Or take electric motor cars: their batteries need cobalt. 70% of the world's cobalt supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Which is, according to Christina Lamb "one of the most violent and corrupt places on earth", where child labour is common and working conditions appalling. Safety standards are non-existent as many of the mines are so-called "artisan" mines, operated by private individuals. Fatal accidents are covered up for fear that mines (if you can call holes and shallow tunnels in the ground mines) could be closed. Exposure to cobalt can cause long term health problems. It is ironic that the place we need to help clean up the planet is one of the most polluted in the world. "Without DR Congo there is no electric car industry and no green revolution" says the head of a UK based campaign group.
Most of the cobalt is sent to China, where 80% of the world's cobalt supply is refined. Not all of the mines are operated by the artisans. China itself operates many of the Congolese mines - in some cases, allegedly, after paying minimal compensation and using aggressive tactics to buy the land. Once processed there is no way of telling how the cobalt was sourced. It is sold to battery component manufacturers in China and South Korea, who supply corporations such as Apple who, after and Amnesty report in 2016 now track the supply sources to check child labour or unsafe conditions are not involved. However, according to Seema Joshi, head of business and human rights at Amnesty International, "some of the richest companies in the world are still making excuses for not investigating their supply chains". Think of that when you hold your smartphone.
And reflect also on the fact that the UK's target of phasing out fossil-fuelled vehicles in the next 20 years requires the number of electric vehicles on our roads to increase by a factor of 40. (Er, only 40?) Extrapolate that across the world and one wonders about the viability of electric vehicles as a large scale transport solution. Meanwhile Bill Gates is putting money into finding new sources of cobalt in the earth's crust.
The author Michael Schellenburger is more specifically downbeat on some things than I am, while arguing that the environmental apocalypse is a myth. He says most forms of renewable energy such as solar and wind power are impracticable for large scale use in much of the world as they require huge amounts of land and damage wildlife and that becoming a vegetarian reduces one's emissions by less than 4%. However, he also claims man made climate change is not causing mass extinction, as only 0.001% of the planet's species go extinct annually and carbon emissions are declining in most countries (though maybe not fast enough).
* To be more specific, Carlo Rovelli argues in his fascinating book The Order of Time, that the second law is the only basic law of physics that implies the existence of time. None of the other basic laws (Newton's mechanics, Maxwell's electricity and magnetism, Einstein's relativity, the Schrodinger/Heisenberg/Dirac quantum mechanics or the laws of elementary particle physics) distinguish the past from the future. The book is intended for a lay audience and I highly recommend it, though I would accept it is somewhat challenging for non-physicists, like me.