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Accepted Paper:

Extraction after oil? Mining Bolivia's Lithium for Green Energy Futures  
David Schröter (Université de Lausanne (UNIL))

Paper Short Abstract:

In order to transition beyond oil, mining of precious minerals is necessary and usually follows traditional patterns. This paper explores ethnographically how in Bolivia Lithium mining is seen as an opportunity for industrialisation, while mirroring familiar forms of fossil-fuel era extractivism.

Paper Abstract:

For almost two decades royalties generated from natural gas have formed one of the principal pillars of the Bolivian national economy. Gas reserves now growing scarce, Lithium promises a way out of impending national and international crises, as it is also needed for the transition to greener energy futures, coveted for supposedly making possible mobility without carbon fuels.

In Bolivia, Lithium extraction was supposed to be different. Grassroot organizations proposed it become a state industry, benefitting not just a chosen few, but the nation at large. Accepting their proposal, the government has developed an ambitious vision of lithium industrialisation based on the principles of national sovereignty and re-distribution of resources. Lithium was to save the world from its dependance on fossil fuels, and Bolivia from the historical paradigm of being a site of extraction while reaping hardly any its benefits.

However, after over 15 years, Lithium is still not extracted on an industrial scale, and faced with the urgency of the impending crises the country has called for foreign companies to propose new ways of extracting Lithium from the brines of the Uyuni salt flat. So, is Lithium mining just “business as usual” in a world which is supposedly undergoing a “just transition” towards greener futures?

Based on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork with different regional grassroots organizations this paper will explore local engagement with the lithium extraction process at the Salar de Uyuni.

Panel P217
Life after oil? Undoing the contradictions of the energy transition [Environmental Anthropology Network (EAN)]
  Session 2 Wednesday 24 July, 2024, -