Sal Y Cielo (2020)



In the fall of 2018, I was contacted by Rishi Sugla, a PhD student at Scripps University and one of the members of CIEJ (Center for Interdisciplinary Environmental Justice). He asked if I would be open to filming the presentations of a group of indigneous activists — This group included Jorge Alvarez (Chile) and Clemente Flores (Argentina), who came to talk about how lithium mining in their territories was depleting water resources, destroying the ecosystems and in turn, their ways of life. 

In September of 2019, millions of people took to the streets for global climate strikes, demanding bold solutions to address the climate crisis. Most of these solutions involve a high degree of electrification of our energy sources, and lithium technology plays a key role of these policies — it’s commonly referred to as a “green” solution. The Green New Deal’s ambitious, 10-year greenhouse gas reduction plan, for example, calls for massive investment in zero-emission vehicle infrastructure, which will dramatically increase lithium demand. 

But here’s the part that no one’s talking about: lithium is extracted from the ground… just like coal, oil, and gas. And in reality, there are major concerns about the irreparable damage to communities and ecosystems that surround these mines. The process is strikingly similar to oil extraction — it’s just a different fluid being pumped to the surface and processed with chemicals. 

The US is on a path of electrification that perpetuates the colonial dynamics of extraction and oppression that birthed the climate catastrophe to begin with. Current efforts to use electric vehicles to transition to a “zero-emission” world reduces climate change to an “emissions” issue with little to no conversation about frontline communities who suffer the consequences for our clear conscience.

In the US, three quarters of the people who have electric vehicles earn over $100,000 per year. The federal government, states and industry leaders are all centering their efforts on projected exponential lithium demand growth in line with this green tech savior narrative. US State Department forecasts a 1000% increase in lithium demand by 2050. By the end of 2020, EVs and battery storage are expected to consume 50% of global lithium.

Out of sight, out of mind communities no longer have the most basic life necessity- water-  so we can buy our Tesla’s and alleviate our guilt. More collective, less individual models of electrification exist but require a relational reorientation. We must take individual vehicle growth off its altar, and bring frontline community voices into the conversation in the process. This film aims to center the frontline.

- Taylor Rees
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