But the scale of the difference between the scenarios is quite eye-opening. Take, for example, the difference between the worst case and what the study considers the “status quo.” When it comes to lithium, in a status quo scenario where people drive as much as they do now, we’ll need 306,000 tons in 2050. If the accumulators are increased, this figure could increase to 483,000 tons – a 50% increase.

We won’t run out of materials needed to make batteries, but every mine that needs to be built has consequences for both people and the environment. Mining often pollutes the environment, especially waterways, and the industry has been linked to human rights abuses around the world. So bigger batteries mean more serious consequences.

Bigger cars will also have a bigger impact on the climate. In the most dramatic example, compare an EV Hummer with a sedan with a gas engine.

Electric vehicles are not completely zero-emissions, even if they do not burn fossil fuels on board. Their creation, especially their batteries, requires energy. And the electricity that powers most electric cars today comes from a grid that is almost universally powered at least in part by fossil fuels.

When you factor in lifetime emissions from battery assembly and charging an EV, an electric model of the same car will outperform the gas-powered version in almost all scenarios. But comparing different models can be a different story. Quartz Research estimates that a gas-powered Toyota Corolla produces fewer greenhouse gases per mile than a Hummer EV. So now this Hummer is worse for the climate.

To be clear, I’m not saying we should all buy old gas Corollas. Electric cars, even giant ones, are getting cleaner. The grid-charged Hummer EV of 2040, which should have more renewable energy sources, will have lower emissions than the one on the road today. And hopefully by then we will have reduced the climate impact of mining and heavy industry.

So what now?

It would be great if we could drive less in general. Now I live in a walking city so I don’t have a car at all and I love it. If I never had to drive again, it would be too soon. Policy measures could help more cities look more like mine, or at least support public transit and walking and cycling infrastructure to reduce car trips.

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