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Grounding the Co-optation of Sustainability: Electromobility as the Perpetuation of an Extractive and Growth-based Economy

Authors: Hernan Bianchi Benguria*, University of Toronto
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Latin America, Natural Resources
Keywords: Electromobility, Extraction, Atacama, Lithium, Dispossession
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This work engages with neoliberal development critiques to point out how continuous economic growth is perpetuated through the ‘excuse’ of sustainability while not addressing increasing environmental degradation, social inequality and exclusion, and political instability. The argument is structured upon critiques towards “sustainable development” and the “green economy” (Kothari, Demaria, & Acosta 2014), concepts tuned to the UN’s “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” a policy document which remains “[silent on the] redistribution or ecological implications of the continued emphasis that is placed on realising an unqualified conception of economic growth” (Weber 2017, 409). Here, electromobility is used as a backdrop for lithium and copper extraction in the Atacama Desert, northern Chile; where increasing demand for these minerals has produced extensive water dispossession and territorial conflict between large mining corporations and eighteen Lickanantay Indigenous groups surrounding the largest lithium deposit in the world, the Atacama Salt Flat.

The discussion on how green capitalism and policies such as the 2030 Agenda mobilize the perpetuation of endless economic growth within a Western model of development, are repositioned against emerging “radical alternatives for human well-being [which embody a] critique of development and [pose] origins of alternative worldviews” (Kothari, Demaria, & Acosta 2014, 365). Ultimately, the Agenda’s failure to contest Western lifestyles is tied to how political economist Sally Matthews warns post-development theorists not to dictate what the Global South should—or should not—do regarding development models and instead “[shift] the focus on ‘degrowth’ economics … towards the Global North” (Matthews 2017, 2,659).

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