Editor’s note: As global warming and ecological collapse accelerates, governments and corporations are unwilling to invest in real solutions. Instead, public fear is increasingly being weaponized to mobilize public subsidies for the so-called “green technology” industry, and a new sacrifice zone is emerging.
For example, instead of moving to relocalize and reduce energy use, electric cars are being promoted as a “plug-and-play” substitute for gasoline cars. This approach will do nothing to halt the ecological crisis, will only negligibly reduce rising greenhouse gas emissions, and is accelerating new harms such as an explosion in mining for lithium, cobalt, copper, and other materials.
It’s Not Just Thacker Pass. The Entire Region is on the Chopping Block.
by Elisabeth Robson / Protect Thacker Pass
In their June 2021 Fact Sheet about the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine Project, Lithium Americas includes a two page document about biodiversity at Thacker Pass and claim they have engineered the project “to minimize its environmental footprint.” On the second page is a map showing the Thacker Pass Project area in the bottom part of the McDermitt Caldera, which straddles the border of Nevada and Oregon.
Lithium Americas claims that protecting the Montana Mountains is their priority, writing “Lithium Americas made the decision in 2018 to move the project south of the Montana Mountains to avoid disturbing sensitive ecological areas located within the mountains,” and that “[T]he project will not involve any direct physical disturbance of sage grouse leks or golden eagle nests”.
Putting aside for the moment that any industrial disturbance to the Thacker Pass area will have significant impacts on wildlife and sensitive areas, including pronghorn who migrate through Thacker Pass, many species of birds, including sage-grouse who are exquisitely sensitive to noise, and countless other species who call Thacker Pass home or rely on it for some part of their life cycle, one might believe, reading their propaganda, that Lithium Americas is going to limit the scope of their mining operations in Thacker Pass to the project area already defined for the Thacker Pass mine. If you think that, you’d be wrong.
In the article “Proposed lithium mine raises worries in Humboldt County” in the Las Vegas Sun on May 3, 2022, Lithium Nevada Corporation, a subsidiary of Lithium Americas, claims again that the project is designed to “avoid environmentally sensitive and rugged terrain”. However, they also say that the project allows for future potential expansions. Lithium Nevada made these plans for potential expansion clear in the project documents the company filed with the SEC and with the Environmental Impact Statement, so this is no secret.
The same article quotes John Hadder, director of Great Basin Resource Watch, who says that in the future a series of mines could line the Montana mountain range, creating, as he says, an “enormous mining district”.
The “Independent Technical Report for the Thacker Pass Project, Humboldt County, Nevada, USA” document filed with the SEC by Lithium Americas on February 15, 2018, includes a map that illustrates the plans the company has for the region, showing the area of Lithium Nevada Corporation’s mining claims and the known areas of lithium mineralization. This map shows the claims and potential mining areas stretching at least 30 miles north of Thacker Pass, through the heart of the Montana Mountains, the last great sage-grouse habitat on the planet.
Why, then, does the company say in their 2-page fact sheet that they moved the Thacker Pass project south to avoid disturbing sensitive ecological areas within the mountains when they have every intention of expanding the mining project into the Montana Mountains where the sage-grouse leks are located? Do they believe that once the first project is begun, it will be easier to get further mining projects in the region approved?
This projected expansion by Lithium Nevada and its parent company, Lithium Americas, along with the two other large lithium claims on the Oregon side of the border, one in the McDermitt Caldera by Australian company Jindalee Resources Limited and the other just outside the Caldera by Acme Lithium Inc., will turn this entire region into a fully industrialized area with roads, mining pits, refineries, waste dumps, a dramatic increase in truck and other vehicle traffic, and new housing and/or man camps and other developments to support the many hundreds if not thousands of workers that will be required to mine the area.
To understand the scope and scale of what is being proposed here, take a look at the mining plans illustrated in three images from the three mining companies—Lithium Nevada, Jindalee, and Acme—combined into one:
Image created by Protect Thacker Pass
As Kale Telage writes in “Lithium Americas: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” on the investing site Seeking Alpha on April 26, 2022, “Thacker Pass may just be the beginning.” The land, the wild beings, and the local people of this area are in for a shock. If built, these industrial projects will utterly and irrevocably destroy this wild and quiet region currently thrumming with life and beauty and turn it forever into a wasteland.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
— T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land
Featured image: Max Wilbert
By Frédéric Moreau
Read Part 1 of this article here.
While the share of solar and wind power is tending to increase, overall energy consumption is rising from all sources — development, demography (a taboo subject that has been neglected for too long), and new uses, such as digital technology in all its forms (12% of the electricity consumed in France, and 3% worldwide, a figure that is constantly rising, with digital technology now emitting more CO2 than air transport⁴⁴). Digital technology also competes with vehicles, especially electric ones, in terms of the consumption of metals and rare earths. This is perfectly logical since the renewable energy industry, and to a lesser extent the hydroelectric industry (dams), requires oil, coal and gas upstream to manufacture the equipment. Solar panels look indeed very clean once installed on a roof or in a field and which will later produce so-called “green” electricity.
We almost systematically forget, for example, the 600 to 1,500 tons of concrete for the wind turbine base, often not reused (change of model or technology during its lifespan, lack of financing to dismantle it, etc.), which holds these towers in place. Concrete that is also difficult to recycle without new and consequent energy expenditures, or even 5,000 tons for offshore wind turbines⁴⁵. Even hydrogen⁴⁶, which inveterate techno-futurists are now touting as clean and an almost free unlimited energy of tomorrow, is derived from natural gas and therefore from a fossil fuel that emits CO2. Because on Earth, unlike in the Sun, hydrogen is not a primary energy, i.e. an energy that exists in its natural state like wood or coal and can be exploited almost immediately. Not to mention that converting one energy into another always causes a loss (due to entropy and the laws of thermodynamics; physics once again preventing us from dreaming of the mythical 100% clean, 100% recyclable and perpetual motion).
Consequently oil consumption, far from falling as hoped, has instead risen by nearly 15% in five years from 35 billion barrels in 2014 to 40 billion in 2019⁴⁷. Moreover, industry and services cannot resign themselves to the randomness of the intermittency inherent in renewable energies. We cannot tell a driver to wait for the sun to shine or for the wind to blow again, just as the miller in bygone days waited for the wind to grind the wheat, to charge the batteries of his ZOE. Since we can hardly store it in large quantities, controllable electricity production solutions are still essential to take over.
Jean-Marc Jancovici⁴⁸, an engineer at the École des Mines, has calculated that in order to charge every evening for two hours the 32 million electric cars, that will replace the 32 million thermal cars in the country⁴⁹, the current capacity of this electricity available on demand would have to be increased sevenfold from 100GW to 700GW. Thus instead of reducing the number of the most polluting installations or those considered rightly or wrongly (rather rightly according to the inhabitants of Chernobyl, Three Miles Island and Fukushima) potentially dangerous by replacing them with renewable energy production installations, we would paradoxically have to increase them. These “green” facilities are also much more material-intensive (up to ten times more) per kWh produced than conventional thermal power plants⁵⁰, especially for offshore wind turbines which require, in addition to concrete, kilometers of additional large cables. Moreover the nuclear power plants (among these controllable facilities) cooling, though climate change, are beginning to be made problematic for those located near rivers whose flow is increasingly fluctuating. And those whose water, even if it remains abundant, may be too hot in periods of heat wave to fulfill its intended purpose, sometimes leading to their temporary shutdown⁵¹. This problem will also be found with many other power plants, such as those located in the United States and with a number of hydroelectric dams⁵². The disappearance of glaciers threaten their water supply, as is already the case in certain regions of the world.
