Here's a perfect example: Bolivia. Turns out the nation in central South America, nestled against the Andes mountains, has one of the largest reserves of lithium on the planet:
Salar de Uyuni contains 9 million tonnes of lithium, more than a quarter of the world's known resources. This could rise to about 50 per cent if the lithium in more than 30 other salars and lagoons in south-western Bolivia is included. Lithium is increasingly required for the batteries that power phones, laptops, cordless tools and a range of hybrid and electric vehicles - so much so that there are fears that demand will soon outstrip supply. Talk that impoverished Bolivia could become "the Saudi Arabia of lithium" has encouraged its socialist president, Evo Morales, to keep this valuable resource under tight state control. The country has spent three years and more than $10 million on a pilot plant to extract the lithium.But of course there is some rare/endangered/cute species that faces impending doom: the Chilean Flamingo. Concern about the nesting grounds being right in the middle of the lithium deposits has stirred controversy.
So there you have it, a real choice. 60% of Bolivians live below the poverty level. The price of lithium has gone up consistently, and tapping their vast resources in this extremely valuable mineral could pump valuable income into the country, especially if they can retain a controlling interest. Analysts suggest that the vast amount of lithium could make Bolivia "the Saudi Arabia of the Green World."
Or, we could protect the Flamingos.
And no one here is pretending like lithium mining is an environmentally clean operation. Mining that lithium would certainly displace or eliminate the rare Flamingos. It might cause water purity issues across the nation. And much of the lithium is underneath the fabled Salar de Uyuni, the massive salt flats that provides Bolivia with an important tourist-based income.
So here's your real choice:
1. Exploit the Earth in the name of human progress, be it betterment of poor Bolivians, access to lithium for electric car batteries and cleaner energy, and/or the continued development of human society as it has for 100 years based on the idea that natural resources for technology were unlimited.
2. Protect Flamingos and some pretty salt marshes. Humans continue to starve/live in poverty, lithium prices rise and the global economy is hindered by the lack of availability of the mineral resource.
Which would you choose?