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An Original Audio Story Series Led by Nate Otjen + Juan Manuel Rubio

You can find Mining for the Climate on on Apple PodcastsSpotifyAmazon MusiciHeartRadio and PlayerFM.

The energy transition often presents a single vision of the future, one where renewable technologies bring about decarbonized living. Miraculously, this vision promises a world that has been transformed through technological innovation and a world that doesn’t look much different from our current reality. In this imagined future, technology creates improved living conditions, even as modern transportation infrastructure and voracious consumerism remain unchanged. Though it presents itself as a positive — and absolutely necessary — departure from the dirty ways of living enabled by fossil fuels and their use, this vision of energy transition relies on scales and magnitudes of extraction and consumption never seen before.

Mining for the Climate examines the perils of the energy transition and its reliance on critical minerals. The project emphasizes the voices and perspectives of frontline communities, bringing climate justice stories about the impacts of critical mineral mining to wider publics. We ask if increased mining—and a more mining-dependent society—is in the best interests of humans, other beings and the climate.

The project will result in a multiple-season audio documentary series published by Blue Lab. The first season was released in January 2024. It takes a deep look at Piedmont Lithium’s proposed mine in Gaston County, North Carolina. The second season will examine contestations over the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine at Peehee Mu’huh in Humboldt County, Nevada. It will be released in late 2024 or early 2025, along with a critical mapping component.

In addition to offering a platform for environmental storytelling and research, Mining for the Climate is a pedagogical project. Undergraduate students learn an array of skills, including how to use audio and video recording equipment, how to interview people and how to produce audio narratives. At the same time, we are working to bring these stories to primary and secondary classrooms where they can further inspire and impact.

Credits

Created by Juan Manuel Rubio and Nate Otjen with research, writing and production support from Alex Norbrook, Grace Wang and Max Widmann. Hosted by Juan Manuel Rubio, Max Widmann, Alex Norbrook, Grace Wang and Nate Otjen and mixed by Juan Manuel Rubio, Nate Otjen and Grace Wang.

Mining for the Climate is a production of Blue Lab with support from Princeton University. For their support and expertise, we also thank, at Princeton, the High Meadows Environmental Institute, Humanities Council and Office of the Dean of Research, as well as Kouvenda Media.

Copyright 2023 Nate Otjen, Juan Manuel Rubio and Blue Lab.

Season 1: Gaston County, North Carolina

You can find Mining for the Climate on on Apple PodcastsSpotifyAmazon MusiciHeartRadio and PlayerFM.

Season 1 takes listeners to a proposed lithium mine in Gaston County, North Carolina, an agricultural region hailed by mining and green technology companies as a future hub for the production of lithium batteries. We talk to local residents who oppose a 1,500-acre open-pit mine proposed by Piedmont Lithium and explore the ecological and social issues at stake if domestic reliance on mining deepens.

Episode 1: White Gold Rush

A few stories about critical minerals have dominated the news lately: “We must mine to save the planet;” “China is taking over rare-earth elements;” “EVs are leading the green revolution.” These stories lay the groundwork for a future that is unquestionably mining intensive. However, does every mine need to be built?

The proposed lithium mine in Gaston County, North Carolina, has not broken ground and it’s already causing significant disruptions for residents. So how dangerous is the idea of a mine?

Mining for the Climate is a co-creation of Nate Otjen and Juan Manuel Rubio. It’s a production of Blue Lab at Princeton University.

Episode 2: Land Histories and Futures

Building a mine requires a substantial amount of land. This episode investigates the tactics used by Piedmont Lithium to accumulate a critical amount of land for its operations. We take listeners to visit burned-out houses and empty lots and to meet the neighbors who sold and those who remain.

Mining for the Climate is a co-creation of Nate Otjen and Juan Manuel Rubio. It’s a production of Blue Lab at Princeton University.

Piedmont Lithium, in coordination with local fire departments, burns many of the homes that it purchases. Residents feel that the house burnings are intimidating. Video provided by Rebecca Buck of Flint Ridge Ranch.

Episode 3: The Body of the Mine

Like a body, a mine has its own metabolism. It consumes water, trees and energy, and it releases chemicals, carbon and wastewater. These metabolic processes are supposed to be hidden: few want to see, hear, smell or taste a mine in operation. Unearthing the body of the mine, we ask how Piedmont Lithium highlights certain aspects of the mine’s processes while directing attention away from others.

Mining for the Climate is a co-creation of Nate Otjen and Juan Manuel Rubio. It's a production of Blue Lab at Princeton University.

Episode 4: A Tale of Two Ranchers

Many residents of Gaston County make their living through farming and ranching. We meet a cattle and a horse rancher whose livelihoods and animals are threatened by the mine. Both women are doing everything in their power to stop the mine and maintain their way of life.

Mining for the Climate is a co-creation of Nate Otjen and Juan Manuel Rubio. It's a production of Blue Lab at Princeton University.

Episode 5: Forking Paths

The road ahead for the Carolina Lithium project seems uncertain. In this final episode, we look at the greatest obstacle confronting Piedmont Lithium: convincing the Gaston County Board of Commissioners to approve their rezoning request.

Mining for the Climate is a co-creation of Nate Otjen and Juan Manuel Rubio. It's a production of Blue Lab at Princeton University.

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“O,” a Sugarbush Draft Stallion, living at Rebecca Buck’s Flint Ridge Range in Bessemer City. Video by Nate Otjen.