The U.S. could zero out climate pollution from the transportation sector while also reducing lithium demand by reducing the car-centricity of its transportation system, a new report from the Climate and Community Project finds. “We can either electrify the status quo to reach zero emissions, or the energy transition can be used as an opportunity to rethink our cities and the transportation sector so that it’s more environmentally and socially just, both in the U.S. and globally,” Thea Riofrancos, a political scientist at Providence College who worked on the report, told The Guardian.
Mining for lithium, the least-replaceable metal in EV batteries, is water-intensive, poses permanent risks to nearby land, and brings serious environmental justice problems. About 75% of known lithium deposits in what is now the United States are located on or near tribal lands, and projecting current EV demand forward to 2050, U.S. EV lithium demand would be three times the current global lithium market. However, by shifting U.S. transportation policy to prioritize public and active transit, decreasing the size of electric vehicle batteries, and maximizing lithium recycling, could reduce lithium demand by as much as 66%.
The report’s authors stressed they are not proposing a utopian, car-free America. “There are political challenges around getting Americans out of cars,” Riofrancos acknowledged to Gizmodo, while also stressing the authors, “tri[ed] to keep this within the bounds of what could actually happen over the next 25 years.” Even if not all of the changes assessed in the report are adopted, Riofrancos told E&E News, “Any of those changes would be a net positive, all of them would be transformative.” (The Guardian, Gizmodo, E&E $, Grist, The Hill, EcoWatch)