|Don’t feel too Pious about your Prius!
Copper might be the wonder metal for Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) but there are still copper smelters all over the world generating polluting by-product sulphur. Anthony Lipmann talks to Leeds and District Inner Wheel about copper mining and its unhealthy by-products and expresses grateful thanks to the women of Yorkshire for their hugely generous donation of £450 for the MMTA Charity, Friends of Mufulira.
It seems that, late in life, I have developed a new role as public speaker. Courtesy of a close friend, I was invited by Leeds Inner Wheel (the women’s side of Rotary) to tell the story of our campaign for sulphur capture at the Mopani mine in Mufulira, Zambia. The talk is called ‘How 11 Zambian children politely changed the world’ and the word ‘polite’ is important to me. Those children, in 2009, did not launch a Facebook campaign – they wrote letters in their best handwritten English, which we passed on to the mining company. What they simply did, was try to describe what it was like living with airborne sulphur in their daily lives – the acidification of mucous membranes in eyes and lungs, the choking effect endured while in class, the acidification of soil preventing growth of sustainable crops.
Those children were ahead of their time. Today, following the example of Greta Thunberg in Sweden, children all over the world are leaving their classrooms on a Friday to protest on behalf of the planet. They want to send a message to politicians that climate change should not be put in a corner. Some people say these children are wasting lesson time. Others, that demonstrating on such an issue is itself a lesson in citizenship. Here in Leeds, I heard that the Head Teacher of a school, instead of banning the children from their march, asked them to put in writing why they felt they should protest. Children do not lie about these matters. These children speak with a clear, honest, direct, voice, that shames us as adults.
When I tell the story of our battle and how we nudged the mining house to spend $150 million on sulphur capture in Mufulira, the purpose of the tale is not to demonize. That would be to miss the point entirely. Instead, I remind audiences to remember that we are all to blame. That copper light switch, the cupro-nickel £1 coin in your pocket, or the 50-60 kgs of copper in your brand-new Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) are all items we own that require many atoms of copper, and mining them which generates by-product sulphur upon smelting and converting that requires dealing with. [By the way, if you think I am exaggerating about the weight of copper in EVs and PHEVs, please just look it up https://www.copper.org/publications/pub_list/pdf/A6191-ElectricVehicles-Factsheet.pdf – and there are any number of websites that appear to provide the same information.]
What we all need to do, is to be more aware about the real cost of pollution to communities – and the planet – be it sulphur, tailings, slags or anything else. That is the message I try to convey when I talk about the industry in which we as members of The Minor Metals Trade Association practise and upon which we, as citizens, depend.
In summary, there is precious little point in feeling pious about driving a Prius, when the copper it contains causes pollution in the place from which it is mined. We need to do better and the MMTAs charity, Friends of Mufulira, is how we express our solidarity with those at the other end of the supply chain. The £450 donated by the good folk of Leeds and district Inner Wheel will contribute more than half of a bursary for a doctor to travel to Ronald Ross General Hospital (RRGH) in Mufulira in 2020 on his or her elective. On behalf of all of us at FOM, representing the MMTAs charitable arm, I would like to express our deepest thanks.
Anthony Lipmann—Lipmann Walton & Co Ltd