After this overview, only one rational conclusion can be drawn, namely that we did not ask ourselves the right questions in the first place. As the historian Bernard Fressoz⁵³ says, “the choice of the individual car was probably the worst that our societies have ever made”. However, it was not really a conscious and deliberate “choice” but a constraint imposed on the population by the conversion of the inventors/artisans of a still incipient automobile sector, whose limited production was sold to an equally limited wealthy clientele. The first cars being above all big toys for rich people who liked the thrills of real industrialists. Hand in hand with oil companies and tire manufacturers, they rationalized production by scrupulously applying Taylorist recipes and developed assembly lines such as Ford’s Model T in 1913. They then made cars available to the middle classes and over the decades created the conditions of compulsory use we know today.
Streetcars awaiting destruction. Photo: Los Angeles Times photographic archive.
It is this same trio (General Motors, Standard Oil and Firestone mainly, as well as Mack Truck and Phillips Petroleum) that was accused and condemned in 1951 by the Supreme Court of the United States of having conscientiously destroyed the streetcar networks and therefore electric public transport. They did so by taking advantage after the 1929 crash, of the “godsend” of the Great Depression, which weakened the dozens of private companies that ran them. Discredited and sabotaged in every conceivable way — including unfair competition, corruption of elected officials and high ranking civil servants, and recourse to mafia practices — streetcars were replaced first by buses, then by cars⁵⁴. This was done against a backdrop of ideological warfare, that began decades before the “official” Cold War, which an equally official History tells us about: socialist collectivism — socialist and anarchist ideas, imported at the end of the nineteenth century by immigrants from Europe and Russia, deemed subversive because they hindered the pursuit of private interests legitimized by Protestantism — countered, with the blessing of the State, by liberal individualism. This unbridled liberalism of a country crazing for the “no limits” way was also to promote the individual house of an “American dream” made possible by the private car, which explains so well the American geography of today, viable only thanks to fossil fuels⁵⁵.
Today not many people are aware of this, and very few people in the United States remember, that city dwellers did not want cars there. They were accused of monopolizing public space, blamed for their noise and bad odors. Frightened by their speed and above all they were dangerous for children who used to play in the streets. Monuments to those who lost their lives under their wheels were erected during demonstrations gathering thousands of people as a painful reminder⁵⁶. In Switzerland the canton of Graubünden banned motorized traffic throughout its territory at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was only after quarter of a century later, after ten popular votes confirming the ban, that it was finally lifted⁵⁷.
Left: Car opposition poster for the January 18th, 1925, vote in the canton of Graubünden, Switzerland. Right: Saint-Moritz, circa 1920. Photo: Sammlung Marco Jehli, Celerina.
The dystopia feared by the English writer George Orwell in his book 1984 was in fact already largely underway at the time of its writing as far as the automobile is concerned. In fact by deliberately concealing or distorting historical truths, although they have been established for a long time and are very well documented, it is confirmed that “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” A future presented as inescapable and self-evident, which is often praised in a retroactive way, because when put in the context of the time, the reticence was nevertheless enormous⁵⁸. A future born in the myth of a technical progress, also far from being unanimously approved, in the Age of Enlightenment. The corollary of this progress would be the permanent acquisition of new, almost unlimited, material possessions made accessible by energy consumption-based mass production and access to leisure activities that also require infrastructures to satisfy them. International tourism, for example, is by no means immaterial, which we should be aware of when we get on a metallic plane burning fossil fuel and stay in a concrete hotel.
With the electric car, it is not so much a question of “saving the planet” as of saving one’s personal material comfort, which is so important today, and above all of saving the existing economic model that is so successful and rewarding for a small minority. This minority has never ceased, out of self-interest, to confuse the end with the means by equating freedom of movement with the motorization of this very movement.
The French Minister of the Economy and Finance, Bruno Le Maire declared before the car manufacturers that “car is freedom⁵⁹”. Yet this model is built at best on the syllogism, at worst on the shameless and deliberate lie of one of the founders of our modern economy, the Frenchman Jean-Baptiste. He said: “Natural resources are inexhaustible, for without them we would not obtain them for free. Since they can neither be multiplied nor exhausted, they are not the object of economic science⁶⁰“. This discipline, which claims to be a science while blithely freeing itself from the constraints of the physical environment of a finite world, that should for its part submit to its theories nevertheless by exhausting its supposedly inexhaustible resources and destroying its environment. The destruction of biodiversity and its ten-thousand-years-old climatic stability, allowed the automobile industries to prosper for over a century. They have built up veritable financial empires, allowing them to invest massively in the mainstream media which constantly promote the car, whether electric or not, placing them in the permanent top three of advertisers.
To threaten unemployment under the pretext that countless jobs depend on this automobile industry, even if it is true for the moment, is also to ignore, perhaps voluntarily, the past reluctance of the populations to the intrusion of automobiles. The people who did not perceive them at all as the symbol of freedom, prestige and social marker, even as the phallic symbol of omnipotence that they have become today for many⁶¹. It is above all to forget that until the 1920s the majority of people, at least in France, were not yet wage earners. Since wage employment was born in the United Kingdom with the industrial revolution or more precisely the capitalist revolution, beginning with the textile industry: enclosure and workhouses transformed peasants and independent artisans into manpower. Into a workforce drawn under constraint to serve the private capital by depriving them of the means of their autonomy (the appropriation of communal property). Just as imported slaves were on the other side of the Atlantic until they were replaced by the steam engine, which was much more economical and which was certainly the true abolitionist⁶². It is clear that there can be no question of challenging this dependence, which is now presented as inescapable by those who benefit most from it and those for whom it is a guarantee of social stability, and thus a formidable means of control over the populace.
Today, we are repeatedly told that “the American [and by extension Western] way of life is non-negotiable⁶³. “Sustainable development,” like “green growth,” “clean energy” and the “zero-carbon” cars (as we have seen above) are nothing but oxymorons whose sole purpose is to ensure the survival of the industries, on which this way of life relies to continue enriching their owners and shareholders. This includes the new information and communication industries that also want to sell their own products related to the car (like artificial intelligence for the autonomous car, and its potential devastating rebound effect). To also maintain the banking and financial systems that oversee them (debt and shareholders, eternally dissatisfied, demanding continuous growth, which is synonymous with constant consumption).
Cheerful passengers above flood victims queing for help, their car is shown as a source of happiness. Louisville, USA, 1937. Photo: Margaret Bourke-White, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
All this with the guarantee of politicians, often in blatant conflicts of interest. And all too often with the more or less unconscious, ignorant or irresponsible acceptance of populations lulled into a veritable culture of selfishness, more than reluctant from now on to consent to the slightest reduction in material comfort. Which they have been so effectively persuaded can only grow indefinitely but made only possible by the burning of long-plethoric and cheap energy. This explains their denial of the active role they play in this unbridled consumerism, the true engine of climate change. Many claim, in order to relieve themselves of guilt, to be only poor insignificant creatures that can in no way be responsible for the evils of which they are accused. And are quick to invoke natural cycles, even though they are often not even aware of them (such as the Milankovitch cycles⁶⁴ that lead us not towards a warming, but towards a cooling!), to find an easy explanation that clears them and does not question a comfortable and reassuring way of life; and a so disempowering one.
Indeed people, new Prometheus intoxicated by undeniable technical prowess, are hypersensitive to promises of innovations that look like miracle solutions. “Magical thinking”, and its avatars such as Santa Claus or Harry Potter, tends nowadays to last well beyond childhood in a highly technological society. Especially since it is exalted by the promoters of positive thinking and personal development. Whose books stuff the shelves in every bookstore, reinforcing the feeling of omnipotence, the certainty of a so-called “manifest destiny”, and the inclination to self-deification. But this era is coming to an end. Homo Deus is starting to have a serious hangover. And we are all already paying the price in social terms. The “gilets jaunes” or yellow vests in France, for example, were unable to accept a new tax on gas for funding renewables and a speed reduction on the roads from 90km/h down to 80km/h. Paying in terms of climate change, which has only just begun, from which no one will escape, rich and powerful included.
