The World Economic Forum is calling for a global transition from away from private ownership of vehicles and other “idle equipment” in order to make a “clean energy revolution” possible.
In a report published on July 18, the international lobbying group based in Switzerland said that “transition from fossil fuels to renewables will need large supplies of critical metals such as cobalt, lithium, nickel.” But the report noted that shortages of these “critical metals” could make renewable fuel technologies prohibitively expensive.
“One obvious route is to mine more virgin material, but this comes with its own costs and potentially unintended consequences,” the report said. “Another solution commonly discussed is to recycle more and use the metals already in circulation. The complication is that we do not currently have enough metals in circulation, and even with recycling taken into consideration, mineral production is still forecasted to increase by nearly 500%.”
Instead, the WEF made three proposals to build a “fully circular economy” to reduce demand for critical metals, which are used in cellphones, electric vehicles, wind turbines, and all sorts of technologies.
The first of these proposals is to “go from owning to using.” The report argues that private ownership of vehicles and electronic devices is wasteful and inefficient.
“The average car or van in England is driven just 4% of the time. While most already have a personal phone, 39% of workers globally have employer-provided laptops and mobile phones,” the report states. “This is not at all resource efficient.”
It suggests that expanded use of “car sharing platforms” that let users rent vehicles, for example, could reduce demand for critical metals used to manufacture them.
“To enable a broader transition from ownership to usership, the way we design things and systems need to change too,” the report continues. “For example, car sharing is made possible by new keyless unlocking features. Similarly, user profiles that create a distinction for work and personal use on the same device is needed to reduce the number of devices per person. A design process that focuses on fulfilling the underlying need instead of designing for product purchasing is fundamental to this transition.
“This is the mindset needed to redesign cities to reduce private vehicles and other usages,” the report states.
The second proposal was to have companies design products for “longevity.” The report observed that keeping a smart phone for five years instead of three could reduce the phone’s annual carbon footprint by 31%, for example.
Thirdly, the WEF wants to encourage “remanufacturing” to repurpose technologies that no longer can perform their original function to do something else. A retired electric vehicle battery, for example, could be refurbished to power streetlights, the report said.
The report acknowledges that implementing these solutions would require a dramatic upheaval of worldwide economies, which is why it likens the transition to a “revolution.” But the report said failing to make these changes would actually harm the environment because mining for “critical metals” harms biodiversity, overuses water, creates waste, and leads to labor and geopolitical issues.
This is the bottom line: Transitioning away from fossil fuels with current technologies will require people to give up rights like private car ownership. The question is whether people will voluntarily surrender their liberties or whether they will be forced to.