EVs and solar panels have moral and environmental trade-offs, too

Slave labor and dirty environmental practices make green energy far from clean

Green energy and climate activists say they support social and environmental justice. But the products they advocate are not compatible with either social justice or environmental justice. In fact, green energy activists choose Mother Earth over the oppressed of the world every time they call for retiring fossil fuels and replacing them with renewable energy.

Anytime someone like Sen. Debbie Stabenow touts the benefits of an electric vehicle, or U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm tells people who struggle with $5-per-gallon gasoline to spend $65,000 on an electric vehicle, there are moral and environmental trade-offs to consider.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has pushed for Michigan to be carbon neutral by 2030. What she doesn’t admit is that electric vehicles and renewable energy sources cause just as much damage to the environment as gas guzzlers and fossil fuels.

Mining lithium, a major component of EVs batteries, is just as destructive to the environment as fossil fuels, according to an investigation by

“Lithium can be described as the non-renewable mineral that makes renewable energy possible,” it said. Say that to yourself a few times slowly, and ponder it.

Based on how describes the process of mining lithium, it sounds quite like environmental contamination. Mining requires the use of toxic chemicals. The process causes water pollution and depletion, and such mining often occurs in an arid, water-scarce region. Mining for lithium also causes air emissions that can cause physical ailments and disease. Mining also disrupts the ecosystems and food production of those in nearby communities.

These are people who cannot just run to the local restaurant or fast food establishment if their food and water source is contaminated.

Americans who talk about environmental justice for Black and minority communities in the U.S. are strangely silent about their own contribution to environmental injustice in other, often poorer countries.

The Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”

Unless the people you affect live in Africa, apparently. Some 70% of the cobalt produced for electric vehicles comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo. And China owns 80% of the cobalt there. The metal is used for solar panels.

Mining for the materials used in renewable energy sources sometimes involves individuals too young to legally work in the United States. “The glamourous shop displays and marketing of state of the art technologies are a stark contrast to the children carrying bags of rocks, and miners in narrow manmade tunnels risking permanent lung damage,” reports Amnesty International.

According to the report, some young children say they spend up to 24 hours a day in the mines, hauling heavy loads. Often they work without basic protective gear, such as gloves or masks. In 2014, approximately 40,000 children in one region in the DRC worked in mines, and they were paid one to two dollars per day.

China is another leading supplier of materials used in renewable energy. The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China produces 45% of the world’s polysilicon, a key component used in solar panels. Chinese officials force Uyghurs, a Muslim minority ethnic group, to produce polysilicon. The U.S. State Department has declared that Uyghurs are subject to genocide and various crimes against humanity. This happens even as they produce the renewable energy resources prized by American climate activists.

Countries in the west are selling their future to China by shutting down reliable fossil fuels for unreliable and expensive renewable energy such as solar panels and industrial wind facilities.

High energy costs, to the environmentalist, are a worthy sacrifice for the sake of Mother Earth. Renewable energy is expensive. A forced transition to it, though, would lead to less reliable and more expensive energy, landing hardest on people who can afford it the least.

It costs utility companies a lot to switch to renewable energy. Most people in Michigan are subject to a regional monopoly provider, so they have no choice in who they use for energy. One of those monopolies, Consumers Energy, has requested two price hikes to fund its green energy transition.

There’s one thing worse than expensive energy — not having energy. If shortfalls affect renewable energy sources, those who can afford generators can buy one to stay powered up. Low-income people would be stuck without power.

Consumers Energy has admitted that its renewable energy sources may fail to meet the needs of its customers. In winter 2019, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told Michigan residents to turn down their thermostat to 65 degrees to avoid large power outages. The grid was overtaxed.

California significantly increased its reliance on renewable energy, which has resulted in rolling blackouts. Utilities there purchase high-cost energy from out-of-state.

Texas is on the same path and suffered an energy catastrophe in February 2021, with widespread and long-term power outages. Up to 700 people died, whether from the cold itself or carbon monoxide poisoning, as they tried to use other means to stay warm. Many more Texans experienced home emergencies, such as flooding in their home, caused by pipes freezing and bursting.

You can be a green energy warrior, or you can support social and environmental justice. You can’t do both.

Jamie A. Hope is assistant managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential. Email her at

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.