Now everyone can judge whether the electric car is as clean as we are constantly told it is, even to the point of making it, like in Orwell’s novel, an indisputable established truth, despite the flagrant contradiction in terms (“war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength”). Does the inalienable freedom of individual motorized mobility, on which our modern societies are based, have a radiant future outside the imagination and fantasies of the endless technophiles who promise it to us ; just as they promised in the 1960s cities in orbit, flying cars, space stations on the Moon and Mars, underwater farms… And just as they also promised, 70 years ago, and in defiance of the most elementary principle of precaution, overwhelmed by an exalted optimism, to “very soon” find a definitive “solution” to nuclear waste; a solution that we are still waiting for, sweeping the (radioactive) dust under the carpet since then…
Isn’t it curious that we have focused mainly on the problem of the nature of the energy that ultimately allows an engine to function for moving a vehicle and its passengers, ignoring everything else? It’s as if we were trying to make the car as “dematerialized” as digital technology and the new economy it allows. Having succeeded in making the charging stations, the equipment, the satellites and the rockets to put them in orbit, the relay antennas, the thousands of kilometers of cables, and all that this implies of extractivism and industries upstream, disappear as if by magic (and we’re back to Harry Potter again). Yet all very material as is the energy necessary for their manufacture and their functioning, the generated pollution, the artificialization of the lands, etc.⁶⁵
Everlasting promises of flying cars, which would turn humans into new Icarius, arenearly one and a half century old. Future is definitely not anymore what it used to be…
Everyone remains free to continue to take the word of economists who cling like a leech to their sacrosanct infinite growth. To believe politicians whose perception of the future is determined above all by the length of their mandate. Who, in addition to being subject to their hyperactive lobbying, have shares in a world automobile market approaching 1,800 billion Euros per year⁶⁶ (+65% in 10 years, neither politicians nor economists would balk at such growth, which must trigger off climax at the Ministry of the Economy!). That is to say, the 2019 GDP of Italy. Moreover, in 2018 the various taxes on motor vehicles brought in 440 billion Euros for European countries⁶⁷. So it is implicitly out of the question to question, let alone threaten the sustainability of, this industrial sector that guarantees the very stability of the most developed nations.
It is also very difficult to believe journalists who most often, except a few who are specialized, have a very poor command of the subjects they cover. Especially in France, even when they don’t just copy and paste each other. Moreover, they are mostly employed by media financed in large part, via advertising revenues among other things, by car manufacturers who would hardly tolerate criticism or contradiction. No mention of CO2-emitting cement broadcasted on the TF1 channel, owned by the concrete builder Bouygues, which is currently manufacturing the bases for the wind turbines in Fécamp, Normandy. No more than believing startups whose primary vocation is to “make money”, even at the cost of false promises that they know very few people will debunk. Like some solar panels sold to provide more energy than the sun works only for those who ignore another physical fact, the solar constant. Which is simply like making people believe in the biblical multiplication of loaves and fishes.
So, sorry to disappoint you and to hurt your intimate convictions, perhaps even your faith, but the electric car, like Trump’s coal, will never be “clean”. Because as soon as you transform matter from one state to another by means of energy, you dissipate part of this energy in the form of heat. And you inevitably obtain by-products that are not necessarily desired and waste. This is why physicists, scientists and Greta Thunberg kept telling us for years that we should listen to them. The electric car will be at best just “a little less dirty” (in the order of 0 to 25% according to the various studies carried out concerning manufacturing and energy supply of vehicles, and even less if we integrate all the externalities). This is a meager advantage that is probably more socially acceptable but it is quickly swallowed up if not solely in their renewal frequency. The future will tell, at least in the announced increase of the total number of cars, with a 3% per year mean growth in terms of units produced, and of all the infrastructures on which they depend (same growth rate for the construction of new roads). 3% means a doubling of the total number of vehicles and kilometers of roads every 23 years, and this is absolutely not questioned.
Brittany, France, August 2021.
42 With 8 billion tons consumed every year, coal stands in the very first place in terms of carbon dioxide emissions. International Energy Outlook, 2019.
44 & https://web.archive.org/web/20211121215259/https://en.reset.org/knowledge/our-digital-carbon-footprint-whats-the-environmental-impact-online-world-12302019
47 https://www.iea.org/fuels-and-technologies/oil & https://www.bp.com/content/dam/bp/business-sites/en/global/corporate/pdfs/energy-economics/statistical-review/bp-stats-review-2019-full-report.pdf & https://www.ufip.fr/petrole/chiffres-cles
49 Atually there are 38.2 million cars in France, more than one for two inhabitants:
50 Philippe Bihouix and Benoît de Guillebon, op. cit., p. 32.
51 https://www.lemonde.fr/energies/article/2019/07/22/canicule-edf-doit-mettre-a-l-arret-deux-reacteurs-nucleaires_5492251_1653054.html & https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/energy-water-collision
53 Co-author with Christophe Bonneuil of L’évènement anthropocène. La Terre, l’histoire et nous, Points, 2016 (The Shock of the Anthropocene: The Earth, History and Us, Verso, 2017).
54 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/242431866_General_Motors_and_the_Demise_of_Streetcars & Matthieu Auzanneau, Or noir. La grande histoire du pétrole, La Découverte, 2015, p.436, and the report written for the American Senate by Bradford C. Snell, Public Prosecutor specialized in anti-trust laws.
55 James Howard Kunstler, The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape, Free Press, 1994.
56 Peter D. Norton, Fighting Traffic. The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City, The MIT Press, 2008.
57 https://www.avenir-suisse.ch/fr/vitesse-puanteur-bruit-et-ennuis/ & Stefan Hollinger, Graubünden und das Auto. Kontroversen um den Automobilverkehr 1900-1925, Kommissionsverlag Desertina, 2008
58 Emmanuel Fureix and François Jarrige, La modernité désenchantée, La Découverte, 2015 & François Jarrige, Technocritiques. Du refus des machines à la contestation des technosciences, La Découverte, 2014.
59 Journée de la filière automobile, Bercy, December 02, 2019.
60 Cours complet d’économie politique pratique, 1828.
61 Richard Bergeron, le Livre noir de l’automobile, Exploration du rapport malsain de l’homme contemporain à l’automobile, Éditions Hypothèse, 1999 & Jean Robin, Le livre noir de l’automobile : Millions de morts et d’handicapés à vie, pollution, déshumanisation, destruction des paysages, etc., Tatamis Editions, 2014.
62 Domenico Losurdo, Contre-histoire du libéralisme, La Découverte, 2013 (Liberalism : A Counter-History, Verso, 2014) & Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, 1492-Present, Longman, 1980 (Une Histoire populaire des Etats-Unis de 1492 a nos jours, Agone, 2003) & Eric Williams, Capitalism & Slavery, The University of North Carolina Press, 1943.
63 George H.W. Bush, Earth Summit, Rio de Janeiro, 1992.
65 Guillaume Pitron, L’enfer numérique. Voyage au bout d’un like, Les Liens qui Libèrent, 2021.
67 Source: ACEA Tax Guide 2020, fiscal income from motor vehicles in major European markets.
By Frédéric Moreau
In memory of Stuart Scott
Each year while winter is coming, my compatriots, whom have already been told to turn off the tap when brushing their teeth, receive a letter from their electricity supplier urging them to turn down the heat and turn off unnecessary lights in case of a cold snap in order to prevent an overload of the grid and a possible blackout. At the same time the French government, appropriately taking on the role of advertiser for the national car manufacturers in which it holds shares¹, is promoting electric cars more and more actively. Even though electric vehicles (EV) have existed since the end of the 19th century (the very first EV prototype dates back to 1834).
They also plan to ban the sale of internal combustion engine cars as early as 2035, in accordance with European directives. Electric cars will, of course, have to be recharged, especially if you want to be able to turn on a very energy-consuming heater during cold spells.
