Cobalt Carnage, Child Labor and Ecological Destruction

Horrific for cell phones, worse for electric vehicles, calamitous under Net Zero

Paul Driessen

Global cobalt demand soared with the advent of cell phones and laptop computers. It exploded with the arrival of electric vehicles and now is skyrocketing in tandem with government EV mandates and subsidies. Cobalt improves battery performance, extends driving range and reduces fire risks.

Demand will reach stratospheric heights if governments remain obsessed with climate change and Net Zero. States and nations would have to switch to electric cars, trucks, buses and tractors; end coal and gas electricity generation; convert gas furnaces, water heaters and stoves to electricity; and provide alternative power for windless, sunless periods. Electricity generation would triple or quadruple.

Weather-dependent wind turbines and solar panels would require billions of battery modules, to stabilize power grids and avoid blackouts every time wind and sunshine don’t cooperate.

All that Net Zero transformation equipment – plus transmission lines, substations and transformers – will require billions of tons of cobalt, lithium, copper, nickel, graphite, iron, aluminum, rare earths and other raw materials at scales unprecedented in human history. That will necessitate mining, ore processing, manufacturing, land disruption and pollution at equally unprecedented levels.

Just President Biden’s first tranche of US offshore wind turbines (30,000 megawatts by 2030) will require some 110,000 tons of copper, for the turbines alone. Transmission lines, transformers and batteries are extra. Based on average global ore concentrations, getting that copper would require extracting 40,000,000 tons of surface rock (overburden) and 25,000,000 tons of copper ore.

But those 2,500 12-megawatt 800-foot-tall turbines would provide barely enough electricity to power New York state on a hot summer day, if the wind is blowing, and before its Net Zero mandates kick in.

However, the Biden Administration opposes mining in the United States – even for essential Net Zero materials; even under stringent US pollution, workplace safety and mined-land reclamation regulations. The President’s horse-blindered Secretary of the Interior has vetoed mining for materials in Alaska, Minnesota and almost anywhere critical metals and minerals might be found.

The Administration is laser-focused on ending the “climate crisis” by switching to “clean” energy. It has few qualms about importing the critically needed materials from foreign countries, primarily China – regardless of economic, defense, national security, ecological or human rights implications. It just wants the dirty aspects of “clean” energy far away and out of sight.

Cobalt mining involves unimaginable horrors. Cobalt Red, by Nottingham University associate professor of modern slavery Siddharth Kara, exposes the excruciating realities that Stop Oil and Net Zero campaigners strive to keep buried – along with the bodies of parents and children killed in cave-ins or dying slowly and painfully after being maimed or poisoned in cobalt mines.

Professor Kara took multiple trips to the Democratic Republic of Congo, risking his health and life to document conditions for desperate Africans in a region that holds 72% of the world’s known supplies of cobalt. He estimates that 70% of this cobalt (half the world’s entire supply) involves some measure of child labor, while much of the rest involves near-slave labor.

The DRC’s once-verdant southeastern corner hosts the largest, most accessible, highest grade cobalt ore deposits known on Earth. For EV buyers, Net Zero aficionados, and corporate and government elites, the land is blessed with cobalt interspersed with copper, other Net Zero metals, uranium, chromium, gold and silver. For those toiling at the bottom of the Congo food chain, the land is cursed with those metals.

In DRC mines, “labor is valued by the penny, life hardly at all,” Kara says. Miners in its big industrial mines get somewhat decent working conditions, medical care and pay (perhaps $10 per day).

But almost one-third of Congo cobalt is gouged from the earth by artisanal miners: men and women, and boys and girls as young as six. They and their families live and work in a treeless “hellscape of craters and tunnels patrolled by maniacs with guns.”

Noxious clouds of gas permeate air that even infants must breathe. Families fish, play and bathe in – and drink from – rivers and lakes contaminated with metals and industrial chemicals.

They labor ten to twelve hours a day in sweltering heat and toxic mud, water and dust, in enormous pits hundreds of feet deep – hacking at rocky walls and in long, narrow tunnels that collapse with frightening frequency. Injured miners may get initial medical care; then nothing.

In some areas, their clothing and skin are covered with mustard-colored dust – dried sulfuric acid from processing the ores. Almost everywhere, breast, kidney and lung cancers are rising, because adults, children and babies are exposed constantly to heavy metals and uranium in everything around them. High lead levels cause permanent neurological damage.

