By Sarah Gar
A recent Cornell University report links 40% of human deaths today to pollution, so why doesn’t this pandemic dominate the news cycle? Why don’t communities immediately band together to protect the environment on which their lives clearly depend? Many people hope that the mainstream environmental movement’s alternative energy technologies will render our society’s unsustainable consumption rates more sustainable. However, we need only look as far as the soon-to-be constructed lithium mine in nearby Thacker Pass, Nevada, for evidence that this faith is sorely mistaken.
Let’s take a quick look at this so-called “green” mining project, designed to supply lithium for the batteries used in electric cars and in power grids fueled by wind and solar energy. Like mining projects everywhere, the proposed mine and chemical processing facilities pose many public health and safety threats. Various public safety threats, including violence against indigenous women, commonly accompany the “man camps” of temporary workers associated with extraction projects. Many Paiute and Shoshone people involved in the Protect Thacker Pass campaign also protest threats to sacred cultural sites and wildlife. Meanwhile, at weekly meetings in Orovada, ranchers and others in the recently-formed Thacker Pass Concerned Citizens group express worries about major infrastructure difficulties and dangers accompanying road-crowding by haz-mat trucks. Additional concerns mentioned include negative effects on grazing claims, employment, and property values.
Perhaps the most far-reaching damage to the area will probably be water depletion and pollution. Mining corporation Lithium Nevada’s own Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) admits that for most of its projected 46 years, this project will require 5,200 acre-feet of water annually, piped in from the already severely overallocated Orovada Subarea Hydrographic Basin (FEIS pp. 2-14). The FEIS further admits that the mine and associated lithium processing and sulphuric acid plants will pollute water, soil, and air. The corporation’s own testing detected the leaching of seventeen pollutants at levels above Navada’s designated resource values (FEIS Appendix B, LNC Mine Plan, p. 41). The 60-200 trucks projected to crowd Route 95 each day will bring in toxic materials including diesel, quicklime, molten sulphur, soda ash, and caustic soda (FEIS, pp. 2-14).
The project will burn thousands of gallons in polluting diesel fuel daily. This mine’s reliance on diesel and other toxic pollutants, such as sulphuric acid (a byproduct of oil refineries), invites us to confront a disturbing truth: “Green” energy technologies and industries will not save a society that is premised on the impossibility of endless growth. Furthermore, the global sustainability crisis, already acutely felt by growing waves of refugees around the world, is beginning to hit closer to home. In the next few decades, Nevada’s waters, plants, and creatures will likely dry up or die by poison as the predicted lithium “gold rush” sweeps across Nevada. Under such conditions, local communities can hardly remain viable for long.
A brief opinion piece cannot fully expose what a new book by Derrick Jensen et al. call the “bright green lies” of the mainstream environmental movement. This op-ed is just a simple appeal, based on the truth that nearly all wild mammals on Earth are gone, nearly all large fish are gone, nearly all forests are gone, and nearly all topsoil suitable for growing food is gone.
Discovering these facts brought me to my knees, then to Thacker Pass, and then to this keyboard, where I now argue that protecting the land offers the opportunity of a lifetime: namely, the chance to release denial, to wake up, and best of all, to form cooperative and sustainable communities. An industrial society that depends almost entirely on unsustainable consumption of natural resources is not the kind of problem that goes away if you ignore it. However, previous generations have done just that, and the burden now falls on our shoulders. Will we step up, or continue to pass the buck?
Facing facts, getting to the root of the problem, and standing up against mining at Thacker Pass offers an opportunity to grow up — to become what James Howard Kunstler, in Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation (2012), calls “reality-based adults.” Reality-based adults realize that the luxurious distractions of a consumption-oriented culture may offer fleeting pleasure, but, like any addiction, they actually worsen the fundamental emptiness and disconnection that plague societies alienated from nature.
Fortunately, growing up yields more than pain. Or rather, as the poet Rumi put it, “the cure for the pain is in the pain.” I can tell you that working collectively to defend the Earth feels better than any individualistic pursuit I’ve ever taken up. I now realize that the lasting well-being I once chased can only really come from protecting land and life. But do not take my word for it! Discover these realities for yourself. Stop Lithium Americas from poisoning the lifeblood of Nevada.
Sarah Gar is an environmental activist helping with the Protect Thacker Pass campaign. She can be reached for more information about protecting Thacker Pass at firstname.lastname@example.org.