global market, causing needless water shortages, Indigenous land grabs and ecosystem destructio­n, new research finds.

It warns that unless the US’s dependence on cars in towns and cities falls drasticall­y, the transition to lithium battery-powered electric vehicles by 2050 will deepen global environmen­tal and social inequaliti­es linked to mining – and may even jeopardise the 1.5C global heating target.

But ambitious policies investing in mass transit, walkable towns and cities and robust battery recycling would slash the amount of extra lithium required in 2050 by more than 90%.

The research by the Climate and Community Project and University of California, Davis, comes at a critical juncture with the rollout of funding for electric vehicles through Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction and Infrastruc­ture Investment and Jobs Acts.

‘This report must jumpstart policies to invest in public transit systems’ Payal Sampat Earthworks

The global demand for lithium is predicted to rise more than 40 times by 2040, driven predominan­tly by the shift to electric vehicles. Grassroots protests and lawsuits against lithium mining are on the rise amid rising concern about the socio-environmen­tal impacts and increasing­ly tense geopolitic­s around supply.

The US’s affinity with cars, and sprawling cities and suburbs where driving is often the only option, gives its transition to electric vehicles major global significan­ce. No matter what path it chooses, the US will achieve zero emission transporta­tion by 2050, according to the research. But the speed of the transition – as well as who benefits and who suffers – will depend on the number and size of electric vehicles Americans opt for.

“We can either electrify the status quo to reach zero emissions, or the energy transition can be used as an opportunit­y to rethink our cities and the transporta­tion sector so that it’s more environmen­tally and socially just, both in the US and globally,” said Thea Riofrancos, associate professor of political science at Providence College and lead author of the report.

Transporta­tion is the biggest source of carbon emissions in the US, making it crucial to phase out gas and diesel vehicles as quickly as possible.

Lithium deposits are abundant, but 95% of production is concentrat­ed in Australia, Chile, China and Argentina. Large new deposits have been found in countries including Mexico, the US, Portugal, Germany, Kazakhstan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali.

Most forecaster­s predict a supply crunch in the next five to 10 years. The price of lithium batteries – the most expensive component of an EV – went up for the first time last year as demand outweighed supply.

Smaller batteries would make decarbonis­ed transporta­tion more affordable. In addition, expanding mass transit systems would improve pedestrian safety and air quality, generating health and economic benefits.

Payal Sampat, mining programme director at Earthworks, said: “The findings of this report must jumpstart policies to invest in robust, accessible public transit systems that advance equity, reduce pollution and get people where they need to go.”

 ?? JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY ?? Driving is often the only option in many of the US’s sprawling cities and suburbs
JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY Driving is often the only option in many of the US’s sprawling cities and suburbs

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