The electric car, much-vaunted to be the solution to the limitation of CO2 emissions responsible for climate change, usually feeds debate and controversie focusing mainly on its autonomy. It depends on the on-board batteries and their recharging capacity, as well as the origin of the lithium in the batteries and the origin of their manufacture. But curiosity led me to be interested in all of the other aspects largely forgotten, very likely on purpose. Because the major problem, as we will see, is not so much the nature of the energy as it is the vehicle itself.
The technological changes that this change of energy implies are mainly motivated by a drop in conventional oil production which peaked in 2008 according to the IEA². Not by a recent awareness and sensitization to the protection of the environment that would suddenly make decision-makers righteous, altruistic and selfless. A drop that has so far been compensated for by oil from tar sands and hydraulic fracturing (shale oil). Indeed, the greenhouse effect has been known since 1820³, the role of CO2 in its amplification since 1856⁴ and the emission of this gas into the atmosphere by the combustion of petroleum-based fuels since the beginning of the automobile. As is the case with most of the pollutions of the environment, against which the populations have in fact never stopped fighting⁵, the public’s wishes are not often followed by the public authorities. The invention of the catalytic converter dates from 1898, but we had to wait for almost a century before seeing it adopted and generalized.
There are more than one billion private cars in the world (1.41 billion exactly when we include commercial vehicles and corporate SUV⁶), compared to 400 million in 1980. They are replaced after an average of 15 years. As far as electric cars are concerned, batteries still account for 30% of their cost. Battery lifespan, in terms of alteration of their charging capacity, which must not fall below a certain threshold, is on average 10 years⁷. However, this longevity can be severely compromised by intermittent use of the vehicle, systematic use of fast charging, heating, air conditioning and the driving style of the driver. It is therefore likely that at the end of this period owners might choose to replace the entire vehicle, which is at this stage highly depreciated, rather than just the batteries at the end of their life. This could cut the current replacement cycle by a third, much to the delight of manufacturers.
Of course, they are already promising much cheaper batteries with a life expectancy of 20 years or even more, fitted to vehicles designed to travel a million kilometers (actually just like some old models of thermal cars). In other words, the end of obsolescence, whether planned or not. But should we really take the word of these manufacturers, who are often the same ones who did not hesitate to falsify the real emissions of their vehicles as revealed by the dieselgate scandal⁸? One has the right to be seriously skeptical. In any case, the emergence of India and China (28 million new cars sold in 2016 in the Middle Kingdom) is contributing to a steady increase in the number of cars on the road. In Beijing alone, there were 1,500 new registrations per day in 2009. And now with the introduction of quotas the wait for a car registration can be up to eight years.
For the moment, while billions of potential drivers are still waiting impatiently, it is a question of building more than one billion private cars every fifteen years, each weighing between 800 kilos and 2.5 tons. The European average being around 1.4 tons or 2 tons in the United States. This means that at the beginning of the supply chain, about 15 tons of raw materials are needed for each car⁹. Though it is certainly much more if we include the ores needed to extract rare earths. In 2050, at the current rate of increase, we should see more than twice as many cars. These would then be replaced perhaps every ten years, compared with fifteen today. The raw materials must first be extracted before being transformed. Excavators, dumpers (mining trucks weighing more than 600 tons when loaded for the CAT 797F) and other construction equipment, which also had to be built first, run on diesel or even heavy oil (bunker) fuel. Then the ores have to be crushed and purified, using at least 200 m³ of water per ton in the case of rare earths¹⁰. An electric car contains between 9 and 11 kilos of rare earths, depending on the metal and its processing. Between 8 and 1,200 tons of raw ore must be extracted and refined to finally obtain a single kilo¹¹. The various ores, spread around the world by the vagaries of geology, must also be transported to other processing sites. First by trucks running on diesel, then by bulk carriers (cargo ships) running on bunker fuel, step up from coal, which 100% of commercial maritime transport uses, then also include heavy port infrastructures.
A car is an assembly of tens of thousands of parts, including a body and many other metal parts. It is therefore not possible, after the necessary mining, to bypass the steel industry. Steel production requires twice as much coal because part of it is first transformed into coke in furnaces heated from 1,000°C to 1,250°C for 12 to 36 hours, for the ton of iron ore required. The coke is then mixed with a flux (chalk) in blast furnaces heated from 1800 to 2000°C¹². Since car makers use sophisticated alloys it is often not possible to recover the initial qualities and properties after remelting. Nor to separate the constituent elements, except sometimes at the cost of an energy expenditure so prohibitive as to make the operation totally unjustified. For this reason the alloyed steels (a good dozen different alloys) that make up a car are most often recycled into concrete reinforcing bars¹³, rather than into new bodies as we would like to believe, in a virtuous recycling, that would also be energy expenditure free.
To use an analogy, it is not possible to “de-cook” a cake to recover the ingredients (eggs, flour, sugar, butter, milk, etc.) in their original state. Around 1950, “the energy consumption of motorized mobility consumed […] more than half of the world’s oil production and a quarter of that of coal¹⁴”. As for aluminum, if it is much more expensive than steel, it is mainly because it is also much more energy-intensive. The manufacturing process from bauxite, in addition to being infinitely more polluting, requires three times more energy than steel¹⁵. It is therefore a major emitter of CO2. Glass is also energy-intensive, melting at between 1,400°C and 1,600°C and a car contains about 40 kg of it¹⁶.
Top: Coal mine children workers, Pennsylvania, USA, 1911. Photo: Lewis WICKES HINE, CORBIS
Middle left to right: Datong coal mine, China, 2015. Photo: Greg BAKER, AFP. Graphite miner, China.
Bottom: Benxi steelmaking factory, China.
A car also uses metals for paints (pigments) and varnishes. Which again means mining upstream and chemical industry downstream. Plastics and composites, for which 375 liters of oil are required to manufacture the 250kg incorporated on average in each car, are difficult if not impossible to recycle. Just like wind turbine blades, another production of petrochemicals, which are sometimes simply buried in some countries when they are dismantled¹⁷. Some plastics can only be recycled once, such as PET bottles turned into lawn chairs or sweaters, which are then turned into… nothing¹⁸. Oil is also used for tires. Each of which, including the spare, requires 27 liters for a typical city car, over 100 liters for a truck tire.
Copper is needed for wiring and windings, as an electric car consumes four times as much copper as a combustion engine car. Copper extraction is not only polluting, especially since it is often combined with other toxic metals such as cadmium, lead, arsenic and so on, it is also particularly destructive. It is in terms of mountain top removal mining, for instance, as well as being extremely demanding in terms of water. Chile’s Chuquicamata open-pit mine provided 27.5% of the world’s copper production and consumed 516 million m³ of water for this purpose in 2018¹⁹. Water that had to be pumped, and above all transported, in situ in an incessant traffic of tanker trucks, while the aquifer beneath the Atacama desert is being depleted. The local populations are often deprived of water, which is monopolized by the mining industry (or, in some places, by Coca-Cola). They discharge it, contaminated by the chemicals used during refining operations, to poisoned tailings or to evaporate in settling ponds²⁰. The inhumane conditions of extraction and refining, as in the case of graphite in China²¹, where depletion now causes it to be imported from Mozambique, or of cobalt and coltan in Congo, have been regularly denounced by organizations such as UNICEF and Amnesty International²².
Dumper and Chuquicamata open-pit copper mine, Chile – Photo: Cristóbal Olivares/Bloomberg
And, of course, lithium is used for the batteries of electric cars, up to 70% of which is concentrated in the Andean highlands (Bolivia, Chile and Argentina), and in Australia and China. The latter produces 90% of the rare earths, thus causing a strategic dependence which limits the possibility of claims concerning human rights. China is now eyeing up the rare earths in Afghanistan, a country not particularly renowned for its rainfall, which favors refining them without impacting the population. China probably doesn’t mind negotiating with the Taliban, who are taking over after the departure of American troops. The issue of battery recycling has already been addressed many times. Not only is it still much cheaper to manufacture new ones, with the price of lithium currently representing less than 1% of the final price of the battery²³, but recycling them can be a new source of pollution, as well as being a major energy consumer²⁴.
