The story of primary energy extraction, along with attempt to decrease fossil-based energy to “new and renewable energy” and massive extraction of electric vehicle raw materials which claimed as “low carbon” development, gives rise to new problems instead of significantly mitigate climate crisis

Amidst the G20 High-Level Conference held in Bali, energy transition has become one of the main issues currently being discussed. On that particular issue, Indonesia raises at least three priority issues: access, technology, and financing.

The discussion on energy transition, while neither adresses the crisis that the people on the frontlines of the extractive industry’s operation experience nor involves them as the starting point of discussion, also tend to be manipulative, and ended up with false solutions to the climate crisis.

We observe, in line with the language politics being touted to profit from climate crisis, the global political-economic status quo also twist the storyline of how capitalism engendered the current crisis, to redirect the rise of public pressure through the marketing of dubious constructs such as “green economy,” “low carbon,” “new energy,” and “renewable energy,” which is a systematic attempt to defend the capitalist economic system and extractivism as its underpinning.

Behind the slogans and newspeak that pretend to provide an answer, there is no will or resolve to address climate crisis. There is no shakeup in the logic of energy supply expansion, no braking and curtailing of energy and material consumption speeds. The electrification of transportation system, along with the new dependency on battery minerals, has been the trigger to colonize territories replete in such minerals in Indonesia and other states in the global South.

While the G20 states as a machinery of global investment glorify the so-called low-carbon economy, they simply swapped their support from fossil-based energy to “new and renewable energy,” from fossil-fueled vehicles to electric vehicles. The sales of electric vehicles (EV) have increased 55 times, from 120.000 units in 2012 to 6.6 million units in 2021 (IEA).

How about the high-carbon economy? Oil, gas, and coal industries found their “solution” to battle the surge in carbon emissions, through the nonsensical offset mechanism built into the global finance capital bookkeeping, in which emission spikes can be neutralised by trading “right to pollute” stocks of carbon-offset or transferrable “mitigation results”.

The rise in sales and demand for electric vehicles has also ignited an expansion of extraction of nickel, cobalt, lithium, manganese, and other base electric materials in many states, including Indonesia.

Indonesia as Low Carbon-High Casualty Extraction Colony

In 2021, Indonesia’s energy consumption amounted to 909.24 million barrels of oil equivalent, comprised of electric, coal, natural gas, petrol, diesel, biodiesel, briquettes, liquid propane gas, biogas, and biomass consumption. The transportation industry is the biggest consumer with 388.42 million barrels of oil equivalent, or 42.72% of national energy consumption, followed by the manufacturing industry with 317.5 million barrels of oil equivalent (34.93%), and households with 148.99 million barrels of oil equivalent. While the rest, commerce industry at 43.48 (4.78%) million-barrel oil equivalent and other industry consumption at 10.79-million-barrel oil equivalent (1.19%).

The lionshare of power plants primary energy diffusion came from coal, with 65.8% in 2021. According to the Provision of Electricity Business Plan (RUPTL) 2021–2030 of the State Electricity Company (PLN), coal-based electricity generation has been projected to increase by 69.702 gigawatt-hours until 2030.

Meanwhile, the secondary energy diffusion came from natural gas, which amounted to 17.5% last year, although lower than the 21.9% target. In 2022, natural gas diffusion is planned to reach 16.7%.

Nickel consumption, one of an electric battery’s essential components, is currently still dominated by steel production (around 70%), and the amount of battery needed for decarbonization of the transportation industry is estimated to represent the third largest industrial sector growth in nickel demand by 2030. In 2019, global nickel battery production demand rose to 5-8%, or 162 kilotons, and could still rise to 265 kilotons by 2030.

The Organized Seeding of Disasters

The story of primary energy extraction, along with attempt to decrease fossil-based energy to “new and renewable energy” and massive extraction of electric vehicle raw materials which claimed as “low carbon” development, gives rise to new problems instead of significantly mitigate climate crisis.

The ransacking of the islands of Kalimantan, Sumatera, Sulawesi, and Papua to extract coal, including its distribution and burning process in power plants such as those to power the nickel industry smelters, has left irrecoverable cataclysmic destruction. In East Kalimantan, mining expansion has caused large-scale land use conversion, forest area destruction, eviction of community settlements, groundwater contamination, and the deaths of 40 children inside the toxic, abandoned coal mine pits.

