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Mine the Gap: A [Li] New Deal

Shaima Alharbi and Meredith Hoos

Are the much touted, multi-billion Biden-Harris Administration Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal (BID) and Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) enough to build an ambitious climate action agenda? Is it enough that we meet this moment with narratives of national security and global competition, instead of opportunities to re-imagine and rebuild our relationship with a wounded planet? Despite the forward-thinking goals of the Biden Bills, policies fail to address the significant environmental impact of lithium dependency. This ensures that the extraction process remains environmentally destructive, requiring vast amounts of water, land, and transportation networks, and creates moments of acute conflict between energy production interests and social/ecological concerns. If lithium dependency continues to grow without giving equal weight to the environment, “green energy” will only be an illusion that perpetuates inequality and exploitation. 

Building on the more ambitious Green New Deal legislation, our project contends that meeting the moment in the current climate crisis requires decisive action to adopt new cultural, ecological, and socio-economic mandates driving energy production and consumption. “Mine the gap” aims to give visibility to the territories of extraction and manufacturing serving our ever more urban lifestyles. In doing so, the [Li] New Deal operates through multiple temporalities and tactical interventions, redistributing agency and opportunity across a wider network of territorial agents. We pilot this approach in Northwestern Nevada—establishing connections between the existing Silver Peak lithium mine, and the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Park with the growing Li manufacturing and recycling plants. This 220-mile transect cuts across additional sites of interest: new Li prospection sites, Tribal lands, ecological and energy corridors, and military and mining towns. Bringing together all these systems through mapping analyses, the project identifies a constellation of potential nodes of intervention targeting conflicts and areas of concern. As a response, the Li New Deal proposes a series of condition-specific implants weaving the larger territory. With this series of interventions, we bring new light on issues of water scarcity and contamination, air and soil pollution, the erasure of indigenous knowledge and local cultures, and the loss of biodiversity.

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The negative environmental and social impacts of increased lithium dependency could undermine the potential environmental benefits of the Green New Deal if left unaddressed. Recent federal policies and funding that operate within old extractivist framework are not enough to ensure that lithium-based energy is truly "green energy". The [Li] New Deal is an alternative approach to increasing domestic lithium supply that counters socio-economic, cultural, and ecological damages through design and policy "implants". When activated regionally, implants address local concerns while producing positive territorial benefits.



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