Posted 21 days ago
This is one of the best pieces of reporting in The New Yorker recently, I think, because it surfaces a critical argument that has so many facets to it: the green revolution is not as environmentally-friendly, or socially or economically, as we might like to believe. The metals necessary for batteries, elements required in solar panels, etc., are largely mined in deporable conditions. Niarchos's reporting on the creuseurs in the DRC is an trend, not an singular oddity, of the cost of mining.
Of course, a counterargument that could be made is that mining has never, ever been a safe and human-friendly job. In the United States, coal mines were notorious for collapsing and dangerous conditions, providing riches for those who could access them during the industrial revolutions. Towns and areas thrived where mines could be made, and many people died (men, women, and children) that could be comparable to what Niarchos is looking at in the DRC.
However, there is an imperalistic nature to the current situation. Creuseurs are largely working to mine and sell minerals to foreign governments, which are extracting these resources rather than using them within the country itself. This exploitation is apparent, where even though mining can provide a "small fortune" for those that successfully make it out alive, "According to the World Bank, in 2018 three-quarters of the country’s population lived on less than two dollars a day."
There is an upside to this: China is making huge investments. Although some take a critical eye to this, saying that these investments are "particularly in resource-rich and regulation-poor countries," the investment might be an important factor to growing economies in these areas. Niarchos writes:
The journalist Howard French, in his 2014 book, “China’s Second Continent,” writes that in Zambia, Congo’s neighbor, Chinese companies invested so extensively in copper mines that the flood of foreign money was said to be influencing elections. Beijing was blamed for increasing Africa’s debt burden, and an essay in the magazine New African accused China of “a new form of colonialism.”
This may be true, but no different than any other country in the history of the world. Additionally, we can't act like we are morally superior. Interviewing Ivan Glasenberg, Niarchos summarizes "He warned that if Chinese companies stopped exporting batteries, this could hamper the ability of non-Chinese companies to produce electric vehicles." We simultaneously criticize, then demand renewable energy, even though we are dependent on the entire supply chain from which we criticize. I'm not saying this against Niarchos, I think his reporting was excellent and shows a ton of perspectives, but rather against our shaky morals in today's world.