What can unite us in a divided world?

Plus readers weigh in with their thoughts on lithium mining in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. And read part 4 of our series on lithium mining.

Hello Flatlanders,

Please find part 4 of the series: Lithium mining on the Prairies, which looks at the various governments’ roles when it comes to the exploration and extraction of lithium. 

The TL;DR is that:

  • Both the Manitoba and Saskatchewan governments have financial incentive programs in place when it comes to mining. 
  • Jim Reiter, Saskatchewan’s minister of energy and resources, told us that the Saskatchewan Research Council is building a rare earth materials processing plant in Saskatoon, which should be operational in 2024. The provincial government provided $31 million in funding to the facility in 2020 and an additional $20 million this past June.
  • When there is a resource like lithium with huge potential, Reiter said, the province is obligated to develop it to its full potential. 
  • Meanwhile, the federal government has pushed for more vehicle electrification to help it meet its international sustainability goals and has entered into agreements about critical minerals with other countries. 

In case you missed it, here are the earlier installments of the series.

The last installment will look at the environmental concerns around lithium mining as well as other challenges the local industry could face. 

The Saskatchewan Legislature. GETTY IMAGES.

Readers’ thoughts on lithium mining

Although there is one more installment of our lithium mining series, readers have already begun writing in with their thoughts:

Kevin wrote:

A hot topic for me; I may sound angry, but my apologies.

Are you not aware the energy used to mine the lithium and then produce the lithium into batteries uses X times more energy than saved, and there is no known use or recycling after the batteries die?

I would say educate yourself . . . you have to be aware; who cares what it does for a small town the only ones pushing this is the greedy, not the environmentalists.

Thanks, Kevin. In addition to electric vehicles, lithium is also used in our cell phones and laptops, so demand is growing.

The good news is it looks like there has been some recent success in recycling lithium batteries. 

Scientists have discovered a way to refurbish the cathode, the crystal in the lithium-ion battery, that is critical in supplying the correct voltage.

From what I’ve been reading, a recycled cathode is as good as and perhaps better than a new one.

If these new processes can be scaled up, that could diminish some of the need for lithium mining.

Further reading:

Local, independent, in-depth.

Our Prairie stories.

And battery and car manufacturers are trying to cut down on the materials needed to build lithium batteries.

Some electric car manufacturers have begun to reuse batteries.

Nissan, for instance, is refurbishing old Leaf car batteries and putting them in automated guided vehicles that bring parts to its factories.

Lois wrote:

One of my most significant concerns with electric cars has been the acquisition of “rare earth minerals” for the batteries. We have heard of the atrocities of mining in third-world countries and that the residents are not the beneficiaries of any economic development that occurs.
 
I would hope that Canada would ensure that any mining that takes place is done safely; it is done in an environmentally friendly manner – using electricity is a positive; and, most importantly, miners are treated fairly. I think it also ought to be a given that any negotiations regarding land with First Nations must be done respectfully and in a timely manner – like before going into the ground.
 
Thanks for this excellent article. 


Thanks, Lois. Russia and China have secured mining deals throughout Africa, where labour is inexpensive and regulations are minimal. China and Russia also have many rare earth minerals in their own backyards

Those working in the Canadian industry would argue that, here at home, companies are doing more to reduce the environmental footprint and have higher safety standards than China, Russia or any country in Africa.

Environmentalists would say that there is always more that could be done in Canada, like banning mining activities from provincial parks

In our latest installment on lithium mining, we look at the memorandums of understanding between First Nations and the lithium industry.

Jack wrote:

No lithium mining would be the best policy . . .  Electric Vehicles have at least 12 times the carbon footprint of fossil fuel vehicles and, as such, should be discouraged at all costs.

We will be looking at the environmental impacts next week, but when it comes to the ecological footprint of EVs, it’s complicated. 

It’s been found that EVs have lower emissions over their lifetime than conventional internal combustion engine vehicles across Europe.

Making lithium batteries is energy-intensive, especially in countries like China, where older factories are fossil-fuel intensive.

There is optimism, however, that recycling lithium batteries will improve.

I also received a rather long and well-researched letter from Patrick about mining in provincial parks, which I will save for next week. 

Much gratitude

Thank you to everyone who donated to The Flatlander’s recent reader revenue campaign. It’s greatly appreciated. Without your support, my work wouldn’t be possible. 

I often refer to The Flatlander as a journalism project. By project, I mean experiment because when I began 10 months ago, I didn’t know if there would be any interest. However, I’ve since been able to grow The Flatlander to 6,000 newsletter subscribers, and I am grateful to everyone who takes the time to read these newsletters each week.

