Flat White

Serbia’s revenge: Rio Tinto pays for Morrison’s hubris

28 January 2022

4:00 AM

28 January 2022

4:00 AM

There may be no ‘official’ connection, but it’s impossible not to side-eye the sudden decision by the Serbian government to axe Rio Tinto’s lithium mine days after Australia deported their much-beloved tennis champion.

Serbia is a proud nation and they take offence very seriously. The disaster that was Scott Morrison’s handling of the Novak situation, coupled with Alex Hawke’s little foray into ideological despotism, left the political leadership of Serbia fuming.

If Scott Morrison hadn’t been so hasty to jump to Daniel Andrews’ political rescue, he might have noticed that Australian mining giant Rio Tinto was at the cusp of one of the biggest licence agreements in recent history – and that Novak Djokovic was a vocal activist against the proposed mine…

The Jadar lithium mine represented a $1.4 billion project and was set to make Rio Tinto the largest supplier of lithium to Europe right when lithium is in hot demand as the backbone of electric vehicles and renewables technologies. Losing the deal shaved 4.8 per cent off the share price and firmly slammed the door shut on the company entering the top ten global lithium producers.

‘Going green’ has never been about ‘saving the planet’. Instead, it opens a whole new market for digging stuff out of the ground and selling it at top dollar. There is a global shortage of lithium (artificially created by Net Zero policies) driving prices up as battery technology expands faster than the raw material is produced. While politicians keep telling us that renewables are ‘cheap’, nearly all of their components – including cobalt and nickel – are spiralling out of control, undercutting proposed savings.

Brainwashing teenagers into thinking the world is ending represents a good investment for mining companies.

‘Based on automakers’ electric car targets, we doubt there is sufficient supply of raw material [lithium],’ said a lithium trader in Japan.

Car companies are becoming mining operations, with Tesla taking on the rights to mine lithium in Nevada and BMW securing cobalt in Morocco. Somehow ‘environmentally friendly!’ and ‘open-cut mining operation’ don’t fit together as neatly as the woke advertising suggests.

Rio Tinto was poised to be king of the lithium rush after scoping out rich lithium deposits in Serbia.

Mining coal is nothing compared to the horror of lithium. It takes an enormous amount of water to extract lithium – 500,000 gallons per metric ton. In South America, lithium mines drilling beneath salt flats used 65 per cent of the arid region’s water supply, devastating local farmers. Toxic waste from the production of lithium leaked hydrochloric acid into local Tibetan water supplies, and in one example the Ganzizhou Rongda Lithium mine in China had to be shut down in 2016 after several incidents of polluted river systems killed fish and animals.

The story of lithium is one of ruined landscapes and furious locals – mostly inflicted on the third world out of sight from iPhone-wielding teenagers taking selfies with the tarmac they’ve glued themselves to.

Environmental groups and local communities in Serbia have been fighting against Rio Tinto’s mine since it was announced, with protests of over 30,000 locals blocking roads.

Novak Djokovic used his Instagram account to support the movement.

‘Clean air, water, and food are the keys to health. Without it, every word about health is redundant. Nature is our mother. We spend more time in nature. With her and in her, our lives are richer.’

The words were posted over photographs of a major protest.

‘Given the current civil protests throughout Serbia that indicate the need for a serious and concrete approach to important environmental issues, I decided to address the public, convinced of the great importance of these topics for all of us.’

By nixing Rio Tinto, the Serbian government gained tremendous local support in the lead-up to elections, which was tacked onto a rise in national pride surrounding Novak. As a nice bonus, they got to tread all over Australia.

While Rio Tinto sulks off to find another patch of dirt, the European electric car market has been stood up and can do nothing but stand around waiting for another billionaire to come to their rescue.

Of course, Rio Tinto could always sue Serbia – but demanding the right to carve up the Jadar valley would surely tarnish its ‘green’ reputation.

‘Anyone who tries to do that is crazy. All of Serbia would pour to the streets,’ warned protest leader Aleksandar Jovanovic Cuta.

In recovering its mine, Rio Tinto might inadvertently shine the global spotlight on the full horror of lithium production.

Alexandra Marshall is an independent writer. If you would like to support her work, shout her a coffee over at donor-box.

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