Devices draining the desert: how demand for electric cars and smartphones is drying up the Atacama desert in Chile

Nikolaj Houmann Mortensen 15/12/2019
Lithium is essential for the batteries in our phones, our computers and the skyrocketing number of electric vehicles that are often seen as playing a key role in the green energy transition

With half the world’s lithium reserves, Chile has been labelled ‘The Saudi Arabia of Lithium’. Almost all its exports are currently being extracted from its Atacama Desert, the world’s driest place
But extracting Atacama’s lithium requires pumping up massive amounts of the scarce water resources that has allowed indigenous peoples and animals to survive for thousands of years in the desert. And according to researchers, the extraction has already caused lasting harm to the area’s fragile ecosystems
In the Atacama and elsewhere in Chile, indigenous communities are now protesting current and future lithium extraction plans
Many communities claim they have never been consulted prior to the extraction projects, though Chilean authorities are obliged to do so according to international conventions ratified by the Chilean state
Danwatch can reveal that companies such as Samsung, Panasonic, Apple, Tesla and BMW get batteries from companies that use Chilean lithium