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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Expanded mining for materials used in renewable power technologies and electric cars could harm vulnerable species and ecosystems absent better planning, according to a peer-reviewed paper in Nature Communications.

Why it matters: The tech needed to fight one threat to biodiversity — climate change — can create other big risks unless policymakers act "urgently" on the matter, the researchers found.

  • It's not a far-off threat either. A new Financial Times feature explores how increased mining in Indonesia for nickel, an electric vehicle battery component, will create more marine waste.

How it works: They looked at tens of thousands of "pre-operational, operational, and closed" mining sites for dozens of materials, many of which target supplies needed for clean energy applications.

  • It then draws a 50-kilometer radius around them to assess their "spatial coincidence with biodiversity conservation sites and priorities."
  • They find that mining "potentially influences" almost 50 million square kilometers.
  • 8% of that overlaps with "protected areas," 7% with "key biodiversity areas," and 16% with "remaining wilderness."

Yes, but: Simon Evans of the climate news and analysis site Carbon Brief cautions via Twitter that the analysis assumes an extremely wide potential impact radius (again, 50 kilometers) around mining sites.

  • "[O]f course it's possible to think of potential impacts that can extend a long way, but as a default for all mines I don't think it is that meaningful," Evans tweeted.

The big picture: Greatly expanding climate-friendly energy and transport means much higher demand for materials like lithium, copper, cobalt and more.

  • As the International Energy Agency puts it, rising deployment is set to "supercharge demand for critical minerals."
  • The paper's authors, writing in The Conversation, cite World Bank estimates that demand for a suite of critical materials could grow by 500% by 2050.

The bottom line: "Careful strategic planning is urgently required to ensure that mining threats to biodiversity caused by renewable energy production do not surpass the threats averted by climate change mitigation and any effort to slow fossil fuel extraction and use," the paper concludes.

  • Lead author Laura Sonter of the University of Queensland in Australia tells the Guardian that the "good news" is “many of the required materials also exist outside areas important for conservation.”

Go deeper

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Dec 9, 2020 - Science

Human-made materials could now outweigh all life on Earth

Plastic bags wrap around trees along the Sindh River in India. Photo: Idrees Abbas/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

For the first time in history, human-made materials now likely outweigh all life on Earth.

Why it matters: If true, it would mean the world had reached a crossover point where humankind's total footprint is heavier than the combined mass of natural life — and there's little indication that trend will change anytime soon.

Exclusive: Lawmakers urge probe into DOJ's alleged racial profiling of Asians

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Nearly 100 members of Congress members urged Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate the Justice Department's alleged racial profiling of Asians, according to a letter shared with Axios.

Why it matters: The case of Anming Hu, a scientist who was baselessly targeted in an espionage probe, has renewed scrutiny of the DOJ after an FBI agent admitted to falsely implicating the Chinese Canadian.

Updated 37 mins ago - Sports

The Olympic events to watch today

Katie Ledecky. Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

5 events to watch today...
  • Baseball: USA plays Israel in the opening round at 6 a.m. ET on nbcolympics.com (Watch the replay at 10:30 a.m. ET on NBC Sports).
  • Women’s soccer: USA takes on the Netherlands in the quarterfinals at 7 a.m. ET on NBC Sports (watch the replay at 6 p.m. ET on NBC Sports).
  • 🏊 🚴 🏃‍♀️ Team triathlon: The mixed team relay Triathlon makes its Olympic debut at 6:30 p.m. ET on USA Network.
  • 🏊‍♀️ Swimming finals: Watch Katie Ledecky swim the women’s 800m freestyle final and Caeleb Dressel go for his third gold at this year’s Games in the men’s 50m freestyle. Plus live action from the mixed 4x100m medley relay. Coverage starts at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBC.
  • 🏃‍♀️ Track and field: Athletes compete in prelims and round 1 of several events, including the women’s 400m hurdles and men’s 100m.