This is a broad outline of what is behind the construction of cars. Each of which generates 12-20 tons of CO2 according to various studies, regardless of the energy — oil, electricity, cow dung or even plain water — with which they are supposed to be built. They are dependent on huge mining and oil extraction industries, including oil sands and fracking as well as the steel and chemical industries, countless related secondary industries (i.e. equipment manufacturers) and many unlisted externalities (insurers, bankers, etc.). This requires a continuous international flow of materials via land and sea transport, even air freight for certain semi-finished products, plus all the infrastructures and equipment that this implies and their production. All this is closely interwoven and interdependent, so that they finally take the final form that we know in the factories of car manufacturers, some of whom do not hesitate to relocate this final phase in order to increase their profit margin. It should be remembered here that all these industries are above all “profit-making companies”. We can see this legal and administrative defining of their raison d’être and their motivation. We too often forget that even if they sometimes express ideas that seem to meet the environmental concerns of a part of the general public, the environment is a “promising niche”, into which many startups are also rushing. They only do so if they are in one way or another furthering their economic interests.
Once they leave the factories all these cars, which are supposed to be “clean” electric models, must have roads to drive on. There is no shortage of them in France, a country with one of the densest road networks in the world, with more than one million kilometers of roads covering 1.2% of the country²⁵. This makes it possible to understand why this fragmentation of the territory, a natural habitat for animal species other than our own, is a major contributor to the dramatic drop in biodiversity, which is so much to be deplored.
Top: Construction of a several lanes highway bridge.
Bottom left: Los Angeles, USA. Bottom right: Huangjuewan interchange, China.
At the global level, there are 36 million kilometers of roads and nearly 700,000 additional kilometers built every year ²⁶. Roads on which 100 million tons of bitumen (a petroleum product) are spread²⁷, as well as part of the 4.1 billion tons of cement produced annually²⁸. This contributes up to 8% of the carbon dioxide emitted, at a rate of one ton of this gas per ton of cement produced in the world on average²⁹, even if some people in France pride themselves on making “clean” cement³⁰, which is mixed with sand in order to make concrete. Michèle Constantini, from the magazine Le Point, reminds us in an article dated September 16, 2019, that 40-50 billion tons of marine and river sand (i.e. a cube of about 3 km on a side for an average density of 1.6 tons/m3) are extracted each year³¹.
This material is becoming increasingly scarce, as land-based sand eroded by winds is unsuitable for this purpose. A far from negligible part of these billions of tons of concrete, a destructive material if ever there was one³², is used not only for the construction of roads and freeways, but also for all other related infrastructures: bridges, tunnels, interchanges, freeway service areas, parking lots, garages, technical control centers, service stations and car washes, and all those more or less directly linked to motorized mobility. In France, this means that the surface area covered by the road network as a whole soars to 3%, or 16,500 km². The current pace of development, all uses combined, is equivalent to the surface area of one and a half departments per decade. While metropolitan France is already artificialized at between 5.6% and 9.3% depending on the methodologies used (the European CORINE Land Cover (CLC), or the French Teruti-Lucas 2014)³³, i.e. between 30,800 km² and 51,150 km², respectively, the latter figure which can be represented on this map of France by a square with a side of 226 km. Producing a sterilized soil surface making it very difficult to return it later to other uses. Land from which the wild fauna is of course irremediably driven out and the flora destroyed.
In terms of micro-particle pollution, the electric car also does much less well than the internal combustion engine car because, as we have seen, it is much heavier. This puts even more strain on the brake pads and increases tire wear. Here again, the supporters of the electric car will invoke the undeniable efficiency of its engine brake. Whereas city driving, the preferred domain of the electric car in view of its limited autonomy which makes it shun the main roads for long distances, hardly favors the necessary anticipation of its use. An engine brake could be widely used for thermal vehicles, especially diesel, but this is obviously not the case except for some rare drivers.
A recent study published in March 2020 by Emissions Analytics³⁴ shows that micro-particle pollution is up to a thousand times worse than the one caused by exhaust gases, which is now much better controlled. This wear and tear, combined with the wear and tear of the road surface itself, generates 850,000 tons of micro-particles, many of which end up in the oceans³⁵. This quantity will rise to 1.3 million tons by 2030 if traffic continues to increase³⁶. The false good idea of the hybrid car, which is supposed to ensure the transition from thermal to electric power by combining the two engines, is making vehicles even heavier. A weight reaching two tons or more in Europe, and the craze for SUVs will further aggravate the problem.
When we talk about motorized mobility, we need to talk about the energy that makes it possible, on which everyone focuses almost exclusively. A comparison between the two sources of energy, fossil fuels and electricity, is necessary. French electricity production was 537 TWh in 2018³⁷. And it can be compared to the amount that would be needed to run all the vehicles on the road in 2050. By then, the last combustion engine car sold at the end of 2034 will have exhaled its last CO2-laden breath. Once we convert the amount of road fuels consumed annually, a little over 50 billion liters in 2018, into their electrical energy equivalent (each liter of fuel is able to produce 10 kWh), we realize that road fuels have about the same energy potential as that provided by our current electrical production. It is higher than national consumption, with the 12% surplus being exported to neighboring countries. This means a priori that it would be necessary to double this production (in reality to increase it “only” by 50%) to substitute electricity for oil in the entire road fleet… while claiming to reduce by 50% the electricity provided by nuclear power plants³⁸.
Obviously, proponents of the electric car, at this stage still supposed to be clean if they have not paid attention while reading the above, will be indignant by recalling, with good reason, that its theoretical efficiency, i.e. the part of consumed energy actually transformed into mechanical energy driving the wheels, is much higher than that of a car with a combustion engine: 70% (once we have subtracted, from the 90% generally claimed, the losses, far from negligible, caused by charging the batteries and upstream all along the network between the power station that produces the electricity and the recharging station) against 40%. But this is forgetting a little too quickly that the energy required that the mass of a car loaded with batteries, which weigh 300-800 kg depending on the model, is at equal performance and comfort, a good third higher than that of a thermal car.
Let’s go back to our calculator with the firm intention of not violating with impunity the laws of physics which state that the more massive an object is and the faster we want it to move, the more energy we will have to provide to reach this objective. Let’s apply the kinetic energy formula³⁹ to compare a 1200 kg vehicle with a combustion engine and a 1600 kg electric vehicle, both moving at 80km/h. Once the respective efficiencies of the two engines are applied to the results previously obtained by this formula, we see that the final gain in terms of initial energy would be only about 24%, since some of it is dissipated to move the extra weight. Since cars have become increasingly overweight over the decades⁴⁰ (+47% in 40 years for European cars), we can also apply this calculation by comparing the kinetic energy of a Citroën 2CV weighing 480 kg travelling at 80km/h with a Renault ZOE electric car weighing 1,500 kg travelling on the freeway at 130km/h.
The judgment is without appeal since in terms of raw energy, and before any other consideration (such as the respective efficiency of the two engines, inertia, aerodynamics, friction reduction, etc.) and polemics that would aim at drowning the fish to cling to one’s conviction even if it violates the physical laws (in other words, a cognitive dissonance), the kinetic energy of the ZOE is eight times higher than the 2CV! This tends first of all to confirm that the Deuche (nickname for 2CV standing for deux-chevaux, two fiscal horse-power), as much for its construction, its maintenance, its longevity as for its consumption, was probably, as some people claim, the most “ecological” car in history⁴¹.
But above all more ecological as far as energy saving is concerned, all the while failing to promote walking, cycling, public transport, and above all, sobriety in one’s travels. And losing this deplorable habit of sometimes driving up to several hundred kilometers just to go for a stroll or to kill time, therefore promoting antigrowth (an abominable obscenity for our politicians, and most of the classical economists they listen to so religiously). So it would be necessary to go back to making the lightest possible models and to limit their maximum speed. Because even if the formula for calculating kinetic energy is a crude physical constant, that obviously cannot be used as it is to calculate the real consumption of a vehicle. For the initial energy needed to reach the desired velocity, it nevertheless serves as a reliable marker to establish a comparison. To confirm to those for whom it did not seem so obvious until now that the heavier you are, the faster you go the more energy you consume, whatever the nature of that energy is. The pilots of the Rafale, the French fighter aircraft which consumes up to 8,000 liters of kerosene per hour at full power, know this very well.
