Exhausted: How We Can Stop Lithium Mining from Depleting Water Resources, Draining Wetlands, and Harming Communities in South America

To mitigate the worst consequences of climate change, we must move away from fossil fuels such as petroleum and coal and towards clean energy production and zero-emission transport options. However, many green technologies, such as electric vehicles and renewable power plants, rely on lithium-ion batteries that require lithium.

Lithium resources are concentrated in sites that have long histories of destructive social and environmental impacts caused by the mining sector. In South America, large amounts of lithium are extracted from the salt water under dry basins in Puna de Atacama – a unique area spanning northern Chile, northwestern Argentina and southwestern Bolivia. However, the evaporation technique of brine used in this region contributes to the ecological damage of internationally recognized wetlands and protected areas where water resources are already depleted for local and indigenous peoples. Many of these communities have no influence on – and benefit from only – mining.

Lithium may play a key role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but a climate-friendly future can not come at the expense of destroying this biodiversity region or violating indigenous rights. In this report, made in collaboration with the Plurinational Observatory of Andes Salt Flats (OPSAL), we highlight the voices of people whose lives and livelihoods have been negatively impacted by the lithium industry. We also propose a number of different ways in which the harmful effects of lithium extraction – water depletion, drained wetlands and societal damage – can be avoided.

Exhausted: How to stop lithium mining from depleting water resources, draining wetlands and harming communities in South America – Report (PDF)

Exhausted: How to stop lithium mining from depleting water resources, draining wetlands and harming communities in South America – Report, En español (PDF)

Originally published on NRDC. By Amanda Maxwell & James Blair, Co-author with: Ramón M. Balcázar and Javiera Barandiarán

Featured photo: Uyuni Salt Flat, Boliviaby Samuel Scrimshaw on Unsplash


 


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