Dying Earth

Beyond the Oil Age

The dark side of ‘green energy’ : The real cost of cobalt mining in the DRC and how it impacts the nation’s environment.

From smartphones to aircraft engines to the batteries of electric cars, cobalt is a critical component of modern life since the metal protects batteries from overheating and catching fire, extending their lifespans. As demand for cobalt has skyrocketed over the last few decades, it is the Democratic Republic of the Congo, home to most of Earth’s cobalt reserves, which has borne the brunt. The central African country has seen an expansion of industrial-scale mines that extract this metal. But this has led to forced evictions and human rights abuses as well as devastating climate implications. Mines – both legal and illegal – have been appearing all over the nation, and threatening the pristine tropical rainforest.

The film Beyond the Oil Age delves into a modern world trying to move to greener cleaner energy at the expense of countries like the DRC. The miracle metal cobalt, a superalloy, is now turning into a deadly chemical as toxic dumping has devastated landscapes, polluted water and contaminated crops. The quest for DRC’s cobalt has demonstrated how the clean energy revolution, meant to save the planet from perilously warming temperatures, is caught in a familiar cycle of environmental degradation, exploitation and greed.