Beneath the salt desert of Uyuni in northern South America’s Bolivia, lies more than half of the world’s lithium. Previously used in small quantities for certain psychological disorders caused by brain chemistry imbalances, lithium has found a new use in battery technologies. Lighter than nickel, lithium makes cell phone and digital camera batteries more compact, and is state-of-the-arts when it comes to Electric Vehicle (EV) power packs. At this time, the hopes of plug-in vehicles hang upon Lithium Ion (LiIo) batteries. In years to come, the world will be demanding a lot of lithium, and Bolivia has most of it.
They’re not about to let loose of it freely or for a pittance, nor should the world expect it of them. Bolivia is a very poor country. People live from day to day, hand to mouth. If they don’t have a job, they face starvation. They’re poor, but they’re not stupid. They realize that the world wants what they have, and they’re willing to allow others to be partners in their lithium business, but they’re not about to let us just go marching in there, dig up all the lithium and leave with it. They will want a decent price for the material itself, and jobs for their people as well. The only complication that might be cited is the elevation, which may make some lithium processing difficult in some places within the country. Aside from that, there’s little reason that the wold should not become their trading partners. Bolivians can make batteries just as well as any other labor force, given the opportunity to do so.
So it is that the most important test of fair trade goods may be found there in Bolivia. We must be willing to give them a fair price for their ore, but we must also be willing to allow them to capitalize on their fortune. Why should Bolivia NOT be a battery capital of the world? Why shouldn’t they take from their own lands, turn it into the batteries we want, providing their people with much needed jobs and prosperity? In the days and years to come, much will be needed, and we’ll all be expected to pitch in and do our share. That doesn’t mean that poor countries must stand by and watch as the rich become richer. Today’s lithium is the oil of decades past. Let us treat the people of Bolivia fairly and seek good relations with them, that they will treat us fairly as well.