15-year-old Muteba hobbled on crutches, his shattered, mangled legs dangling below his skinny waist. He was the only survivor from a cave-in that buried his brother and six others alive. 16-year-old Makano fell into a pit, broke and gashed his leg and hip, and was left with a festering, infected wound that desperately required antibiotics and medical attention he was unlikely to receive.

There are thousands more like them – maimed, paralyzed, disfigured or dead.

“Fair living” wages? Male artisanal miners receive around $2-4 a day – for output that might reach two 90-pound (40-kilogram) sacks of heterogenite cobalt ore. Women and children are typically paid half that, regardless of how much they produce or the purity of the ore they mine.

Those who disobey mine overseers can get “locked in a shipping container with no food or water for up to two days.” At Kanina, two boys who tried to get more than the usual pittance for their 65-pound bags of ore were gunned down – murdered – by security guards.

“Here it is better not to be born,” a mother lamented. A miner reflected, “Here we work in our graves.” Of course we fear the dangers, said another, “but if we do not work, we do not eat.”

And still mining, tech and EV companies, ESG investment firms, politicians and climate zealots tell us they require and ensure “responsible sourcing” of Net Zero supply chains, good wages, safe working environments, and prevention of child labor and slavery. What indifferent, self-serving fraud.

No DRC buyer knows or cares where a quantity of cobalt ore came from, under what conditions it was mined, or whether children dug it out. The entire marketplace is designed to collect and mix ores from formal industrial mines and legal or illegal artisanal operations – making it impossible to trace sources or tell whether child slaves or brutal militias were involved.

At least one marketplace is a remote night operation that can have no other purpose “than to launder artisanally mined cobalt into the formal supply chain completely our of view.” Every mixed load of ore is then thrown into acid baths for initial processing – before being sent out of country, mostly to China.

We hear much about reparations for descendants of American slaves – but little about reparations for Native Americans, and zilch about compensating these modern-day slaves.

Nor do we hear from billionaires like Bill Gates, John Kerry, Mark Zuckerberg, George Soros and Michael Bloomberg. They lavishly fund “climate crisis” and “clean energy” campaigns. Have they spent one dime bringing decent wages, working conditions, living standards and medical care to Congo’s miners?

These human rights issues should top their charitable giving – and the agenda for anyone promoting the climate crisis, ESG, Net Zero and batteries, especially President Biden, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow ( and author of books and articles on energy, climate change, environmental policy and human rights.

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July 31, 2023 10:06 am

Story Tip

New regulations going into effect on Aug 1, effectively ban the incandescent bulb.

Reply to  MarkW
July 31, 2023 6:18 pm

in anticipation of the ban, two weeks ago I went to buy a few 60W and 100W bulbs. All I could find was 3 ways at a dollar store.
thx, w (worm)
Has anyone caculated the cost of manufacturing an LED bulb v the potential energy savings compared to incandescent cost and savings?

Reply to  czechlist
August 1, 2023 3:44 pm

Presumably the cost of the power is built into the price of the LED. For most people, if you bought a quality LED, it will save more money over it’s life than it cost to buy.

Reply to  MarkW
August 2, 2023 8:22 am

I was just reading this morning that there are certain fields of research that will be impacted by the ban – they require incandescent lights that are among those that are being banned.

July 31, 2023 10:28 am

Good article, just one problem. “Electricity generation would triple or quadruple.” Electric generation in US and Europe is being reduced, not increased. Solar and wind are failures.

Reply to  2hotel9
July 31, 2023 12:51 pm

And consumers are being coerced into demand side reductions via smart meter remotely activated ToU tariffs whilst at the same time being told they must get battery cars and heat pumps

Ben Vorlich
Reply to  Energywise
July 31, 2023 1:37 pm

In The UK cost is driving down demand at the moment, but like everything we’ll get used to it and in a couple of years domestic user demand will get back to close to where it was. Industry may well have departed elsewhere by then

Bryan A
Reply to  Ben Vorlich
July 31, 2023 2:59 pm

How Dare You … you stealing away their childhood and futures for your Solar Panels, Wind Farms and EV Batteries (as well as mega pack and power wall batteries)

July 31, 2023 11:22 am

Whatever happened to that tried & proven process for considering implementation of ideas / proposed solutions / products / services –


Bryan A
Reply to  Mr.
July 31, 2023 3:07 pm

The costs are astronomical (why a global warming “moon shot” is required)
The benefits are intangible (they only exist, like the problem, in models)

Reply to  Mr.
August 1, 2023 3:46 pm

The benefit is going to the politicians who support these scams. The cost is going to everyone else.

