What should "we" do? subjects and scales in the double-bind between energy transition and lithi...

Jonas KöPPEL

It is now broadly accepted that lithium is needed to power the energy transition and address climate change, or, simply stated, “we need lithium to save the planet.” And yet, we are faced with an ethical dilemma. While lithium technologies may allow us to slow climate change and perhaps offer opportunities for lithium-rich countries like Bolivia, extraction has socio-environmental consequences at the local level. How can we exploit the planet to save it? Rather than seeking to resolve this apparent double-bind, we propose to stay with it through an exploration of narratives around lithium and the energy transition. We begin our questioning with a focus on ethics – what should we do? We then approach the dilemma through two ethnographic vignettes, related to Bolivia's Salar de Uyuni. Our approach allows us to reflect on the scales and subjects invoked in this dilemma, and to interrogate homogenizing “we” positions implicit in pervasive narratives. The article ends with a reflection on what we – in our diversity as differently-situated but interrelated people with distinct projects – can do.