The journalist’s thorough investigation finds that corporations are unearthing alternatives to fossil fuels. Who will benefit?
Henry Sanderson has written a remarkably hopeful and useful book. My guess is that was not his original plan. The longtime commodities and mining reporter for the Financial Times, Sanderson may well have sold this book on the idea that “going green” was actually taking us in dark directions. And indeed his in-depth reporting – stronger on corporate histories than on-the-ground interviewing – shows the corruption that underlies many of the mining schemes for the minerals used in batteries, the human rights abuses and environmental troubles that can come from that mining and the geopolitical complications that emerge when countries such as China and Russia control crucial parts of the trade.
These defects are fairly well known at this point: the underside of, say, “artisanal” Congolese cobalt mining has been widely reported and the Ukraine war, which happened too recently to be reflected in Sanderson’s account, has underlined Moscow’s control of some critical materials, such as nickel. Indeed, understanding of these kinds of threats has penetrated deeply enough that it’s become a favourite trope of the fossil-fuel industry; I was debating recently with a former Republican congressman who was indignant about African child labour in the mineral supply chain.