In China, for instance, the mining of graphite has caused entire villages to be contaminated with thick clouds of graphite dust. The processing of the raw recently mined graphite is kicked up into the atmosphere, thus bukkake-ing local villages and dwellings in Mother Nature’s glittery jetsam, which in turn kills crops, poisons water supplies, and contributes to massive disease outbreaks. As you’d also expect, neither the government nor the company responsible give a hoot. Every local cleanup effort so far has failed, not because it’s too big to handle but because the suits figured out that it’s cheaper PR to violently suppress journalist investigations than to clean up their mess.
In the Congo, the mining of cobalt — a vital ingredient in every battery ever — is a massive part of the economy, employing 100,000 people to mine up to 25 percent of the world’s supply. However, cobalt miners work for little to no pay in “artisanal mines,” a fancy Starbucks term for a type of mine that has no safety features and is dug purely by hand. (You’ll notice that there were no upsides in that sentence.) Oh, and a significant portion of the miners are children. We probably should have mentioned that earlier. One study by UNICEF estimated that 40,000 children are employed in cobalt mining, by sheer virtue of the fact that kids are a) tiny and b) hilariously expendable in an industry that already doesn’t value human life.
In Chile, meanwhile, lithium mining has resulted in the exploitation of indigenous groups. Very similar to how our nation was bought from Native Americans for some beads and a lot of violence, techbros and mining companies are sweeping up ancestral lands belonging to the Atacamas. In exchange for extracting billions of dollars in “white gold,” these companies gave the Atacamas a handful of schools, sewage systems, and other public amenities … only to cheat them out of so much money that they can’t afford to maintain all of their new infrastructure. But the good news is that this doesn’t really matter, as all the mining screws with the local water supply so much that it might make the land barren and eventually uninhabitable in the very near future anyway.
But hey, check out the battery life on our phone! 16 hours and only at 54 percent! Totes worth it.