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Anticipating lithium extraction in northern Portugal: A Sacrifice Zone in the making?

Authors: Leonie Alena Saleth orcid logo (University of Copenhagen) , Ingrid Varov (Stockholm Environment Institute Tallinn Center)

  • Anticipating lithium extraction in northern Portugal: A Sacrifice Zone in the making?

    Articles

    Anticipating lithium extraction in northern Portugal: A Sacrifice Zone in the making?

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Abstract

Despite increasing calls for the development of a circular economy, extractive industries are gaining renewed relevance in Europe. The European Commission's plan to expand domestic sourcing of lithium to scale up the production and use of electric vehicles has been met with social resistance from affected communities who mobilize to protect their livelihoods, and nature. The growing conflicts emerging around global battery supply chains highlight the importance of examining justice-related concerns around current decarbonization strategies. This article takes a political ecology approach that combines the concepts of place and anticipation to examine negotiations around a proposed lithium mine in the Barroso region in northern Portugal. Drawing on 27 qualitative semi-structured interviews and ethnographic research in August 2021, we explore how local residents engage in the politics of anticipation around the mine. The study has two main findings: (1) While local supporters hope to benefit from the project economically, opponents expect it to undermine agricultural traditions, counteract plans for expanding tourism services, and as known from mining areas in the past, drive displacement and rural injustices. (2) As opponents feel restricted in their ability to participate in decision-making around the project, they act upon the future through defensive resistance, connecting across multiple scales and drawing on place-based symbols to mark differences from dominant ideas on extractive development. The study suggests that local activists' experiences of being disregarded in their concerns and demands indicate that plans to expand resource extraction in the name of the green economy are giving rise to new sacrifice zones.

Keywords: anticipation, place identity, sacrifice zones, lithium mining, Ecological Distribution Conflicts

How to Cite:

Alena Saleth, L. & Varov, I., (2023) “Anticipating lithium extraction in northern Portugal: A Sacrifice Zone in the making?”, Journal of Political Ecology 30(1), 294–315. doi: https://doi.org/10.2458/jpe.4849

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Published on
13 May 2023
Peer Reviewed