Drinking water and irrigation for crop land development are also contaminated with heavy metals: 15 of 17 water samples taken from coal mines and waterways surrounding those areas showed concentrations of aluminum, iron, and manganese, as well as pH levels that are harmful to communities’ health, crop production, and fish farms.

Similar phenomena also occured at geothermal mines, which dubbed as “renewable” and “environmentally friendly.” Ongoing terror on everyday life began from the encroachment of subsistence producing land since the investigation of heat sources beneath the earth’s crust: extraction and contamination of water landscapes, heat and noise pollution from heavy duty digging machine, construction of giant fluid stream pipes, monstrous cooling fans and windfarms, transmission and distribution tower and cable installation.

Those situations are currently ongoing in more than 300 drilling targets for geothermal mines along the Indonesian archipelago, from the Mount Geureudong project at the tip of Northern Sumatra to targeted territories in Manokwari, Kepala Burung, and West Papua province.

The extractivist prerequisite of the acceleration of power consumption from geothermal mining and the technological progress that it propels, neither mitigates nor reduce, but rather escalates disaster risk for all resident living beings of the Indonesia’s islands waters. The whole power generation based on geothermal extraction, including the legislation of regulatory instruments as an essential commodity for this dangerous industry, demands people’s willingness to forgo their autonomy and rights, their historical means of subsistence, their lifespace, get harmed, or even get killed.

The same happened with nickel extraction in Southeast, Central North and South Sulawesi, North Maluku all the way to Papua, being claimed as capable of bringing down carbon dioxide emission levels through electric vehicle development, which has intensified the destruction of crop producing areas on the islands, their coastal areas, as well as in  small islands.

Water, essential for residents’ lives, has been contaminated by heavy metals in Central Sulawesi, Southeast Sulawesi, North Maluku, and Papua. The pace of deforestation in forest areas subject to nickel mining, steadily rose between 2009 and 2021, which reached 41.406,37 hectare of deforested area for the sake of nickel mine. The pace of deforestation in the surrounding nickel mining area is increasing every year, and reached 4.663,39 hectare in 2021. Such deforestation has compromised the forest’s natural water absorping capacity, which then triggers recurring flash floods in the rainy season. Such floods have been repeatingly happened at PT Indonesia Weda Bay Industrial Park (IWIP) area, PT Aneka Tambang (ANTAM) operational area in North Maluku, and PT Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park (IMIP) in Central Sulawesi.

Nickel mining and smelter development for electronic vehicle batteries require coal power plants to fuel its operation. For example, the IMIP area required the construction of no fewer than 10 power plants and, as a result, IMIP residents and workers are suffering from acute illnesses such as acute respiratory syndrome. In 2019 at the IMIP site, the number of acute respiratory syndrome patients treated in corporation-owned clinics reached 3.400. Acute respiratory syndrome patients even increased steadily, from January to July 2020; 26.226 patient had contracted the illness.

One of the examples of predatory operational practices in the extractive industry includes a plan to dump mine tailings into the deep sea. Euphomised as Deep Sea Tailing Placement (DSTP), put at risk the ecological integrity of fishing grounds  of small-scale or traditional fishworkers, who are highly dependent on fishing and sea resources. Currently, there are at least more than 7.000 fishing families in Morowali and 3.343 fishing families on Obi Island. Furthermore, DTSP also threatens the health of the mangrove, seagrass, and coral reef ecosystems.

The rapidly expanding, massive extraction of nickel very often are  accompanied by violence and intimidation towards communities defending their living-territories. Some of such rampant violence committed by state-corporate actors occurred on the island of Wawonii, Southeast Maluku, where 30 residents who refused PT Gema Kreasi Perdana (Harita Group) had been reported to the police; six residents in East Luwu, South Sulawesi, were criminalized by PT Vale Indonesia; and in Weda, Central Halmahera, IWIP’s operational area, one person got imprisoned for refusing to sell his land.

On that account, the savage operation of extractive capital in mining minerals and energy-carrying materials, including massive water mining to support the industry, is a systematic attempt to accumulate limitless gain, as well as making provision for industrial urbanism’s lifestyle, which, historically, does not belong with the people. Economic transition and the substitution of new sources of energy for the old ones are merely slogan change and switching the support of fossil fuels to renewable or low-carbon energy sources. Throughout the process of energy generating and commodity production, the same extractive operation only relocates, while retaining its destructive power.