Reply to  MarkW
August 2, 2023 8:23 am

The benefit is going to the politicians

Thus, the cost doesn’t matter.

Rud Istvan
July 31, 2023 11:38 am

I did some quick materials research. Depends on whose EV battery, but typical is about 80# of nickel, and 30# of cobalt. There are not enough global nickel and cobalt ore reserves even at 3-4x current prices to electrify global automative.

DRC is estimated to be ~60% of world cobalt reserves, estimated at about 3.5 million tons of cobalt ore (not cobalt metal).

Tesla has an experimental EV battery recycling program. They are presently extracting ~92% by weight. Good on copper, aluminum, and nickel. Not good on cobalt.

There is also a much more sophisticated massive (~1000 pages) recent Finnish study that also concluded you cannot get to EV there from EV here with nickel, cobalt, and lithium.

Joseph Zorzin
Reply to  Rud Istvan
July 31, 2023 11:46 am

“Tesla has an experimental EV battery recycling program.”

How does the cost of whatever they can reclaim compare to getting it from mining?

Rud Istvan
Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
July 31, 2023 12:39 pm

Good question. Dunno. It is all just lab scale experiments to now.

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  Rud Istvan
July 31, 2023 3:30 pm

Ah, “lab scale” breakthroughs. Code for “totally impractical and uneconomical at scale, and will never happen.”

Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
July 31, 2023 1:35 pm

If hard core Greens like Gore and Kerry could import some slave labor for the EV battery recycling program, then that would certainly reduce the processing costs!

\heavy sarcasm mode off

Bryan A
Reply to  pillageidiot
July 31, 2023 3:18 pm

Haven’t you been paying attention to our southern border?

Joseph Zorzin
July 31, 2023 11:42 am

It’s amazing how this reality is ignored by the climatistas. This reality is NEVER mentioned in any MSM here in Woke-achusetts.

Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
July 31, 2023 11:57 am

In these countries, you can work in artisanal mining or starve to death. If we sanction these countries, the child miners still starve to death, while the money gets diverted to countries that are already richer. This problem can only be solved in incremental steps by honest dedicated people or else the poorest suffer the most.

Ron Long
Reply to  DMacKenzie
July 31, 2023 12:25 pm

As someone who has witnessed child labor in these circumstances, you are correct about the children feeding themselves and their mother (fathers usually not around?). The solution is complex, but making the children starve is not a reasonable solution.

Reply to  Ron Long
July 31, 2023 12:57 pm

These nations have had billions of foreign aid over decades, it’s hard to believe they’re still poor, until you look at the levels of corruption involved, then you understand they’re only eternally poor below the ruling classes

Bryan A
Reply to  Energywise
July 31, 2023 3:30 pm

What, you’ve never heard of the Nigerian Prince Billionaires … They do exist.

Frank from NoVA
Reply to  DMacKenzie
July 31, 2023 8:34 pm

I think the word ‘artisanal’ is a nice touch – for many alarmistas it probably brings to mind strolling the aisles of their local Whole Foods to buy ‘fair trade’ coffee and produce.


Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
July 31, 2023 12:54 pm

It’s difficult to own child labour abuses, better to sweep it under a carpet and imagine it comes from a land of green rainbows & unicorns

John Hultquist
July 31, 2023 12:33 pm

Good info — thanks.

The finest example of using Cobalt is in making colored glass.
Cobalt is an intense coloring agent for glass and glaze and very little is required to produce deep blue.
Using images search-up: “blue wine bottle”
The coloring aspect has been known for 4,000 years, but glass bottles for wine are more recent.

