The true cost of electric cars | Close up - The Current Affairs Documentary | DW | 06.12.2018
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Close up

The true cost of electric cars

Electromobility is often seen as a cure-all: environmentally friendly, clean and sustainable. But the raw materials for their rechargeable batteries are scarce. Under which conditions are substances such as lithium and cobalt extracted?

Watch video 28:34

This documentary shows the human and environmental cost of mining these materials in Chile and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In Chile lithium is extracted from salt lakes known as salares. These lagoons are home to Andean flamingos, which live exclusively in the wetlands of the high Andes. Large-scale lithium extraction is destroying their habitat. The birds are now threatened with extinction. Mining this ultra-light metal also uses an enormous amount of water. Sinking groundwater tables are making farming on the shores of the salt lakes impossible for indigenous communities.

About two thirds of the world's cobalt is extracted in the politically unstable DRC, both by large international companies and in what are called artisanal mines. And in those small-scale mines conditions are especially dire – with child labor commonplace in many of them.