Flash Points

Themed journeys through our archive.

Electric Vehicles’ Dirty Secret

EVs may hold great promise. But they’re not a silver bullet.

A man in a yellow hat stands next to a conveyor belt with blue-green chunks on it.
A man in a yellow hat stands next to a conveyor belt with blue-green chunks on it.
A man watches a conveyor belt loaded with chunks of raw cobalt at a plant in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, on Feb. 16, 2018. Samir Tounsi/AFP via Getty Images

Electric vehicles are a key part of green transitions around the world. Already, prices are dropping, and the share of electric vehicles on the streets has soared. The technology holds great promise: private transportation with fewer emissions. But the transition won’t be simple. Electric vehicles require vast quantities of critical minerals—and mining them comes with its own drawbacks. As journalist Bob Davis puts it: “Clean cars drive some very dirty businesses and grubby regimes.”

In this edition of Flash Points, we explore the push for electric vehicles worldwide, the trade-offs inherent in producing them, and why they may not be the silver bullet for mitigating climate change.—Chloe Hadavas

Our Amazing Clean Energy Future Has Arrived

The evidence of a great green wave is now overwhelming. And it will only get better, Vivek Wadhwa and Alex Salkever write.

Electric vehicles are a key part of green transitions around the world. Already, prices are dropping, and the share of electric vehicles on the streets has soared. The technology holds great promise: private transportation with fewer emissions. But the transition won’t be simple. Electric vehicles require vast quantities of critical minerals—and mining them comes with its own drawbacks. As journalist Bob Davis puts it: “Clean cars drive some very dirty businesses and grubby regimes.”

In this edition of Flash Points, we explore the push for electric vehicles worldwide, the trade-offs inherent in producing them, and why they may not be the silver bullet for mitigating climate change.—Chloe Hadavas


A vintage illustration of a futuristic three-wheeled self-driving ‘“dream car” from 1961.
A vintage illustration of a futuristic three-wheeled self-driving ‘“dream car” from 1961.

A vintage illustration of a futuristic three-wheeled self-driving ‘“dream car” from 1961. GraphicaArtis illustration/Getty Images

Our Amazing Clean Energy Future Has Arrived

The evidence of a great green wave is now overwhelming. And it will only get better, Vivek Wadhwa and Alex Salkever write.


A man views congestion in Kathmandu, Nepal
A man views congestion in Kathmandu, Nepal

A man sits atop a public bench and looks over an uncontrolled crowd of passersby and local vendors in one of the most congested arteries of Kathmandu, Nepal, on June 23.Tulsi Rauniyar Photos for Foreign Policy

Nepal’s Big EV Bet

Is it a genuine push toward a cleaner—and safer—nation? Tulsi Rauniyar reports from Kathmandu, Nepal.


Congolese workers stand beside bags filled with cobalt and copper slag at the STL processing plant in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, on Dec. 1, 2011.
Congolese workers stand beside bags filled with cobalt and copper slag at the STL processing plant in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, on Dec. 1, 2011.

Congolese workers stand beside bags filled with cobalt and copper slag at the STL processing plant in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, on Dec. 1, 2011.PHIL MOORE/AFP via Getty Images

What Do Electric Cars Really Cost?

Volt Rush examines the price of a dirty green business—and China’s role, Bob Davis writes.


A digger descends into a copper and cobalt mine in Kawama, Democratic Republic of the Congo, on June 8, 2016.
A digger descends into a copper and cobalt mine in Kawama, Democratic Republic of the Congo, on June 8, 2016.

A digger descends into a copper and cobalt mine in Kawama, Democratic Republic of the Congo, on June 8, 2016.Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Green Energy’s Dirty Secret: Its Hunger for African Resources

The scramble for battery metals threatens to replicate one of the most destructive dynamics in global economic history, Cobus van Staden writes.


Seabed mining in Indonesia
Seabed mining in Indonesia

An aerial view shows wooden pontoons equipped to dredge the seabed for deposits of tin ore off the coast of Bangka Island, Indonesia, on May 1. Willy Kurniawan/Reuters

Can Mining the Seabed Help Save the Planet?

Few other issues better illustrate the messy trade-offs involved in climate policy, Christopher Pala writes.

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