July 31, 2023 12:41 pm

We had a fellow jump all over me a while back when I implied that the left had quietly sweep all their concern for “ the children” under the rug. Said I was a right wing sock puppet “ He seemed to believe the “indigenous personnel” were happy to have the work ie better than starving. That no doubt might be the case- was just wondering where their bleeding hearts went. I guess the same place they put their concern for children sold into the sex trade went- Epstein island and other hang outs for the Elite of course must be stocked.

Reply to  John Oliver
July 31, 2023 1:02 pm

The green blob are highly hypocritical – child labour, deforestation, killing of birds, bats & whales, sterilisation of good agricultural land etc, is all in the best interest of their new religion and bank accounts

Bryan A
Reply to  Energywise
July 31, 2023 3:33 pm

Not to mention Sterilization of our youth (puberty blockers and sex affirmation surgery)

Reply to  John Oliver
August 1, 2023 3:54 pm

The CA House of Representative recently passed a law the forbade using charges of child sex trafficking as an enhancing factor when determining sentences after conviction. The same bill also required judges to take race into account when determining sentences. In other words, two people, identical crimes, identical circumstances, the two criminals will get different sentences, depending on their skin color.
Hopefully this law will quickly make it’s to the Supreme Court and be tossed out in a unanimous verdict. (I know this is futile, because Biden’s two nominees will always support the race hustlers, no matter how bad the law is.)

Philip CM
July 31, 2023 12:46 pm

…but dammit. I gots to have my ev so I can drive about saving the planet from the inevitable doom of climate change… it’s called progress, dontcha know!

July 31, 2023 12:46 pm

Adding insult to injury, the western blob, steered by the WEF & UN, also want Africa to embrace renewables and the nut zero religion rather than use the coal, oil & gas that nature has bequeathed them

Thankfully Africa is waking up to this new green colonialism and Russia & China are only too happy to support them in their drive to develop to the same dizzy heights of the West

BRICS are the new multipolar global force – they now hold regular meetings, akin to G20, to discuss their growth, partnerships and solidarity – they are also looking at their own dollar busting currency to trade with

The decades ahead will see the West increasingly side lined, minimised and ignored – their climate emergency, nut zero self harm will only accelerate that position

Reply to  Energywise
July 31, 2023 1:18 pm

China and Russia and Wagner are only interested in working with/installing corrupt puppet regimes so they can loot the place, and in the case of Russia, Wagner are creating chaos wherever possible to drive mass immigration to Europe as a weapon. Apparently Biden denied Wagner had anything to do with the latest Niger coup.

Peta of Newark
July 31, 2023 12:58 pm

Maybe not a thousand words but it’s still a picture..
as attached

OK, LiFePO₄ maybe doesn’t quite don’t have the energy density of the Lithium Ions BUT…

They last easily for 2, 3 or even 6,000 cycles instead of just 500 (full) cycles for Li-IonYou can treat them just the same as Lead Acids (4 of those cells are identical to six Lead acid cells)They don’t catch fireDon’t contain CobaltYou preferentially store them with full chargeYou can run deeper discharge cycles with them(Li-Ions store best at 60% capacity else they age quickly, losing 50% of real capacity after 10 years)Their only real snag, which isn’t because of that 60% capacity bit, is that the fastest you can charge them is 0.5C
Li-Ions will (reasonably safely) charge at 1C and at 2C if you like to live dangerously and have money and lithium to burn – in equal measure.

But for an EV, it will normally be kept in a state of full charge.

LiFePO₄ can handle thatLi-Ions can not.
LiFePO has all the wins, apart from charging speed

LiFePO4 batteries and Cobalt.PNG
Rud Istvan
Reply to  Peta of Newark
July 31, 2023 1:40 pm

Invented by John Goodenough at UT Austin. I met him when he came to my guest lecture on my supercap carbon invention based on novel intrinsic capacitance equation. Three problems with that chemistry.

