The violent destruction of Europe’s Lithium Fever in Portuguese Mountains
We are the places we inhabit. They bring us stories, presence, and belonging. We walk over them, bathe in their waters, nourish ourselves with their food. From them, we create and share memories that sustain culture and community. That gives ground to who we are. They bring us meaning and identity.
When the global economy and politics yearn for more, more energy, and more raw material, we find that places are no more than mere resources, mere abstract postcard scenarios. A beautiful landscape no longer has a home, no longer is a place, because it can eventually be anywhere or nowhere.
Far away, somewhere, there is pollution and extraction, but not here. Far away, where I don’t see the wounds and fragments left by the voracious need of short-term consumption, the same one that tries to suppress immeasurable voids. Far away, because I’m only living my life here.
In a systemic reality, “far away” doesn’t mean that it doesn’t affect us. It’s not really far away, despite the illusion of our immediate and superficial perspective. If we receive the benefits, do we really think that we do not receive its destruction and violent waves? In the larger system in which we insert ourselves, of mutual and complex influence, what is done out there to be transformed there has reverberations in several layers in order to be consumed here. It influences the whole system, destabilizing it, depleting it to exhaustion.
This is how we get to the proposals of industrial and technological progress, the lithium extraction project in the mountains of the northern interior of Portugal. An idea based on old and outdated assumptions, allegations of economic value for the country, estimates of more employment, and possible better living conditions for those who live there.
Yes, these mountains are valuable, their minerals priceless, their presence worthy and powerful. They are valuable because of the memories they contain in each stone. They are invaluable for the identity and stories they carry. They are powerful for the diversity of life they sustain.
The extraction of their body-ground is the tearing of the entrails of their dignity. It is the domestication of their power. Again, it is a movement of subjugation of local sovereignty in the function of the global economy.
In the short term, who will be left with the destroyed landscape? Who will feel the toxicity of the chemical transformation of these minerals on their skin? Who will lose identity? The biodiversity? The pure water? The nourishing earth? It will certainly not be the speculative and alien economic system based on a consistent usurpation plan at all costs, without looking after or taking care of communities or places. In this dominant reductive vision, it is necessary to feed the great machine and the voluptuous energy needs of the technological culture we live in. However, progress based on blind autism of the spoils of past experiences does not progress. It only kills everything around it. At all costs, with all the investment and all the machines, we gut, pierce, and burst all limits, ignoring all the consequences of our actions. We delude ourselves with control and productivity. We destroy. We devastate the places of your life and intrinsic value. We annihilate the communities that live and care for these places, demolishing and extinguishing them.
A mountain, or any landscape, is not just stone or inert minerals. To perforate it is to fragment this place’s identity, ecosystem, biodiversity, and continuity. Because of the speed and destructive violence with which they are accomplished, the impact of these modern projects is unpredictable and unsustainable. To have any idea of the real repercussions, it is enough to see or hear previous mining projects’ stories in the same place. What was left? Aridity and toxicity. Wounds in the soul of those who lived it. What value did it bring? The certainty of a hard life of being poor and keeping it that way. The certainty of the fragility of an ancient place made indefensible before the inexorable modern industrial forces.
The difficulty or even impossibility of regeneration, that life returns renewed once again, generating a sick and poisoned landscape. Places corrupted and intoxicated by distorted and unsustainable distant needs.
To sustain local communities, who live with the power of the mountain within, is not to give them temporary jobs based on numbers and statistics, based on the systematic destruction of their place, the extraction of their identity, or the fragmentation of their dignity.
Supporting local communities is supporting biodiversity, feeding life systems, providing resources to face fire and call water, remembering tools to co-create the landscape so that it stores carbon again, bringing local resistant species that know the place’s language. Carrying value is bringing life and diversity. Getting value is a medium and long-term investment. It is giving time to the places, cycles, and regeneration. It is to keep in responsibility and patience the fragile web of life that sustains us.
As long as we only look at numbers or immediate needs, we neither see nor hear. We isolate ourselves in a prison of statistics and economic causality that take away the real and essential life value.
We are the places we inhabit. They bring us stories, presence, and belonging. We walk over them. We bathe in their waters. We nourish ourselves with their food. From them, we create and share memories that sustain the culture and community. That gives ground to who we are.
If we allow ourselves to see the wounds and fragments left by the insatiable need for short-term consumption, the same one that tries to suppress immeasurable voids. Voids that in their essence seek meaning and belonging. We belong to life and the places that sustain it. We all win by regeneratively nourishing these places instead of destroying them, extracting their soul, or tearing their identity apart.
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[Disclaimer: all these words and weaved concepts are birthed through my lived, biased, and always limited perception of things, not supposing to bring any absolute truth.]
By Sofia Batalha
Mammal, author, woman-mother, question weaver and dismantling global-colonial-technological-capitalism one day at a time. Awkward prose-poet with no grammatical knowledge. Pilgrim through inner and outer landscapes, remembering ancient earth practices, in radical presence, active listening, ecopsychology, art, ecstasy, and writing. Author of seven books, editor of the free online magazine, Wind and Water, Re-member the Bones Podcast, and Beyond the Sea Conversations — all in Portuguese.
More information: sofiabatalha.com