Having made this brief comparison, we must now look a little more closely at the source of the electricity, because it is an energy perceived as clean. Almost dematerialized, because it simply comes out of the wall (the initial magic of “the electric fairy” has been somewhat eroded over time). Its generation is not necessarily so clean, far from it. In my country, which can thus boast of limiting its carbon footprint, 71% of electricity is generated by nuclear power plants. When it comes to the worldwide average, 64-70% of electricity is generated by fossil fuels – 38 -42% by coal-fired power plants⁴² (nearly half of which are in China that turns a new one on each week). Apart from Donald Trump, few people would dare to assert, with the aplomb that he is known for, that coal is clean. 22-25% is generated by gas-fired power plants and 3-5% by oil-fired plants. Moreover, electricity generation is responsible for 41% (14.94 GT) of CO2 emissions⁴³ from fossil fuel burning, ahead of transport. And our leaders are often inclined to forget that when it comes to air pollution and greenhouse gases, what goes out the door, or the curtain of the voting booth, has the unfortunate tendency to systematically come back in through the window. We can therefore conclude that the French who drive electric cars are in fact driving a “nuke car” for two-thirds of their consumption. And across the world, drivers of electric cars are actually driving two-thirds of their cars on fossil fuels, while often unaware of this.
[Part II will be published tomorrow]
1 The French Government is the primary shareholder for Renault, with 15%, and a major one for PSA (Citroën and other car makers), with 6.2%.
3 First described by the French physicist Joseph Fourier.
5 Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, L’Apocalypse joyeuse. Une histoire du risque technologique, Seuil, 2012 & François Jarrige et Thomas Le Roux, La contamination du monde Seuil, 2017 (The Contamination of the Earth: A History of Pollutions in the Industrial Age, The MIT Press).
9 https://notre-environnement.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/focus_ressources_naturelles_version_complete.pdf (page 167)
10 Guillaume Pitron, La guerre des métaux rares. La face cachée de la transition énergétique et numérique, Les liens qui libèrent, 2018, p. 44.
12 Laurent Castaignède, Airvore ou la face obscure des transports, Écosociétés, 2018, p. 39.
13 Philippe Bihouix et Benoît de Guillebon, Quel futur pour les métaux ? Raréfaction des métaux : un nouveau défi pour la société, EDP Sciences, 2010, p. 47.
14 Laurent Castaignède, op. cit., p. 75.
15 Ibid., p. 194.
18 But here we have to salute as it deserves the courageous political decision to have banned cotton buds and stirring sticks.
19 https://www.fineprint.global/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/fineprint_brief_no_9.pdf & https://www.equaltimes.org/the-pressure-on-water-an?lang=fr#.YPzxq_k6_IU
23 https://web.archive.org/web/20211221082924/https://www.ademe.fr/sites/default/files/assets/documents/90511_acv-comparative-ve-vt-rapport.pdf (page 238)
24 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1682-5 & https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304389420303605
27 En 2013. https://web.archive.org/web/20230120162448/https://www.routesdefrance.com/wp-content/uploads/USIRF_BITUME_Sept2013.pdf
30 https://www.lemoniteur.fr/article/quelle-realite-se-cache-derriere-les-betons-dits-bas-carbone.2123604 & https://elioth.com/le-vrai-du-faux-beton-bas-carbone/
33 Summary of the joined scientific assessment, INRA – IFFSTAR, December 2017.
38 The Energy Transition Law, voted in 2015, has programmed this reduction by 2035.
39 Ek = ½.m.v², Ek is the energy in joules (1 watt = 3600 joules), m the mass in pounds, and v the velocity in feet per second.
40 https://thecorrespondent.com/310/your-car-has-a-weight-problem-and-we-need-to-regulate-it/41009665950-d1c675d3 & https://www.transportenvironment.org/sites/te/files/publications/2018_04_CO2_emissions_cars_The_facts_report_final_0_0.pdf (page 32)
Editor’s Note: Mainstream environmental organizations propose electric vehicles (EVs) as a solution to every environmental crisis. It is not only untrue, but a delusion. It does not matter to the hundreds of lives lost whether they were killed for extraction of fossil fuel for traditional internal combustion (IC) cars, or for extraction of materials necessary for manufacturing EVs. What matters is that they are dead, never to come back, and that they died so a portion of humans could have convenient mobility. DGR is organizing to oppose car culture: both IC and EVs.
By Benja Weller
I am a rich white man in the richest time, in one of the richest countries in the world (…)
Equality does not exist. You yourself are the only thing that is taken into account.
If people realized that, we’d all have a lot more fun.
ZDF series Exit, 2022, financial manager in Oslo,
who illegally traded in salmon
Wir fahr’n fahr’n fahr’n auf der Autobahn
Vor uns liegt ein weites Tal
Die Sonne scheint mit Glitzerstrahl
(We drive drive drive on the highway
Ahead of us lies a wide valley
The sun shines with a glittering beam)
Kraftwerk, Single Autobahn / Morgenspaziergang, 1974
Driving a car is a convenient thing, especially if you live in the countryside. For the first time in my life I drive a car regularly, after 27 years of being “carless”, since it was left to me as a passenger. It’s a small Suzuki Celerio, which I call Celery, and fortunately it doesn’t consume much. Nevertheless, I feel guilty because I know how disturbing the engine noise and exhaust fumes are for all living creatures when I press the gas pedal.
So far, I have managed well by train, bus and bicycle and have saved a lot of money. As a photographer, I used to take the train, then a taxi to my final destination in the village and got to my appointments on time. Today, setting off spontaneously and driving into the unknown feels luxurious.
However, my new sense of freedom is in stark contrast to my understanding of an intact environment: clean air, pedestrians and bicyclists are our role models, children can play safely outside. A naive utopia? According to the advertising images of the car industry, it seems as if electric cars are the long-awaited solution: A meadow with wind turbines painted on an electric car makes you think everything will be fine.
“Naturally by it’s very nature.” says the writing on an EV of the German Post, Neunkirchen, Siegerland (Photo by Benja Weller)
In Germany, the car culture (or rather the car cult) rules over our lives so much that not even a speed limit on highways can be achieved. The car industry has been receiving subsidies from the government for decades and journalists are ridiculed when they write about subsidies for cargo bikes.
Right now, this industry is getting a green makeover: quiet electric cars that don’t emit bad air and are “CO2 neutral” are supposed to drive us and subsequent generations into an environmentally friendly, economically strong future. On Feb. 15, 2023, the green party Die Grünen published in its blog that the European Union will phase out the internal combustion engine by 2035: “With the approval of the EU Parliament on Feb. 14, 2023, the transformation of the European automotive industry will receive a reliable framework. All major car manufacturers are already firmly committed to a future with battery-electric drives. The industry now has legal and planning certainty for further investment decisions, for example in setting up its own battery production. The drive turnaround toward climate-friendly vehicles will create future-proof jobs in Europe.”
That’s good news – of course for the automotive industry. All the old cars that will be replaced with new ones by 2035 will bring in more profit than old cars that will be driven until they expire. That the EU along with the car producers, are becoming environmentalists out of the blue is hard to believe, especially when you see what cars drive on German roads.
In recent years, a rather opulent trend became apparent: cars with combustion engines became huge in size and gasoline consumption increased, all in times of ecological collapse and global warming. These oversized SUVs are actually called sport-utility vehicles, even if you only drive them to get beer at the gas station. Small electric cars seem comfortable enough and have a better environmental footprint than larger SUVs. But the automotive industry is not going to let the new electromobility business go to waste that easily and is offering expensive electric SUVs: The Mercedes EQB 350 4matic, for example, which weighs 2.175 tons and has a 291-hp engine, costs €59,000 without deducting the e-car premium.
