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5. Deserts. The Geopolitics of Geology

Monopolies of raw materials are as much political and historical as they are based on ‘natural’ resources. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the growing dependency of national food supplies on fertilizer has turned phosphorus into a critical resource within, and as, the catalyst of geopolitical conflicts. Lino Camprubí tells the (post-)colonial and geopolitical history of the Western Sahara—the last African colony that still exists to this day—and gives historic insight into why Morocco holds approximately 75% of the world’s usable phosphate. Timothy Johnson’s article highlights how World War I exposed the vulnerability of a fertilizer-based agricultural system, but also helped install mineral-fueled agriculture.

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Lino Camprubí

Max Planck Institute for the History of Science Berlin

Lino Camprubí is a Research Scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. He is author of Engineers and the Making of the Francoist Regime (Cambridge; Massachusetts 2014: MIT Press). Camprubí obtained a PhD in history at UCLA and then became a member of the ERC-funded project The Earth Under Surveillance, where he published on phosphates at the Western Sahara. His current project deals with oceanography, acoustics and the global environment.