I should very quickly say – the way things are done now. The mining industry, as it functions in the past and now, destroys things no matter what it is extracting – gold, lead or lithium. So if we are going to have a real revolution we are going to have to change the entire extraction industry. This point is larger for me than this article implies because capitalism is the problem. We as a society can achieve a carbon negative atmosphere and humans will still threaten the planet because that it what capitalism does – destroys thing. Still you have to start somewhere.
Issue 9 / Nature
What Green Costs
Deep in the salt flats of Chile lies the extractive frontier of the renewable energy transition.
Clean energy advocates envision an electrified home running on 100 percent renewable energy with a Tesla parked in its garage, solar shingles gleaming on its rooftop, and a smart meter dutifully collecting usage data and uploading it to the cloud. But swim upstream and eventually you arrive at the extractive frontiers of the renewable energy transition.
It was 8:45 am on the first day of the 11th Lithium Supply & Markets Conference in the basement level of the W Hotel in Santiago, Chile. There was no way for me to blend in. “Providence College” on my name tag rendered me a curiosity. Still, I was glad I remembered to wear lipstick and that my backpack had straps that converted it into a tote.
I found an empty seat in the sea of suits, almost all men but of different ages. They hailed variously from China, Australia, Chile, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Argentina. They were market analysts and prospectors; equipment salesmen and regulators; executives, consultants, and peddlers of information in the notoriously opaque world of lithium, a “space,” in Silicon Valley talk, not quite meriting the word “market.”
As I slid into my seat, the chairman of one of the largest lithium companies in the world, with a sordid past in a corrupt privatization process under Augusto Pinochet’s brutal dictatorship, took to the stage. “Mining is the spine of Chile; mining runs through our veins.” I might have been the only person in the room who immediately thought of Eduardo Galeano’s anti-colonial page-turner, Open Veins of Latin America?—?incidentally penned the same year Pinochet came to power, brutally crushing the dream of democratic socialism in Chile. But I don’t think the chairman meant to call to mind the vampiric iconography of global capital. The dead sapping the living; the blood and sweat and tortured landscapes of extraction, especially in its colonial variant.
Go there and read. More next week, if there is a next week.