Comparing the Citroen 2CV and the Renault Zoe electric car shows that the Zoe uses about 8 times more kinetic energy. (Graph by Frederic Moreau)
If we look at all the production phases of a car and not just classify it according to its CO2 emmissions, the negative impact of the degradation of all the raw materials needed to build the car becomes visible. This is illustrated by the concept of ecological backpack, invented by Friedrich Schmidt-Bleek, former head of the Material Flows and Structural Change Department at the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy. On the Wuppertal Institute’s website, one can read that “for driving a car, not only the car itself and the gasoline consumption are counted, but also proportionally, for example, the iron ore mine, the steel mill and the road network.”
“In general, mining, the processing of ores and their transport are among the causes of the most serious regional environmental problems. Each ton of metal carries an ecological backpack of many tons, which are mined as ore, contaminated and consumed as process water, and weigh in as material turnover of the various means of transport,” the Klett-Verlag points out.
Car production requires large quantities of steel, rubber, plastic, glass and rare earths. Roads and infrastructure suitable for cars and trucks must be built from concrete, metal and tar. Electric cars, even if they do not emit CO2 from the exhaust, are no exception. Added to this is the battery, for which electricity is needed that is generated at great material expense, a never-ending cycle of raw material extraction, raw material consumption and waste production.
Power generation sources for electric vehicles (Graph by Frederic Moreau)
Lithium is a component of batteries needed for electric cars. For the production of these batteries and electric motors, raw materials are used “that are in any case finite, in many cases already available today with limited reserves, and whose extraction is very often associated with environmental destruction, child labor and overexploitation,” as Winfried Wolf writes in his book Mit dem Elektroauto in die Sackgasse, Warum E-Mobilität den Klimawandel beschleunigt (With the electric vehicle into the impasse, why e-mobility hastens climate change).
What happens behind the scenes of electric mobility, which is touted as “green,” can be seen in the U.S. campaign Protect Thacker Pass. In northern Nevada, a state in the western U.S., resistance is stirring against the construction of an open-pit mine by the Canadian company Lithium Americas, where lithium is to be mined. Here, a small group of activists, indigenous peoples and local residents have united to raise awareness of the destructive effects of lithium mining for electric car batteries and to prevent the lithium mine in the long term with the Protect Thacker Pass campaign.
Thacker Pass is a desert area (also called Peehee muh’huh in the native language of the Northern Paiute) that was originally home to the indigenous peoples of the Northern Paiute, Western Shoshone, and Winnemuca Tribes. The barren landscape is still home to some 300 species of animals and plants, including the endangered Kings River pyrg freshwater snail, jack rabbit, coyote, bighorn sheep, golden eagle, sage grouse, and pronghorn, and is home to large areas of sage brush on which the sage grouse feeds 70-75% of the time, and the endangered Crosby’s buckwheat.
For Lithium Americas, Thacker Pass is “one of the largest known lithium resources in the United States.” The Open-pit mining would break ground on a cultural memorial commemorating two massacres perpetrated against indigenous peoples in the 19th century and before. Evidence of a rich historical heritage is brought there by adjacent caves with burial sites, finds of obsidian processing, and 15,000-year-old petroglyphs. For generations, this site has been used by the Northern Paiute and Western Shoshone tribes for ceremonies, traditional gathering and hunting, and educating young Native people. Now it appears that the history of the colonization of Thacker Pass is repeating itself.
According to research by environmental activists, the lithium mine would lower the water table by 10 meters in one of the driest areas in the U.S., as it is expected to use 6.4 billion gallons of water per year for the next 40 years. This would be certain death for the Kings River pyrg freshwater snail. Mining one ton of lithium generally consumes 1.9 million liters of water at a time when there is a global water shortage.
The mine would discharge uranium, antimony, sulfuric acid and other hazardous substances into the groundwater. This would be a major threat to animal and plant species and also to the local population. Their CO2 emissions would come up to more than 150,000 tons per year, about 2.3 tons of CO2 for every ton of lithium produced. So much for CO2-neutral production! Thanks to a multi-billion dollar advertising industry, mining projects are promoted as sustainable with clever phrases like “clean energy” and “green technology”.
About half of the local indigenous inhabitants are against the lithium mine. The other half are in favor of the project, hoping for a way out of financial hardship through better job opportunities. Lithium Americas’ announcement that it will bring an economic boost to the region sounds promising when you look at the job market there. But there’s no guarantee that working conditions will be fair and jobs will be payed well. According to Derrick Jensen, jobs in the mining industry are highly exploitative and comparable to conditions in slavery.
Oro Verde, The Tropical Forest Foundation, explains: “With the arrival of mining activities, local social structures are also changing: medium-term social consequences include alcohol and drug problems in the mining regions, rape and prostitution, as well as school dropouts and a shift in career choices among the younger generation. Traditional professions or (subsistence) agriculture are no longer of interest to young people. Young men in particular smell big money in the mines, so school dropouts near mines are also very common.”
Seemingly paradoxically, modern industrial culture promotes a rural exodus, which in turn serves as an argument for the construction of mines that harm the environment and people. Indigenous peoples have known for millennia how to be locally self-sufficient and feed their families independently of food imports. This autonomy is being repeatedly snatched away from them.
Erik Molvar, wildlife biologist and chair of the Western Watersheds Project, says of the negative impacts of lithium mining in Thacker Pass that “We have a responsibility as a society to avoid wreaking ecological havoc as we transition to renewable technologies. If we exacerbate the biodiversity crisis in a sloppy rush to solve the climate crisis, we risk turning the Earth into a barren, lifeless ball that can no longer sustain our own species, let alone the complex and delicate web of other plants and animals with which we share this planet.”
We share this planet with nonhuman animal athletes: The jack rabbit has a size of about 50cm (1.6 feet), can reach a speed of up to 60 km/h (37mph) and jump up to six meters (19.7 feet) high from a standing position. In the home of the jack rabbit, 25% of the world’s lithium deposits are about to be mined. To produce one ton of lithium, between 110 and 500 tons of earth have to be moved per day. Since lithium is only present in the clay rock in a proportion of 0.2-0.9%, it is dissolved out of the clay rock with the help of sulfuric acid.
According to the Environmental Impact Statement from the Thacker Pass Mine (EIS), approximately 75 trucks are expected to transport the required sulfur each day to convert it to sulfuric acid in a production facility built on site. This means that 5800 tons of sulfuric acid would be left as toxic waste per day. Sulfur is a waste product of the oil industry. How convenient, then, that the oil industry can simply continue to do “business as usual.”
Nevada Lithium, another company that operates lithium mines in Nevada states: “Electric vehicles (EVs) are here. The production of lithium for the batteries they use is one of the newest and most important industries in the world. China currently dominates the market, and the rest of the world, including the U.S., is now responding to secure its lithium supply.” The demand for lithium is causing its prices to skyrocket: Since the demand for lithium for the new technologies is high and the profit margin is 46% according to Spiegel, every land available will be used to mine lithium.
Lithium production worldwide would have to increase by 400% to meet the growing demand. With this insane growth rate as a goal, Lithium Americas has begun initial construction at Thacker Pass on March 02, 2023. But environmentalists are not giving up, they are holding meetings, educating people about the destructive effects of lithium mining, and taking legal action against the construction of the mine.
Let’s take a look at the production of German electric cars.
Meanwhile, this is the third attempt to bring electric cars to the market in Germany. In the early 20th century, Henry Ford’s internal combustion engine cars replaced electric-powered cars on the roads.
Graph by Frederic Moreau
“In fact, three decades ago, there were similar debates about the electric car as today. In 1991, various models of electric vehicles were produced in Germany and Switzerland,” writes Winfried Wolf. “At that time, it was firmly assumed that the leading car companies would enter into the construction of electric cars on a large scale.”
