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Greening extractivism: Environmental discourses and resource governance in the ‘Lithium Triangle’

Posted on 2021-04-10 - 12:06

The lithium extractive industry is expanding, as technological and economic shifts associated with climate change mitigation goals drive global demand for lithium-ion batteries. This article explores the case of the ‘Lithium Triangle’, a region of Latin America (spanning Bolivia, Chile and Argentina) that contains the world’s largest reserves, and where environmental conflicts associated with lithium mining have proliferated. Emphasising the centrality of discourse in resource governance, we analyse the discursive strategies employed by institutional actors seeking to promote and render acceptable lithium extraction in the region. We argue that such strategies reproduce imaginaries of prosperity and modernisation long attached to oil and mineral wealth, while at the same time introducing a novel association of mining with high-tech industries, ‘green jobs’ and ‘climate-friendly’ extraction, seeking to obscure the social and ecological costs of lithium production. This inaugurates an era of ‘green extractivism’, whereby intensive resource exploitation is framed not only as compatible with climate change, but indeed as necessary to its mitigation. Our findings contribute to ongoing conversations regarding post-fossil fuel ‘transitions’, by highlighting the contradictory character of mitigation strategies that rely on mineral-intensive development.

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