Critical minerals: rethinking extractivism?
Acceleration in political support for critical minerals industry development is linked to securing resource supply chains essential to low carbon futures. This commentary reviews the Australian critical minerals agenda, scrutinising urgency claims engulfing the ‘rush’ to extract critical minerals. First, we define critical minerals and examine their ‘criticality’ in relation to decarbonisation and geopolitical motivations. The idea that the emergent industry is premised on an ethics of climate action conflicts with evidence that reputational risk and market shifts are driving companies. Second, we problematise urgency claims, arguing that crisis narratives and regulatory fast-tracking mask serious socio-environmental justice concerns, while neglecting material blockages. We distinguish the production of materials central to low carbon futures from localised social and environmental impacts of their extraction and processing, raising concerns over the absolution work performed by urgency claims. The burgeoning critical minerals industry presents an epochal moment to reconstitute mining differently to meet socio-environmental justice goals. Instead, as currently imagined, it extends a frontier mentality and existing models of extractivism, reproducing colonial-capitalist legacies. We conclude by advocating for counter-urgencies that foreground materiality and view critical minerals as policy commons, enabling debates on the shape of the critical minerals industry before it is fully established.
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