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Ernest Scheyder — The Global Battle to Power Our Lives

The War Below: Lithium, Copper, and the Global Battle to Power Our Lives (book cover)

A new economic war for critical minerals has begun, and The War Below is an urgent dispatch from its front lines. To build electric vehicles, solar panels, cell phones, and millions of other devices means the world must dig more mines to extract lithium, copper, and other vital building blocks. But mines are deeply unpopular, even as they have a role to play in fighting climate change and powering crucial technologies. These tensions have sparked a worldwide reckoning over the sourcing of necessary materials, and no one understands the complexities of these issues better than Ernest Scheyder, whose exclusive access to sites around the globe has allowed him to gain unparalleled insights into a future without fossil fuels.

The War Below reveals the explosive brawl among industry titans, conservationists, community groups, policymakers, and many others over whether some places are too special to mine or whether the habitats of rare plants, sensitive ecosystems, Indigenous holy sites, and other places should be dug up for their riches.

With vivid and engaging writing, Scheyder shows the human toll of this war and explains why recycling and other newer technologies have struggled to gain widespread use. He also expertly chronicles Washington’s attempts to wean itself off supplies from China, the global leader in mineral production and processing. The War Below paints a powerfully honest and nuanced picture of what is at stake in this new fight for energy independence, revealing how America and the rest of the world’s hunt for the “new oil” directly affects us all.

Ernest Scheyder is a senior correspondent for Reuters, covering the green energy transition and the minerals that undergird it. He previously covered the US shale oil revolution, politics, and the environment, and held roles at the Associated Press and the Bangor Daily News. A native of Maine, Scheyder is a graduate of the University of Maine and Columbia Journalism School. Visit his website at and follow him on Twitter @ErnestScheyder.

Shermer and Scheyder discuss:

  • how, as a Reuters reporter, Scheyder came to this issue
  • rare earth metals
  • lithium and copper
  • aluminum and other precious metals
  • How much rare earth metals will we need by 2050, 2100, and beyond?
  • How do lithium-ion batteries work compared to lead-acid? What are the alternatives?
  • How crucial are these technologies necessary to combat climate change?
  • Will EVs completely replace all other automobiles?
  • Can renewables completely replace fossil fuels without nuclear?
  • recycling electronic waste
  • how mining works in the U.S., China, Chile, Russia, elsewhere
  • types of mines: hard-rock vs. soft-rock, open-pit vs. deep earth
  • public vs. private ownership of mines (Bureau of Mines)
  • what companies like Apple and Tesla are doing about the coming problem
  • Native American rights to land containing valuable mines
  • third world labor exploitation
  • electric leaf blowers and weed wackers.

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This episode was released on February 24, 2024.

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