Note — Jul 11, 2021

Lithium Landscapes

The environmental impacts of lithium extraction are getting quite well known. This paper by Samir Bhowmik fleshes out some more context in terms of the places themselves, “deep time and multi-scalar topologies” and frames the whole supply chain and products within the visual culture of lithium, which is clouded in utopian dreams and abstractions of energy sufficiency. “These representations are largely immaterial and dimensionless, making the true scope and scale of lithium-based energy systems impossible to grasp.”

“Your smartphone runs on the tears and breast milk of a volcano. This landscape is connected to everywhere on the planet via the phones in our pockets; linked to each of us by invisible threads of commerce, science, politics and power.” […]

[W]ith every such interaction, “a vast matrix of capacities is invoked: interlaced chains of resource extraction, human labor and algorithmic processing across networks of mining, logistics, distribution, processing, prediction, and optimization.” Crawford and Joler argue the scale of this system is almost beyond human imagining. […]

We must examine the topology of energy generation and distribution, since it is “necessary to identify the ways in which the notion of extraction [as well as manufacturing, logistics and waste] provide[s] a means to map and join struggles that unfold in seemingly distant and unrelated landscapes.”