  1. Not as energy dense, so need a significantly bigger battery for same EV mileage. So cost savings are effectively nil.
  2. Slower rate of charge a big problem for EVs.
  3. Stolen by the Chinese, and now they have all the manufacturing knowhow.
July 31, 2023 4:35 pm

This article is far from proper science.
It is long on emotion and short on observation and measurement.
It has little chance of any positive outcome among WUWT readers, who expect higher technical content.
There are unproven assertions like lead Pb causing neurological damage. Is there excess lead in these mines? Pb is not usually part of the Cobalt suite. What levels and doses of Pb cause harm? That is a whole topic that has been taken to fantasy land by extreme Apocalyptic fantasists who make a quid out of the lead industry. Why accept their bad science and quote it?
What is Sulphuric Acid dust? H2SO4 is a liquid that does not “dry”. Where does it come from to end up among people? It is usually kept in processing plants, where commonly it needs heating to work well.
What is this embellishment of uranium, apart from scare tactics? Why not throw in Arsenic or exotics like Beryllium to reinforce the narrative?
What is the body count? What is the hospital record? What are the medical diogneses?
The article resembles green propaganda writing with unsupported emotional words.
I am not saying that there are no problems. Having been a miner, I get tired of non- miners bashing a fine industry. Surely the cure should start with those paid to regulate safety. Geoff S

Reply to  sherro01
August 1, 2023 12:20 pm

Excellent questions, that an informed and diligent reporter would have either answered or directed the reader to sources for further investigation. The Uranium could arise from the uranium mines in the same districts, and it would not be unusual to find high levels of arsenic, mercury, and lead in a district with copper, cobalt and uranium deposits of commercial value.

I suspect the sulfuric acid issue is due to a) the use of sulfuric acid to extract cobalt from the surface deposits (oxidized from the base minerals y in the presence of water and oxygen) and b) sulfur from the underlying deposits as they are sulfides undergoing conversion to sulfates on their way to becoming fully oxidized. You will probably find my layman’s terminology and understanding inadequate (at best). However, I can easily see how a person reporting on the lives of the miners would not be interested in the details of how their lives are endangered, but rather that they are endangered.

Yes, there is no such thing as sulfuric acid powder. There are powders that will convert into acidic solutions when mixed with water.

I think you will find the reporter is honest but equipped with a modern university education, thus completely uninformed about mining, minerals, chemistry, and science. Which does not mean there are not several nuggets of truth in the article, just that the truth is still mixed in with dross.

Reply to  John_C
August 2, 2023 3:03 am

As Paracelsus notednearly 500 years ago, “All things are poison and nothing is without poison. Solely the dose determines that a thing is not a poison‘”.
For these people to be harmed by a poison, they have to be in intimate contact with it. It matters not if they work a cobalt mine when there is a uranium mine nearby. If they don’t go to the uranium mine, it cannot poison them. We found a very large uranium mine that is now mined out after 30 years, with no harm to anyone recorded.
We have mined copper, gold, bismuth, aluminium, iron ore, silver, lead, zinc, tungsten, coal, to name but a few commodities. Again, there has been no known toxic effect on the miners of which I am aware.
Repeating, I am not asserting that these children are without problems. But you cannot claim they are ill by association with products. You need medical diagnosis if you believe in science over virtue signalling.
Geoff S

David Kamakaris
July 31, 2023 4:35 pm

An oldie but goodie.

July 31, 2023 5:35 pm

BLM! Just not on Africa……………..

July 31, 2023 6:43 pm

Copies of Cobalt Red should be included in the kits being handed out at COP23.

August 1, 2023 3:55 am

Not to be ignored, cobalt is an important element in some steels.

August 1, 2023 5:02 am

Spend an extra Penny or two to change the climate or whatever else takes your fancy-
German supermarket seeks to charge shoppers ‘true’ environmental cost (

This could be the start of something really big for the Peter Kalmus types to vent their inner frustrations and deep personal guilt upon. Here’s the base free market willing seller willing buyer price and then sign up to the various app percentage loadings on top right up to Green planet saving max. What more could the depressed guilt ridden ask for in order to avoid being labelled virtue signalling tosspots?

Reply to  observa
August 1, 2023 4:00 pm

Sounds like a good way for the supermarket to earn a lot more money. Not making enough money this week, just increase the “environmental cost” surcharge, which is mostly made up anyway.

August 2, 2023 8:13 am

They don’t care about slave labor or child labor as long as they don’t have to see it.

August 3, 2023 10:19 am

You should investigate the charity “Still I Rise” who sent in people to get kids to school out of there, having one of their staff told – fill the quota, or don’t come back. The guy got completely beaten up and lost everything, and as they slashed his calf’s, he’s now in a wheelchair, and they refuse to do anything about it..

These guys are no saints and riding on the bad that comes out of the cobalt mining.

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