How the Clean Energy Revolution Is Driving a Scramble for Congo’s Mines

The quest for cobalt, which is vital for electric vehicles, is caught in an international cycle of exploitation, greed and gamesmanship.,

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We’re also covering biodiversity collapse, the biggest climate legislation in United States history, how traffic roundabouts fight climate change, and more.

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A cobalt and copper minding operation, run by the China Molybdenum Company, in Kisanfu, Democratic Republic of Congo.Credit…Ashley Gilbertson for The New York Times

Demand for electric vehicles, a vital part of the push against climate change, is causing a global scramble for cobalt. The metal is crucial to electric-car batteries, helping them run longer without a charge.

The focus of that scramble is the Democratic Republic of Congo, where about two-thirds of the world’s cobalt is produced.

To see what that means for the Congolese and for the fight against global warming, I teamed up with my Times colleagues Michael Forsythe and Eric Lipton. Our investigation showed how the quest for Congo’s cobalt, led by China and the United States, is caught in a familiar cycle of exploitation, greed and gamesmanship that often puts narrow national aspirations above all else.

Please read our investigation, which includes stunning photographs by Ashley Gilbertson. And check out these related articles:

Congo has been a critical source of strategic minerals for the United States since at least World War II.

As a clean energy revolution displaces oil and gas, countries like Congo are stepping into roles once played by Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich nations.

The world’s largest supply of cobalt is now controlled by Chinese companies. Here’s how the United States lost out.

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A family photo of Leonardo Angulo with a dead vaquita at his home in Santa Clara, Mexico, in 2004. Mr. Angulo said he found the animal floating at sea.

An extinction in plain sight

At first glance, my article this week about the vaquita porpoise has nothing to do with climate change. It’s about that other environmental crisis: biodiversity collapse.

But, at the heart of both is the same dynamic: people using natural resources unsustainably.

In the case of the vaquitas, that means fishermen in the wrong place with the wrong gear. The mammals, which only live in the Gulf of California, drown in illegal nets meant for shrimp and fish. Their population has plummeted year after year.

Following their story is like witnessing an extinction in plain sight. But scientists say it’s not too late, if only Mexican officials can stop illegal fishing and provide viable alternatives for local fishermen. Read more in my story with the photojournalist Fred Ramos.

Numbers: The vaquita population has plummeted from an estimated 600 individuals in 1997 to around 10 in 2019. But, they still have a chance. Examples exist of endangered species climbing back from similarly tiny numbers.

Leer en español: La vaquita marina podría ser el próximo animal en extinguirse.

Thanksgiving dinner and the climate conversation

It’s a holiday weekend in the United States, and that means families and friends will be gathering around the table. Here, from the Climate Fwd: archives, are 10 resources you can use when that cousin you rarely see says it’s all a hoax.

From the Opinion section: Flying for the holidays

Is a flight to visit your family bad for the planet? Farah Stockman, a member of the Times editorial board, dives into the question.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke about the legislation, which would provide $555 billion for programs that could significantly curb the greenhouse gas emissions. Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

The biggest climate package in U.S. history advances

The United States on Friday took a major step forward in the fight against climate change with passage through the House of Representatives of a $2.2 trillion spending bill that includes the largest expenditures ever made by the federal government to slow global warming.

The legislation provides $555 billion for programs that could significantly curb the fossil fuel emissions that have been heating the atmosphere, fueling deadly and record-breaking wildfires, floods, heat waves and drought.

On its own, the legislation isn’t enough to fulfill President Biden’s pledge that the United States will cut its emissions by half from 2005 levels by the end of this decade. But it goes well beyond any other climate policy that has come before it, in the United States and in most other countries.

The potential impact: Once enacted, the new legislation could prevent emissions of about one billion tons of carbon dioxide by 2030, according to an analysis by Rhodium Group, an independent research organization. That’s the equivalent of taking roughly all the cars in the United States off the road for one year.

What’s next: The bill faces an uncertain path through the Senate, and negotiations between the two chambers could change its form.

Also important this week:

A new federal disaster aid program allows Morgan Stanley to front money for recovery and then get paid back, with interest, by taxpayers.

After a summer of deadly heat and uncontrolled wildfires, British Columbia was hit by record rainfall.

Brazil has committed to end illegal deforestation in eight years, but a government report raises questions about the country’s intent and ability to meet that target.

Hotter summer days will mean more Sierra Nevada wildfires, a new study has found.

And finally:

Just going around in circles

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Traffic around the Hoagy Carmichael roundabout in Carmel, Ind., a city with 140 roundabouts, and more to come, for a population of 102,000.CreditCredit…AJ Mast for The New York Times

There’s a scene in the 1985 slapstick comedy “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” where the hapless Clark Griswold, played by Chevy Chase, gets stuck in a traffic circle in Central London and can’t figure his way out. “Hey look kids, there’s Big Ben, and there’s Parliament,” he says excitedly, before repeating the line, over and over, as he keeps driving around, unable to exit.

This broadly reflects American sentiment about roundabouts: They’re confusing and don’t belong on this side of the pond. But traffic engineers say such resistance is short sighted. Not only do modern roundabouts (which differ in size and design from rotaries and large traffic circles) drastically cut traffic injuries and deaths, but, because traffic flows through them without the stop-and-go of red lights, they’re linked to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Also, because roundabouts don’t require lights, they function when the power cuts out after storms.

As I wrote this weekend, no American city knows this better than Carmel, Ind., an affluent suburb of Indianapolis and the roundabout capital of America. Carmel is home to 140 roundabouts and counting, and has just a dozen or so four-way stoplights left.

Jim Brainard, the seven-term Republican mayor who’s responsible for the city’s roundabout building spree, installed them for largely safety reasons, but says the carbon savings are an added plus. Studies of emissions at roundabouts vary by location and time of day, but federal highway officials say the reduction can be significant, and a former city engineer for Carmel estimates each roundabout saves 20,000 gallons of gas a year.

There are about 7,900 roundabouts in the U.S., and though hundreds more are built every year, many traffic engineers would like to see far more. Maybe it’s time for Clark Griswold to give them another whirl.

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