As fires, storms, and heat ravage large swathes of the planet, the world seems to have ramped up its efforts to address climate change. At the heart of this drive is the emergence of “climate tech” — a loose category of innovations and technologies that aim to mitigate or avert a climate catastrophe. 

Though Latin America isn’t one of the world’s worst offenders when it comes to driving climate change, it has emerged as one of the world’s potential climate saviors. Consider the global push towards the electrification of the car: Many of the raw materials needed to create the batteries of these EVs will come in large part from Latin America. The region has close to 60% of the world’s lithium reserves, with Bolivia and Brazil being important providers of tin and graphite, both of which are also essential for battery components. Meanwhile, Mexico is (perhaps unexpectedly) looking to churn out millions of EVs to supply the world from its industrial heartland.

So, not only could Latin America step in to help save humanity from itself, it might also make a pretty penny from it. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and that place — if the depictions are to be believed — is a hot, dry, and inhospitable place.

Much of Latin America is chronically parched, and climate change is worsening the problem. The ironic tragedy is that many of the technologies aiming to help with climate change require practices that would exhaust a far more precious resource: water.

The EV revolution will take its toll on local water supplies in Mexico’s drying steppes and arid northern industrial centers. Then there’s the brine fields of South America’s Lithium Triangle — divided between Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina — through which the metal is extracted by bringing up groundwater into massive, shimmering electric-blue pools. Around 90% is lost to evaporation. 

To make matters worse, the boom in water-intensive climate tech-related activities coincides with the return of the El Niño effect — a cyclical climate pattern that will make most of the region drier than average (with a few exceptions, including increased rainfall in northern Mexico, home to Tesla’s thirsty EV factory, so there may yet be some silver linings.)

Even worse: Drought mitigation efforts in the region seem to be falling victim to the economic logic driving the extraction of climate tech resources. The latest example was last week, when the eight South American countries of the Amazon basin failed to reach a decisive agreement on how to stop deforestation. If left unchecked, tree cutting could add up to the transition of the Amazon’s lush rainforest into drier grassland, with devastating downstream effects, including on the water supplies for those same countries. Saving the world’s biggest rainforest may seem like a no-brainer to us, but for many, it is what can be extracted from under the trees of the Amazon that is more important. This, ironically, includes the mining of lithium which is valuable enough to make chopping down large swathes of rainforest a lucrative business.