Lithium extractivism and water injustices in the Salar de Atacama, Chile: The colonial shadow of green electromobility

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Abstract

This paper analyzes the linkages and feedback between green electromobility, lithium extractivism, and water injustices affecting the Atacameño's indigenous communities in the Salar de Atacama basin (Atacama Salt Flats). Currently, lithium is in high demand in the international markets as a strategic resource for the green electromobility industry, which represents part of the Global North policies established by the Paris Agreement to mitigate climate change's effects. Using both documentary and ethnographic methods based mainly on semi-structured interviews conducted with Atacameño people, public officials, and lithium companies' representatives and workers, we propose a decolonial interpretation of lithium extractivism in brine mining through the lens of Latin American political ecology combined with a decolonial and water justice approach. The results demonstrate how the linkages and feedback between global and local dynamics of lithium mining in the Salar de Atacama constitute a form of green extractivism that further replicates the historical inequalities between the Northern and Southern hemispheres and especially affects the indigenous Andean territories and the water ecosystems in the Global South. We call this phenomenon the colonial shadow of green electromobility. We conclude by exposing the need to rethink global proposals addressing climate change by reducing the commodity demand and aiming for water justice at global and local levels.

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Jerez, B., Garcés, I., & Torres, R. (2021). Lithium extractivism and water injustices in the Salar de Atacama, Chile: The colonial shadow of green electromobility. Political Geography, 87. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.polgeo.2021.102382

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