This quote from a speech by Angela Merkel held at the National Conference on Electromobility in Berlin in June 2015 demonstrates the importance major policy makers attribute to electric vehicles as a ‘green’ alternative to fossil fuels in the context of climate change and peak oil. Within the discourse of a Green Economy (UNEP, 2011), these vehicles might invoke the image of environmentally friendly technologies and sustainable transport solutions. This chapter challenges these assumptions from a political ecology perspective (see Pichler, in this volume), focusing on asymmetries of power and transnational justice implications with regard to a specific commodity: lithium. Although the metal has been exploited for several decades for a variety of applications (e.g. lubricants and ceramics), current battery systems for electric vehicles make lithium an indispensable resource, leading to a “lithium rush” (Koerner, 2008). The primary targets of this rush are the salt brines of the ‘lithium-triangle’ in the Andean highland plateau between Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina, where the majority of the world’s lithium deposits are located (and where the extraction is most profitable). Argentina is of particular importance as it is home to a number of emerging lithium extraction projects that receive major investments from car and battery producers and/or their suppliers. To better understand the local implications of the global lithium rush, the chapter analyses the Olaroz lithium project in the province of Jujuy, and reflects on its socio-ecological impacts and transnational connections. Drawing on the concept of the imperial mode of living (Brand and Wissen, 2013), I argue that green economy strategies are built on global and local

asymmetries of power, and spatially and temporarily externalize ecological and social costs. Therefore, they fail to promote socio-ecological justice, but are rather ‘greening’ the imperial mode of living. The research is based on a qualitative case study of the Olaroz project in which transnational corporations (TNCs) interact with the provincial state of Jujuy and local indigenous communities. During a two-month field research from March to May 2014, 22 semi-structured interviews were conducted with local government representatives, company managers and engineers, researchers, as well as local community representatives. The chapter proceeds as follows: After clarifying the theoretical concepts and the political economic context of lithium extraction, I illustrate the actors involved in the project and demonstrate their interests and strategies in order to analyse socio-ecological conflicts against the backdrop of asymmetric power relations among these actors.