Lithium: Driving (Sustainable) Development?

Javiera Barandiaran
Thursday, January 15, 2015
Girvetz 2320
Javiera Barandiarán

Javiera Barandiarán is Assistant Professor in the Global Studies program at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a CNS Seed Grant recipient. Barandiarán received her Ph.D. in 2013 from the University of California, Berkeley in Environmental Science, Policy and Management. She holds a Masters in Public Policy also from Berkeley and received her B.A. in politics from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Her research has been awarded support from the Social Science Research Council and the National Science Foundation. 

Barandiarán works on environmental politics, experts and the state in Latin America, to understand how states come to know about the environment in order to regulate it. Prior to her Ph.D., Barandiarán conducted surveys on attitudes towards science, technology and the environment in European countries. She has also worked in or conducted research on questions of rural development in Hawai’i, Mexico and California, and is working on a book that explores four environmental conflicts in Chile to reflect on the ways in which the Chilean state organizes, accesses and believes in environmental information since the end of the Pinochet regime. The conflicts are a toxic waste spill by a paper and pulp mill in Valdivia, the mine at Pascua Lama, the virus ISA in salmon farming, and the hydroelectric dams of HidroAysén.


Chile and Argentina together currently supply most of the world's lithium, used in batteries for electric vehicles, laptops, mobile phones, MP3s, and energy storage for solar power plants. Together with Bolivia, these three countries have the world's largest lithium reserves. Each government is taking very different approaches to capture lithium rents and avoid the infamous “resource curse”, such as increasing mining royalties, retaining state control of concessions, creating public companies, and investing in innovation. Though some consider lithium strategic —as it has been since the Cold War— others treat is as one more commodity. At stake are competing views of  where value lies and how to develop economically in the 21st century. Who benefits from the commodification of a natural resource like lithium? Are developing countries setting the terms of new global markets, or are they dependent recipients of trends outside their control? And what consequences do these global markets have for the sustainability of energy transitions? This talk explores these questions through the history of lithium extraction in Chile and Argentina.