Lithium batteries are, in many ways, a step forward. The increased power holding capabilities and lighter weight of lithium technology not only means that we need fewer batteries but has also been hugely important for the development of electric vehicles.
However, the increasing demand for lithium is not without its negative impacts. Lithium is extracted from brine found under salt flats. Salt flats in Chile, Argentina and Bolivia have some of the highest concentrations of lithium in the world. This has seen mining companies flocking to the area to profit from this now highly sought-after element.
Serious concerns have been raised by the Indigenous communities living in these areas about how much they share in the benefits from the operations on their land, as well as the possible environmental impacts of extensive mining. In land where water is already scarce, the amount being used by the mining companies can reduce access for local communities as well as contaminate fresh water sources with salt or chemicals.
“We know the lithium companies are taking millions of dollars from our lands”, Luisa Jorge, a leader in Susques, told the Washington Post, “The companies are conscious of this. And we know they ought to give something back. But they’re not”.
While the huge increase in demand for lithium is not primarily driven by consumer batteries, more and more of them rely on the metal. As well as this, many of the companies producing consumer batteries are also manufacturing phones, laptops or electric car batteries which certainly are driving up demand.
For example, the Washington Post’s exposé links Panasonic to one of the lithium mines accused of sidelining Indigenous communities for profits.
Corporations need to ensure that important solutions to the climate crisis are not implemented through further destruction and exploitation: “We are not against lithium. We just want our voices to be heard,” says one of the community leaders in Argentina’s Salinas Grandes. “We are fighting for the next generation.”