After weeks of demonstration by various environmentalist groups, the Serbian government has officially halted the Rio Tinto lithium mine in Serbia. The project had been organized between the company and local authorities in Western Serbia, allowing the Rio Tinto Mining Co. to run a lithium mine near the Jadar river valley — Serbia’s main agricultural hub that handles one fifth of total agricultural production.
The valley is home to a unique mineral officially referred to as Jadarite for its startlingly similar make-up to the fictional “Kryptonite” from the Superman comics, and the region in which the mine it was discovered is located. Made up of sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide — meaning it contains boron and lithium and can be used to produce low-carbon technologies and for storing renewable energy. Projected uses for the mineral included electric car batteries, wind turbines, and solar panels.
As lithium contributes to the creation of clean technologies, the project was aimed to not only pave the way for a low-carbon future, but also boost Serbia’s economic growth — their goal being to become one of the top 10 lithium producers in the world, with an expectation over its 40-year lifespan.
Environmental issues have been an ongoing problem for Serbia, including air pollution and industrial waste — lithium mining would only have worsened pre-existing issues, especially when considering Rio Tinto’s history of contamination and pollution. Rio Tinto claimed they adhere to the highest environmental standards and build sustainable futures for the communities it has projects in, and that the Jadar project would be no exception.
However, reports showed that even during their excavation period, damage was done to the area, pushing environmentalists and locals to protest throughout the country beginning late November. Arguing that the mine would cause irreversible ecological damage to Serbia’s land, protests were held every Saturday, effectively causing major traffic that blocked highways in Belgrade, refusing to stop until the project was halted.
“Serbia being an agriculturally dominant country, with air pollution, soil, and water being the most affected by lithium mining, it can not only affect how the business is run, but it can also put farmers and consumers at risk as well,” says first-year social work student Amita Puran.
Among many other students, Puran shares concerns on environmental and health implications that lithium mining would have had on the Jadar valley and does have on other regions. “People deserve to live in a country without fear of what they’re breathing. Lithium mining is far from the solution to becoming green,” says Puran.
“As a global issue, people need to understand that mining happens a lot more than they think and could happen near them,” says first-year psychology student Jennifer Bromberg. “Pollution and loss of agriculture can cause the loss of jobs — then a domino effect could happen with these bad things.”
Serbian citizens’ initiatives to improve their environment represents a unique opportunity for the York community to strengthen internal relationships and outside community relationships by striving to improve the environment. It’s also an opportunity for the York community to actively voice their concerns when presented.
Raima Shah, a first-year psychology student, says, “Protesting has a good impact on political parties and the people as well. People who protest make other people aware about an ongoing conflict as well as making authorities question their decisions.”