Saving the Planet With Electric Cars Means Strangling This Desert

Dry and cracked ground marks an area where water is being pumped by mining companies Bloomberg | James Alexander Michie

Dry and cracked ground marks an area where water is being pumped by mining companies in the southern tip of the Atacama salt flat. Photographer: Cristobal Olivares/Bloomberg

It is necessary to clarify that saving the planet in its entirety is a real challenge. An example of this is electric cars which, of course, help the planet, but it also means strangulating this desert.

This being so, it is important to point out that lithium and copper mining to supply the battery boom and combat climate change is destroying a fragile ecosystem in Chile. Being that the oases that once interrupted the dusty slopes of the Atacama desert in northern Chile allowed humans and animals to survive for thousands of years in the driest climate in the world. That was before mining began. In fact, according to Sara Plaza, 67, no one goes there because there is not enough grass for the animals. She also remembers that when she was a child, there was so much water that this whole area could be confused with the sea.

Irreversible impact

It should be noted that currently, Atacama has become one of the busiest mining districts on the planet in the intervening decades, after discoveries of massive deposits of copper and lithium. In recent years, mining has intensified, thanks to the growing demand for lithium, which is essential in the production of rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles. In fact, Chile exported nearly a billion dollars of lithium last year, almost four times the export value of four years ago.

Clearly putting more electric cars on the road is one of the most powerful ways to mitigate the effects of climate change, reducing 15.6% of global carbon emissions from transportation.

However, extracting the lithium from Atacama means pumping large amounts of water and beating the salty mud known as brine, and that has an irreversible impact on the local environment. In this way, it is considered that in this remote part of the Andes, the hopeful mission of saving the planet through electric cars is to destroy a fragile ecosystem and exhaust the reserves of drinking water.

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Source: Laura Millan Lombrana | Bloomberg

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