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Discover the paradoxical reality of electric cars: indigenous communities ask for help from miners who deforest their forests to mine nickel

Written by Noel Budeguer
Published 15/06/2024 às 12:10
Mining - electric cars - nickel - tesla
Discover the paradoxical reality of electric cars: indigenous communities ask for help from miners who deforest their forests to mine nickel

Nickel mining and indigenous people at risk: Understand how the search for nickel for electric cars is destroying forests and communities

Last year, the images went viral. At that time, the green light was given for logging and mining operations in Indonesia, penetrating the tropical jungle of the isolated Hongana Manyawa people. What had an impact was not so much the arrival of the machines, but the apparent fight between two indigenous people with the excavator, waving their weapons to express that their presence was not welcome. The latest images generated most controversial about the situation in the region. Basically: the search for nickel.

The images show an isolated tribe in Indonesia asking for help from miners who destroy their land to obtain nickel for electric cars.

The Tribe Asks for Help

The clip shows several Hongana Manyawa approaching miners who are deforesting their land. In this case, not to stop them, but to ask for help. According to Survival International, the NGO that shared the video, they were asking for food. “We don’t know if they will survive after the encounter, or for how long. They could have contracted any number of diseases that would be fatal to them. Or they may starve; the reason they left their territory is because their increasingly shrinking territory cannot feed them,” says the NGO.

In fact, Survival claims to have contacted a person from the Hongana Manyawa who expressed that their people are starving as a result of mining and deforestation of their ancestral tropical jungle.

The Hongana Manyawa

Until recently, they were one of the few isolated tribes. They live on the island of Halmahera and are one of the last nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes in Indonesia. It is estimated that there are between 300 and 500 members isolated by their own will, as well as 3.000 Hongana Manyawa who were contacted in the 1980s and maintain some contact with the rest of the world.

The Problem: Nickel Mining

The arrival of machines and different mining companies in the region is no surprise. The site sits on one of the largest nickel reserves in the world, and in recent years, demand for the mineral has soared due to its use in electric car batteries, which has drawn the attention of international mining corporations to the island.

It is one of the key companies in the region. A company partially owned by French mining company Eramet that began mining operations on the island in 2019 and has important plans to intensify its efforts in the coming decades. According to Survival, German chemical company BASF is looking to partner with them in Halmahera to undertake a major smelting project in the region. Essentially transforming nickel into a grade that can be used for electric car batteries.

For its part, Weda Bay Nickel argues that its mining concessions are not close to the lands inhabited by uncontacted peoples. However, Survival claims that leaked internal documents show that the company hired anthropologists who warned about the presence of uncontacted Hongana Manyawa people in and around the area.

Tesla and its investment in mining in the region

The company has invested US$5 billion with the Indonesian government so far, in addition to partnering with several companies connected to the Weda Bay mining company located on the island. Musk's company's agreement is to purchase nickel and cobalt, although, when asked about the situation, the answer refers to the internal code of ethics, which establishes guarantees that are not always met for the extraction and processing of raw materials for its products. . After all, nickel is essential for battery production.

In any case, Tesla expressed that it “expects” its mining industry suppliers to “commit to the legitimate representatives of indigenous communities and include the right to free and informed consent in their operations.” Even so, the American company is also associated with business with other less “dialogue” companies on the island, such as the Chinese Huayou Cobalt or CNGR Advanced Material.

The Key, a Concession

If you are wondering how it all started, we must go back to 1998, when approximately 45.000 hectares were granted to Weda Bay Nickel by Indonesia's then military dictator, Suharto. For several years, due to the decline in the nickel market, the project was stagnant, but was resumed with intensity after the Chinese conglomerate Tsingshan Holding Group joined with a majority stake through a subsidiary in 2017.

The Paradox of “Sustainable” Cars

Although it is considered that the consumption of electric cars is better for the planet than motor cars, there are still externalities, which is why paradoxes occur such as the supply chain leading to a shortage of materials and ending up associated in some way with the destruction of forests and Indian people.

For Survival, “it is also not respectful of the climate to destroy the jungle of the Hongana Manyawa, devastating vast forest areas in the interior of Halmahera by companies that seek to project an ecological image and that claim to defend a sustainable lifestyle for people who live thousands of miles away. kilometers away”, they conclude.

Image | Survival

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Noel Budeguer

Of Argentine nationality, I am a news writer and specialist in the field. I cover topics such as science, oil, gas, technology, the automotive industry, renewable energy and all trends in the job market.

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