The UN warns us that we only have 11 years before climate change becomes irreversible.
That’s intimidating and terrifying. And if we’re being honest, every individual is only a snowflake in the avalanche. What can one person do in the face of such insurmountable odds? Can buying a reusable water bottle and using it every day actually make a difference?
Unfortunately, no. A lot of the suggestions that exist won’t make that big of an impact in turning the tide on the environmental toll. Other things, like going zero waste, may have an impact, but they need radical life changes.
But there is something that as an individual you can do cut your carbon footprint – change the way you commute. You can take the subway or the bus or carpool. But we advocate biking.
And we advocate electric biking to help people stay healthy. Electric bikes help more people get all the great health benefits that come from biking. For now, we wanted to talk about the elephant in the room around e-bikes and the environment: lithium-ion batteries.
The Problems with Lithium-Ion
Lithium-ion batteries are revolutionary when it comes to efficient power. Even still, they’re far from perfect. Even the biggest lithium advocates don’t pretend that the batteries are 100% eco-friendly. Take David Deak, the chief technical officer at Lithium Americas, for example. He stated, “In the short term the CO2 footprint from [lithium] hardrocks will be less than ideal. But it is still extremely beneficial in offsetting the CO2 emissions that otherwise would come from internal combustion engines.”
So mining lithium creates a pretty sizable carbon footprint in and of itself. Beyond that, lithium comes from two main sources: a mine near Tibet, and salt flats under Bolivia.
The mines in Tibet leak pollution into the river, killing off all the fish that live there. Locals even see yaks from the local herds floating downriver. They died from drinking the now toxic water. The locals want the mines shut down. Standards that would restore the river aren’t enough. The locals say the mines are killing the spirits of the mountain.
Bolivia is as bad. Miners pump water into the salt flats where it flushes minerals – including lithium – to the top. Then, the minerals are left in pools over the course of months, almost a full year, to dehydrate in the hot sun. This course of action is easy, and relatively inexpensive. The problem is how much water is used in the mining process in an area where water is already a precious resource. Many of the local tribes have to get their water shipped in from other areas. Even still 60% of the local water is used up in this mining process.
Beyond that, lithium-ion batteries are pretty explosive when they’re severely damaged. Remember the Note that would spontaneously explode? That was thanks to faulty lithium-ion batteries.
If lithium batteries aren’t disposed of properly, they can explode in trash compactors. Or they can burst into flame in landfills that burn uncontrolled. This releases even more CO2 into the atmosphere.
Lithium and Ethics
So is it ethical for us to so consume so much lithium when it hurts these small tribes and their ancient lands? It may seem like they’re such a small group of people and so far away from first world countries, there’s not much we can do.
But it’s equally unethical for us to cause irreversible damage. These people aren’t guilty of it, but they still suffer the consequences. So we have to weigh the pros and cons of mining lithium in the first place. Is it worthwhile to use it to otherwise offset our massive carbon footprints?
E-Bikes and the Environment: Are E-Bikes Better?
So lithium-ion batteries are obviously not great. But as far as CO2 emissions go, they’re enormously better than a daily commuter gasoline powered car.
And that’s what we want to compare e-bikes too. Biking alone is the environmental winner, but for many people, biking isn’t practical in a society based on cars. But anyone can ride an e-bike. They’re fast enough to travel around quickly on the streets. They’re easy for elderly riders with less strength or joint issues. Even those who are overweight or obese can ride an e-bike, thanks to features like pedal help.
So if everyone switched to an e-bike, what would happen? Well, according to the EPA, 29% of carbon emissions in the U.S. come from transportation. The U.S. produced 5.3 MILLION metric tons of CO2 in 2018. That means about 1.5 million metric tons of CO2 comes from transportation. Brian Rose calculated the carbon footprint of his e-bike compared to his daily driver. He found that the carbon footprint was over 100 times SMALLER thanks to his e-bike.
And that’s a big difference.
What We Want to See in the Future
So e-bikes aren’t perfect, and we don’t want to pretend that they are. Doing so would be unethical, but it would also put a stop to future research on better batteries.
And fortunately, better batteries are a possibility. Just recently breakthroughs are being made on a new battery. It’s more efficient than lithium-ion, lasts longer and it’s safer.
And it’s made of organic cotton.
They are still hurdles for this new battery. It may be years before it can thoroughly replace our lithium habit. But the new battery holds promise, and we want to keep moving forward.
We would love to live in a world where people take care of their health. Where people get proper nutrients from local farms. They bike place to place to keep themselves fit and healthy. Most importantly, we want to see a world that isn’t reliant on cars. And we hope e-bikes are the first step in that direction.
Right Now, We Can Only Do The Best We Can
Earth is our planet, and if we don’t make changes, it will become uninhabitable for humanity. As Anne-Marie Bonneau said about zero-waste, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
The same applies to our transportation and its environmental toll. If you replace half your car trips with an e-bike, you’d reduce your carbon footprint by about two metric-tons every year. That’s a lot on its own. Now imagine an entire nation doing that.
So even though e-bikes and lithium-ion batteries still have their faults, they’re the best we have for now. And for now, we have to do the best we can and keep looking forward.
Switching to a car-free lifestyle doesn’t have to, and definitely shouldn’t happen overnight. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get your feet wet and learn to bike your commute to work! Talk to one of our Guru’s about making your bike an e-bike today!