Guillaume Pitron: ‘Green capitalism is an oxymoron’
Rare metals are in the centre of the energetic and digital transition. Investigative journalist, Guillaume Pitron, has researched the industry behind it for six years and concludes that the so-called green capitalism is an oxymoron, a round quadrangle.
Guillaume Pitron is a lawyer, film director and journalist. During six years he investigated the growing rare metal industry on different continents and he thinks this ‘new black gold’ will be much more important than our dependence on oil, for example. He wrote a book about it and will soon show a documentary on the subject (on Arte).
You talk about ‘ecological violence’ when rare metals are mentioned. What do you mean?
“Take lutetium, a rare metal used for RMI scans. To have 1 kg you have to dig up 1.250 tons of rocks. The ratio is 1 on 1.250.000.000… To extract it we use very toxic processes, the acids used are rejected in nature without after-treatment.
Near the Mongolian mines you see lakes of toxic waste in the open air. In the region they speak of ‘cancer cities’. Environmental control is very difficult because 40% of the total trade of rare metals is on the black market.”
So the finished products are also polluting?
We think digitization will dematerialize services, but behind digitization there are rare metals. That’s the paradox: to create the immaterial you need a lot of material and energy. The internet is a big consumer and if you would compare the cloud to a country it would be the 5th biggest consumer of energy.”
Do we have to be afraid for scarcity ass well?
“The effect of the ‘immaterial world’ is that people consume even more. We send more messages, we develop streaming, there is a lot to worry about this ‘green world’. Some analysts expect scarcity within 10 years, far more rapidly than with oil.”
What’s the role of China, they control the trade for the moment…
“The objective of Beijing is to become the main producer of these rare metals but, even more important, they want to control the whole chain, from extraction to final product, like they already do on the battery market. So it will be China that has the added value, we will only be assembling things.”
What about Europe?
“In fact the European soil is rich of those metals, you only have to reopen mines. For the moment we delocalize mining activity to other continents to breathe pure air, but in doing so we create a 90% dependence.
We will have to relocalize mines here, that’s what the green parties haven’t understood yet. The mines won’t be clean, but we can make them as clean and environmentally responsible as possible.”
This will inevitably increase the price of our electric cars and smartphones…
“Always looking for he lowest price leads to an unjust supplier mentality, socially and environmentally. For the moment, nobody wants to pay the real price of something, neither the producer nor the consumer. When we want to regain our independence we will have to pay more, for a cleaner and a more equitable world.”
Doesn’t this lead to a system crisis?
“For capitalism a real existential crisis is preparing itself. The capitalism of low-cost and just-in-time isn’t ecological at all. The logic of the lowest price is the complete opposite of a sustainable and real transition and makes a so-called green capitalism impossible. It’s an oxymoron, a round quadrangle.”