How a rising anti-mining movement is challenging Portugal’s ‘white gold’ rush

Throughout Portugal, people are organizing to stop a boom in lithium mining, as the government rushes to become Europe’s top supplier of the valuable mineral.

Originally published at wagingnonviolence.org on December 19, 2019.

A protest against lithium mining in Lisbon on Sept. 21. (Lusa/António Pedro Santos)

Awareness raising

In August, Williams helped to organize a creative protest at the highest point in mainland Portugal, on Serra da Estrela mountain. About 400 residents gathered to create an art image with their bodies — of a tree and water circle — to send a collective message: “No to Mines, Water is Life.” The demonstration was filmed with drones and distributed across the media to raise awareness about the environmental and social impacts of mining for lithium and other minerals, which are often not officially disclosed.

Community organizing

“We have been working in unison with other associations that are struggling with the same problem,” said Maria do Carmo Mendes, a member of the Guardians of Serra da Estrela, one of the groups confronting mining in sites of community importance. She said that the group has already sent a letter of complaint to the Directorate General for Energy and Geology, the administration that oversees mining developments in Portugal. And together with other local organizations, they are pressuring the directorate for “absolute transparency in the process of granting mining licenses,” in addition to having an outside entity conduct environmental impact studies before a decision is made.

Around 400 people participated in this aerial art action on Serra da Estrela mountain, the highest point in mainland Portugal, to protest lithium mining on Aug. 24. (Laura Williams)

Online organizing

Residents across the country have also been organizing online, through Facebook groups, for instance, to exchange information about the mining development plans and their implications, and to mobilize offline demonstrations.

Contesting the political economy strategy

The exploitation of lithium — considered a fundamental step for an “energy transition” by the Portuguese government — has been systematically contested by the National Association for Nature Conservation, called Quercus. The organization publicly requested an “immediate suspension of the government’s strategy for lithium,” after conducting a study that concluded the process of mining for lithium, a non-renewable resource, will result in “high levels of CO2 emissions.” They estimated that each lithium mine will emit an additional 1.79 million tons of greenhouse gases per year, which means it’s an energy development plan that’s still environmentally unsustainable.

Global sustainability researcher. Writing about the controversial relationships among People, Nature, and Economy.

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