About the Seminar
Will green capitalism save us from the climate crisis? "Clean" technologies and renewable energy are certainly growing sites of capitalist investment, with government policies playing a key role in making these sectors profitable. But the supply chains that produce the technologies pose vexing dilemmas for the energy transition. These dilemmas are most dramatic at the extractive frontiers of green capitalism: where the natural resources needed to manufacture electric vehicles and build windmills are extracted. In this talk, we will unpack these challenges through the lens of lithium, a so-called "critical mineral" essential for its role in decarbonizing one of the most polluting sectors: transportation. With forecasters predicting an enormous surge in lithium demand, exceeding existing supplies, Global North governments and downstream firms scramble to "secure" lithium, resulting in a new state-corporate alliance and the return of vertical integration. Meanwhile, environmental and Indigenous movements contest the rapid expansion of extraction, defending ecosystems, livelihoods, and waterways already under pressure from global warming from a new boom in mining. It is in the play of these forces, unfolding amidst geopolitical rivalry and economic turbulence, that the energy transition will be forged. To conclude, we will explore the possibility of a less mining-intensive pathway to zero carbon transportation.
About the Speaker
Thea Riofrancos is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Providence College, and a member of the Climate and Community Project. Her research focuses on resource extraction, renewable energy, climate change, the global lithium sector, green technologies, social movements, and the Latin American left. These themes are explored in her book, Resource Radicals: From Petro-Nationalism to Post-Extractivism in Ecuador (Duke University Press, 2020), peer-reviewed articles in Perspectives on Politics, Cultural Studies, World Politics, and Global Environmental Politics, essays that have appeared in outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, The Guardian, n+1, and Dissent, and in her coauthored book, A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal (Verso Books, 2019). She is currently writing a book titled Extraction: The Frontiers of Green Capitalism, with W.W. Norton. Previously, she was an Andrew Carnegie Fellow (2020-2023), a Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard University (2020-2021).