Electric vehicles, which can’t operate without lithium, are a “cornerstone” of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan. Likewise, a plant discovered in Nevada thrives on poor soil full of boron and lithium, and can’t exist anywhere else in the world. But, will the push for “environmentally friendly” electric vehicles drive the plant to extinction?
According to a report by CNN Business, less than 40 years ago Tiehm’s buckwheat, a yellow-flowered plant was discovered in Nevada. Botanists are impressed with the plant’s ability to thrive where few species can poor soil that’s full of boron and lithium. However, 146.5 million metric tons of lithium and boron, valued at $1.265 billion, lie under the barren soils, home to Tiehm’s buckwheat.
Environmentalists say the benefits of the yet-to-be-studied plant could be extensive, but are as yet unknown. But, they say, what is known is the importance of guarding Tiehm’s buckwheat to preserve biodiversity on Earth, the report noted.
However, businesses and governments are eyeing both Nevada and the world’s lithium. The fate of Tiehm’s buckwheat could hang in the balance, since Ioneer, an Australian mining company, stated it’s prepared to break ground later this year on a lithium mine to be located on land where Tiehm’s buckwheat grows.
Such action brings to light the tradeoffs surrounding “green technologies,” as “businesses that talk of helping the environment may not be above putting a species at risk of extinction,” the report revealed.
Environmentalists question Ioneer’s claim that the plant can survive being relocated. But “from a big-picture perspective,” Ioneer says building its lithium mine is “good for the environment.”
Why is there a push for lithium?
The electric vehicle “craze” that’s emerged in the past year explains the push for lithium. Several states have said they’ll phase out gasoline cars, and auto companies have begun to invest billions on the transition to electric vehicles, the report said. Electric vehicles need lithium, a mineral that’s crucial in the batteries that power them.
According to the International Energy Agency, only half the demand for lithium in 2030 will be met by existing mines and projects under construction. The agency said that in order to meet the climate goals set by the Paris Agreement, “the world will need to mine 42 times as much lithium as was mined in 2020.”
Tiehm’s buckwheat has an uncertain future.
Tiehm’s buckwheat, discovered in 1983, grows on about 10 acres in the Silver Peak Range of southwest Nevada. It stands about five or six inches high and produces yellow flowers, the report explained.
It is one of 255 species of buckwheat, 80 of which can be found in Nevada — 11 are found only in the state. CNN Business cited experts who say “Tiehm’s buckwheat can grow nowhere else in the world.” They say that “building the mine is likely to trigger extinction.”
Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director of the Center for Biological Diversity, told CNN Business that society needs to think more critically about “the value of biodiversity,” and that his group is prepared “for years of fighting in court to protect Tiehm’s buckwheat.”
The report cited Dale Jamieson, a NYU professor studies environment and philosophy, who said that “there’s a risk of businesses responding to short-term economic incentives without longer-term strategies.”
“Lithium looks good now. How will lithium look in 10 years?” Jamieson said. “We do know that extinction is forever.”
Read an expanded version of this report via CNN Business.