Can The Flatlander become financially sustainable? It’s getting there.

Since December 2021, 171 readers have kicked in about $7,700. I’ve also made $525 in sponsorship since August. (We’ve been running some introductory sponsorship rates. Prices will eventually go up). Because of this, I can almost cover my newsletter expenses over the next 12 months. 

A labour of love, a labour of debt

My expenses for The Flatlander are about $750 a month. Thanks to readers, it brings in about $680 a month, so I only need another $70 a month to break even, so I will be running one more reader revenue campaign before the year ends to try and close that gap. 

To borrow from Ann Friedman, who also runs a newsletter, I am okay with running a labour of love. I’m not okay with running a labour of debt. 

So I’m not making any money from The Flatlander, but I hope that over the next two or three years, I will be able to pay myself a full-time salary and bring on one other full-time person. 

Whose side are you on anyway?

I was joking with one of my mentors; it would probably be easier to bring in revenue if I made The Flatlander a political publication and catered to either the left or the right. 

I occasionally hear from readers looking to have their personal opinions or beliefs validated by what I write, but that is not something I can offer.

I’m driven by curiosity, and often when researching Flatlander issues, I find that problems are more complicated than left or right. 

An example is mining in provincial parks—some people and organizations, like the Wilderness Committee, strongly oppose such activity. Still, as I pointed out in last week’s issue, mining in provincial parks has been going on for 50 years. Over that time, Manitoba has had four NDP premiers and five Conservative premiers, who both seem to work towards, in their ways, balancing environmental issues with the economy. It’s complicated. 

Every time I look at a particular issue, there is much more to it than I thought. For instance, The Flatlander is in the middle of releasing a five-part series on lithium mining, but much more could be written on that subject alone. 

I try to keep my beliefs at arm’s length and understand a subject from as many sides as possible because there are ambiguities and good-faith arguments to be found around any issue. And I think finding information that serves as a devil’s advocate for our personal opinions is helpful because it makes us better thinkers. 

What’s next?

As a journalist, I see my job as trying to make sense of all the information that’s out there. It’s a vocation of verification. 

As The Flatlander comes up on its first anniversary next month, I will look back at past issues and how they impacted readers. I will also be double-underlining topics I didn’t have a chance to get to with plans of prioritizing them next year. 

Regarding content, I have recently been aspiring to get out two newsletters weekly, but I haven’t found a way to squeeze my time to make that happen yet. 

The second Flatlander newsletter I have been periodically sending out breaks down some recent Prairie news, like these:

These issues have been very popular with you, the readers. More popular than my usual fare of in-depth explainers of complex issues, which some of you say are too long, so maybe I will do one explainer a month broken down into four parts as the second newsletter and put the main focus on breaking down some of the top local news of the week as the primary newsletter. If you have thoughts on this, let me know.

I have also been thinking about member perks to offer those who contribute financially to The Flatlander.

Right now, the only perks are supporting The Flatlander and its commitment to providing Prairie journalism and recognition on the virtual members’ wall, similar to how YouTubers recognize their patrons from Patreon in their credits. (I use the word member instead of a patron).

Another option would be to allow members to comment on stories directly in a comment section on the website; just little things like that. I’ll have to think on this more, but if anyone has any ideas on member perks, let me know.

I sent out a little questionnaire to 10 per cent of readers on this issue. Many who responded said they couldn’t contribute to The Flatlander because they are on a fixed income or are over-subscribed to other services, which is fair enough. This is why I am committed to not having a hard paywall.

One reader wrote: 

Just not sure ‘where’ and ‘if’ Flatlander fits in my media diet. Lots to choose from. Do I need it or can I delete it this week because of time? You appear to be catering to a diverse prairie audience, but I am not sure exactly who and why. Can you survive on my sporadic and limited interest in your weekly content? Where is the thread that unites us?

While this comment might have a political undercurrent, ignoring that, I often ask myself these sorts of questions.

  • What can I write that Manitobans and Saskatchewanians are personally concerned about, personally interested in, and would find useful?
  • What, if anything, is the thread that unites us all in this divided world? 

I am always open to suggestions. 

One reader wrote me to say they read The Flatlander like some people read The New Yorker, a weekly magazine that is always impossibly long to read from cover to cover:

Your newsletter — The Flatlander — is something that I let some issues pile up before I binge some issues in a sitting. I have a few unread issues, and I want more unread issues before I binge them.

Until next week…

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Thanks for reading, and kind regards,

Kelly-Anne Riess

Important work at a critical time.

Over the last 20 years, on the Prairies and beyond,  local newsrooms have shrunk, which means not much investigative journalism gets done in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The Flatlander is changing this.

 

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