Friday, January 7, 2022

Renewables: the devastation of nature for sustainable technologies

Deforestation and environmental devastation from mining activities - especially in third world countries - are the little-known downside of the energy shift, explains WELT:

When Ecuador reported a new wood export record, the spokesman for the indigenous association NAE called for an export stop of the coveted balsa wood. "Stop your investments," said the letter to international donors in June. "The loggers are causing a division among the indigenous brothers."

The balsa wood, which is on the one hand very flexible and hard, but on the other hand very light and resistant, is used for the construction of the increasingly longer rotor blades of wind turbines. Around 15 cubic meters of wood are required for a rotor blade between 80 and 100 meters in length. Not all wind turbines use balsa wood; recycled plastic is also used as an alternative.

The massive deforestation leads to ecological collateral damage. Animals that depend on nectar as a food source are particularly affected in the region, reports the biologist Álvaro Pérez from the PUCE University to the Ecuadorian media. Meanwhile, a dispute has broken out among the indigenous population between opponents and supporters of wood exports. Some see the economic opportunities for the region, others fear for the ecological balance. The sometimes brutal actions of the lumberjacks, some of whom invade territories without permission, exacerbate the social conflicts.

The example in Ecuador is just one of many that reveals how the shift in the West towards green renewable energies is leading to ecological and social upheavals in other regions of the world. Gigantic dams in Brazil for the production of renewable energy; the hype about lithium, which is urgently needed for e-mobility. For a pure environmental conscience among Europeans, people and nature in South America must once again pay a high price.

Ever since the demand for wind energy has increased in Europe, the USA and Asia, more and more balsa wood has been felled in the Ecuadorian rainforest. This is big business for industry: in the record year 2019, Ecuador exported balsa wood worth 195 million euros, a year later the value tripled to around 700 million euros. International manufacturers of wind turbines assure that the wood is used in accordance with local environmental laws, and that these are rapidly renewable raw materials.

Environmentalists are already familiar with this argument from Brazil. There, a good 15 years ago, green politicians from Germany celebrated the latest trend at the time: biofuel. "The field will be the borehole of the 21st century," said environmental politician Jürgen Trittin lobbying for biofuel made from soy and sugar cane in Brazil. Today the balance sheet looks sobering.

“The production of biofuels in Brazil has actually only produced one winner, namely the agricultural industry,” Professor Guilherme Ferreira, geographer and environmental blogger from Recife, told WELT. “The rainforest has lost because there has been massive deforestation in the past two decades.” In the state of Maranhão, for example, sugar cane was still being grown on 19,912 hectares in 2000. According to the Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics, there were 47,405 hectares in 2019, two and a half times as much.

Meanwhile, the next line of conflict has long been emerging between the western hunger for raw materials for green energy and the social and ecological interests of the South American population. This time it is about the water-intensive mining of lithium, which is required for the batteries of e-cars, but also for cell phones. The South American rainforest is not endangered here, but other ecologically important landscapes such as South American salt deserts and salt lakes.

“At first, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay were viewed and used by multinational corporations as 'soy republics' that have changed and destroyed large areas for the production of biofuels, among other things. Argentina, Chile and Bolivia are now viewed as the 'lithium triangle' ”, says Guadalupe Rodriguez, Latin America consultant from“ Save the Rainforest ”, when asked by WELT.

That is a colonialist logic in order to be able to extract metallic raw materials such as lithium. All of this is done to produce e-cars that would then be driven in the industrialized countries. “Without respect for nature, local ways of life, territories and human rights,” says Rodriguez.

In November, the Autonomous University of Barcelona, ​​together with the mining-critical NGO Mining Watch Canada, published an atlas of "environmental justice" which documents the social and ecological consequences of so-called green mining in Latin America, among others.

The researchers describe the mining of raw materials as green mining that is required to achieve the energy transition that is being sought worldwide. According to this, around three billion tons of metals and minerals such as lithium and copper will be required over the next 30 years.

The study warns that this mining threatens ecosystems vital to water supplies, sustaining life and regulating global climate. "This fever for metals and minerals is becoming an unprecedented financial opportunity for mining companies," the Outlook said. This ensures that the sharp rise in the extraction pressure of metals and minerals will further exacerbate the environmental and social crisis.

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