Across social media, internet forums and some climate science denier blogs, there has been furious cutting-and-pasting of chunks of common text attacking the environmental credentials of electric vehicles, solar panels and wind turbines.
About 200 tons of the “Earth’s crust” needs to be mined for each electric vehicle battery, and 11 tons of brine are needed just for the lithium, claims the text, which also says solar panels and wind turbine blades can’t be recycled.
Some claims are made definitively and without context, and don’t try to compare electric vehicle batteries to the fossil fueled cars they are replacing. Solar panels can be recycled and fully recyclable turbine blades are now being produced.
The former resources minister and Queensland senator Matt Canavan was another to share some of the text that sat above a picture of a hollowed-out landscape. It took a few seconds to discover the scary but irrelevant image was of a diamond mine in Canada.
On Facebook, some posts using extracts are being noted with a label saying “Missing context. Independent fact-checkers say this information could mislead people.”
One fact check site categorises one post as a “scare tactic” containing only partial truths.
An Australian climate “sceptics” group posted a version of the essay the extracts come from earlier this year.
Prof Peter Newman, a sustainability expert at Curtin University and a senior author of an upcoming UN climate assessment on mitigation, said the numbers related to the resources needed to produce electric vehicle batteries were “nonsense” because they referred to the early days of lithium battery development.
Newman told Temperature Check the claims around brine and lithium were “based on the fears associated with brine extraction in the Andes countries, especially Chile, and human slavery in the Democratic Republic of the Congo over Cobalt.”
But he said lithium extraction was moving away from brine to a mineral called spodumene, with Western Australia now its biggest producer. That mining, Newman said, was “ethical and sustainable”.
The WA government says the state now produces 49% of the world’s lithium – meaning that at least half of the world’s supply comes without processing salty brine in places like Chile.
Commenting more generally, Newman said “rumours about critical minerals” had been spreading for too long.
“Their time is up. The world is replacing oil with sunshine made possible because of the successful Lithium Ion battery.
“Compare [this] with the numbers on air pollution deaths at 10,000 a day, the wars created over oil and the climate change impacts.”
But what are the origins of the text extracts?
Versions have appeared on Facebook and LinkedIn, many crediting the work to a different writer – including the version promoted by Canavan.
But it appears those versions were taken from an essay written last November by a US-based writer.
Temperature Check asked the writer where he had sourced his facts. He said he “tried to find at least two credible sources for each of the things I claim” and said “all of the statements are readily available on the internet”.
His work was “designed to be fun to read and to get people thinking”, he said.
It’s worth saying here that most people appreciate any new purchase – whether that’s a fossil-fuelled car or an e-bike – has an environmental cost and that raw materials have to be mined.
But electric cars are not permanently tied to fossil fuel production and the associated greenhouse gas emissions in the same way that internal combustion engines are; Australia’s motor vehicles burn 33bn litres of fuel every year.
Calling all snowflakes
Calling all kids and millennials. The veteran News Corp Australia columnist Piers Akerman had a message for you this week.
Climate-have turned you into “ill-informed, unintelligent snowflakes” in a country with a “group think mentality”.
Akerman told his Sunday Telegraph readers the Black Summer bushfires were not first or the “biggest recorded in history” and the ongoing floods “were not the worst in history in terms of life lost”.
Using deaths as a measure of the severity of a flood rather than, say, the actual river heights or record-breaking rainfall will no doubt be of great comfort to people mourning their own losses in their communities while trying to rebuild their lives in places like Gympie, Brisbane, Lismore, Ballina and Sydney.
On bushfires, we have to be careful with the term “unprecedented” and Akerman, of course, doesn’t appeared to be bothered.
But studies of the Black Summer bushfires have found the wide-scale destruction along the east coast in the Eucalypt-dominated forests were first in terms of where they happened and their scale. The effects of global heating on the risk of more frequent bushfires has been known for decades.
CSIRO research says before 2002 there was only one megafire in 90 years of records, but there had been three since then.
Last year the scientists wrote: “Since 2001 winter fires have soared five-fold compared to 1988–2001 and autumn fires threefold. Overall, fires in the cooler months of March to August are growing exponentially at 14% a year.”
Take that snowflakes.
Rio Tinto’s climate bill?
The former Tony Abbott chief of staff Peta Credlin attacked Labor’s proposed climate policy – announced months ago – in her column this week, repeating another Canavan claim that Gladstone’s aluminum plant would face a $54m annual bill by 2050 under an Albanese government.
Canavan’s claim is based on the idea that Rio Tinto – which majority owns Gladstone’s two alumina refineries and runs the town’s smelter – would have to buy carbon credits under Labor’s plan to stay under a proposed emissions cap.
Leaving aside the assumption from Canavan and Credlin that Labor is apparently about to enter three decades of government, perhaps the pair should have checked the figure with Rio Tinto?
The company said in October it had a target to cut direct emissions in half by 2030 “supported by around $7.5bn of direct investments to lower emissions between 2022 and 2030”.
Jakob Stausholm, Rio Tinto’s chief executive, said the company was looking at using renewable energy to power its operations, and said “a decade down the road we cannot continue using coal-fired power for aluminum smelters”.
If Rio Tinto makes anything like the progress on emissions its policies claim, then Canavan’s claimed $54m bill disappears.
Unless you’ve been living under a solar panel for the last few months, it has been hard to miss the Morrison government’s $31m marketing campaign, Making Positive Energy.
“We’ve already put solar panels here, here, and there,” says the voiceover, while a giant animated finger points to the roofs of businesses, homes and a huge solar plant. “In fact, more than one in four homes has solar.”
Yesterday the UK-based pro-renewables thinktank Ember released its annual report looking at changes to the way electricity is generated around the world.
The report found much truth to the idea that Australia’s uptake of solar and also wind has been among the fastest in the world in recent years.
According to the report, Australia gets 12% of its electricity from solar – now the highest proportion of any major country (meaning a nation with at least 3 million people).
Between 2019 and 2021, the report says, the share of wind and solar for Australia’s electricity generation jumped from 13% to 22%.
So is the federal government right to be taking credit for this renewables surge in its marketing campaign?
Ember’s David Jones, the global program lead, said Australia’s renewable’s growth “has been driven from the bottom up.”
“This is very different from many countries where national governments lead the charge. It’s very refreshing to see so many people embracing homegrown solar, even as the national government continues to push for more oil and gas.”