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Aerocenic Struggles

Art, when done with talent and passion, usually opens up a portal that allows us to glimpse into other worlds. Thus, what happened in the Salinas Grandes, in Jujuy, this January 25, reveals the importance of art as a gateway to expand horizons, in these times of climate crisis, suicidal nihilisms and little political imagination. 

The Fly with Aerocene Pacha Project, conducted by Tomás Saraceno, involving a community of talented young people with cosmopolitan passions, was able to build bridges and ties between very different worlds, relying on dialogue, learning and confidence building, in the magnificent setting of the Salinas Grandes, where so many blind spots and conflicts are expressed today. Aerocene as an artistic and cosmological project transmitted two very powerful messages, one local and one global. The first message is that of the indigenous communities, those low, ancestral voices that inhabit the salt flats and oppose the extraction of lithium, which consumes unsustainable amounts of water and thus threatens an ecosystem–a basin–that is already arid. These communities are not only defined by their resistance to lithium mining; they also defend other ways of conceiving the territory, which rely on care and harmony, based on a holistic vision of the relationship between human beings and nature. The slogan “water and life are worth more than lithium”, as could be seen written on the aerosolar balloon, thus contains then more than a disavowal of the lithium industry; it contains a worldview. 

The second message, the global one, points to women and the ecological struggle as our great protagonists. It was a woman, pilot Leticia Marquez, who rose into the air and piloted the balloon that set a world record, without the help of fossil fuels, without lithium, without helium, only with the air of the white salt flats, heated only by the sun. And it is a message to all humanity about the possibility of thinking of social alternatives that do not attack the very fabric of life. Some will think these two messages are contradictory. That it is not possible to say “no to the extraction of lithium” while at the same time proposing a transition to a society free of fossil fuels, based solely on clean and renewable energies. 

Quite the contrary. 

We need to problematize the issue. It is undeniable that lithium batteries (which are in all of our cell phones, computers and which also serve to power electric cars), have a role in this transition. But there is no single path, and the one being adopted by our country is undoubtedly wrong. We know that there are no pure transitions, that the path will not be linear. Nor is there a manual, with questions and answers, much less at the large scale of the climate crisis. However, we cannot simply jump on the bandwagon of an unsustainable transition, such as the one proposed in the Atacama salt flats (which extends to the entire national territory), associated with transnational corporations, based on the trampling of native communities and supposedly leading to a “clean” energy model, but which reproduces the colonialist domination over nature and populations. That would be to endorse a false solution. 

Faced with the scenario of dispossession and extraction that has been configured in our country in relation to lithium, it is well worth asking what type of energy transition we are thinking about. 

In this aerocenic 21st century, in which ancestral, feminist and ecological struggles must be our greatest sources of inspiration, we will have to redefine and think about a horizon of just transitions, which point to an alternative system of social relations and links with nature. 

Because as the movements for climate justice have been saying for a long time, the objective is to “Change the system, not the climate”.