He goes on to write about a four-year test on the island of Rügen that tested 60 electric cars, including models by VW, Opel, BMW and Daimler-Benz passenger cars from 1992 to 1996. The cost was 60 million Deutsche Mark. The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IFEU) in Heidelberg, commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Research, concluded that electric cars consume between 50 percent (frequent drivers) and 400 percent more primary energy per kilometer than comparable cars with internal combustion engines. The test report states that the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) in Berlin also sees its rejection of the electric car strategy confirmed.
There is no talk of these test results in times of our current economic crisis: also German landscapes and its water bodies must make way for a “green” economic policy. We can see the destructive effects of electric car production centers in the example of Grünheide, a town in Brandenburg 30 km from Berlin.
Manu Hoyer, together with other environmentalists in the Grünheide Citizens’ Initiative, rebel against the man who wants to discover life on other planets because the Earth is not enough: Elon Musk. She explains in an article by Frank Brunner in the magazine Natur how Tesla proceeded to build the Gigafactory Berlin-Brandenburg with supposedly 12,000 employees: First, they deforested before there was even a permit, and when it was clear that the electric car factory would be built, Tesla planted new little trees elsewhere as compensation.
The neutral word “deforestation” does not explain the cruel process behind it: Wildlife have their habitat in trees, shrubs and in burrows deep in the earth. In the Natur article, Manu Hoyer recalls that the sky darkened “with ravens waiting to devour the dead animals among the felled trees.”
In the book The Day the World Stops Shopping, J.B. MacKinnon describes, based on a study of clearing in Australia, that the scientific consensus is that the majority, and in some cases all, of the individuals living at a site will die when the vegetation disappears.
It doesn’t sound pretty, but it’s the reality when you read that animals are “crushed, impaled, mauled or buried alive, among other things. They suffer internal bleeding, broken bones or flee into the street where they are run over.” Many would stubbornly resist giving up their habitat.
In this, they are like humans. Nobody gives up her piece of land or his house without a fight when it is taken away from him; animals and humans both love the good life. But the conditions of wild animals play no role in our civil society, they should be available anytime to be exlpoited for our needs.
In order not to incite nature lovers, legal regulations are supposed to lull them into the belief that what is happening here is morally right. Behind this is a calculus by the large corporations, which in return for symbolic gestures can continue the terror against nature blamelessly.
In December 2022, Tesla was granted permission to buy another 100 hectares of forest to expand the car factory site to 400 hectares. The entire site had long been available for new industrial projects, although it is also a drinking water protection area. The Gigafactory uses 1.4 million cubic meters of water annually in a federate state plagued by drought.
Manu Hoyer tells Deutschlandfunk radio that dangerous chemicals are said to have leaked only recently and contaminated firefighting water seeped into the groundwater during a fire last fall. Another environmentalist, Steffen Schorcht, who studied biocybernetics and medical technology, criticizes local politicians for their lethargy in the face of environmental destruction. He sees no other way to fight back than to join forces with other citizens and international organizations outside of politics.
The beneficiaries are not the people who make up the bulk of the population. Tesla cars go to drivers who are happy to spend 57,000€ for a car with a maximum of 535 horsepower.
I can still remember how, as a child, I used to drive with my parents on vacation to the south of France, Italy or Austria in the Citroën 2CV model (two horsepower). Such a car trip was more adventure than luxury, but the experiences during the simple camping vacations in Europe’s nature have remained formative childhood memories.
The author sitting on the hood of a Citroën 2CV in Tuscany, Italy, 1989 (Photo: private)
Today, we have to go a big step further than just living a “simple life” individually. The car industry is pressing the gas pedal, taking the steering wheel out of our hands and driving us into the ditch. It’s time to get out, move our feet and stand up against the car industry.
The BDI, Federation of German Industries, writes in its 2017 position paper on the interlocking of raw materials and trade policy in relation to the technologies of the future that without raw materials there would be no digitalization, no Industry 4.0 and no electromobility. This statement confirms that our western lifestyle can only be financed through the destruction of the last natural habitats on Earth.
The mining of lithium and other so-called “raw materials” for new technologies is related to our culture, which imposes a techno-dystopia on the functioning organism Earth, that nullifies all biological facts. If we want to save the world, it seems to me, we should not become lobbyists for the electric car industry. Rather, we should organize collectively, learn from indigenous peoples, defend the water, the air, the soil, the plants, the wildlife, and everyone we love. The brave environmentalists in Grünheide and Thacker Pass are showing us how.
Homo sapiens have done well without cars for 200,000 years and will continue to do so. All we need is the confidence that our feet will carry us.
Wir fahr’n fahr’n fahr’n auf der Autobahn, Kraftwerk buzzed at the time
as an ode to driving a car
I glide over the asphalt to the points in lonely nature,
give myself a time-out from the confines of the small town
Bus schedules in German villages are an old joke
Buy me a Mercedes Benz, cried Janis Joplin devotedly,
without an expensive car, life is only half as valuable
Car-free Sundays during the oil crisis as a nostalgic anecdote
Driving means freedom and compulsion at the same time, asphalt is forced upon topsoil
with millions of living beings per tablespoon of earth
You must go everywhere: To the supermarket, to school, to work, to the store,
to the club, to friends, and to the trail park
Be yourself! they tell you, but without a car you’re not yourself,
on foot with a lower social status than on wheels
The speed limit dismissed each time, which party stands for the wild nature,
our ancient living room? Don’t vote for them, they deceive too
Believe yourself! they say, but what else can you believe, grown up believing
that this civilization is the only right one
Drive, drive, drive and the airstream flies in your hair –
Freedom, the one moment you have left
Featured image: A view of Thacker Pass by Max Wilbert
Featured image by Sierra Forests Legacy
By Michael Carter / Deep Green Resistance Colorado Plateau
Read Part 1 of this series here
Law enforcement has been so ineffective in preventing illegal ORV use that citizens are usually left to face the problem on their own. Stopping ORVs isn’t easy, but short of an end to gasoline—which we can’t wait for—impacts will continue to worsen if there’s no intervention. In remote areas like the Mojave Desert and Colorado Plateau, where would-be activists are scattered and overwhelmed and the police are essentially powerless and blasé, all strategies for stopping ORVs involve active and sustained effort. Here are a few:
Pressure law enforcement to do their jobs. Carry a camera with you always, and photograph illegal activity, if at all possible getting clear images of license plates. Document the time, place, and circumstances. Bring it to the attention of both the local and federal police, if on federal land. Be polite but persistent.
Physically close illegal trails. This can be surprisingly effective. Adopt an area and close off illegal trails with rocks, logs, whatever is handy and doesn’t further disturb the land. ORVers will keep trying to use the trail, but continued discouragement might eventually work.
Physically close legal trails. Similar to the last category, people may choose to carry out underground actions that close legal routes.  There must be a strict firewall between aboveground and underground activists: people or groups choosing to use underground tactics should not engage in aboveground actions, and vice versa. 
Close and reclaim established, authorized routes through administrative and legal channels. It’s the open roads that draw ORVs deeper into land they can then illegally violate, so every closed road is particularly helpful. This, too, takes a long and sustained effort. One helpful organization is Wildlands CPR (Now Wild Earth Guardians),  but don’t expect any non-profit group to have the resources to do the job for you. If you love the land you live in, be prepared to fight for it—a simple solution of hard, dedicated effort. Organize with those who agree with you, and fight.
Coyote Canyon Revisited
Private landowners neighboring Coyote Canyon in southeast Utah fought the originally illegal ORV use of the canyon, and tried to stop the BLM from sanctioning it. They pleaded with the public via every venue they could think of to write letters to the BLM opposing the move, yet ORV interests grossly outnumbered the effort. Fewer than ten opponents to the trail even bothered writing letters, and when the decision to open the canyon to ORVs was made the BLM didn’t even bother notifying the respondents, a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.
Otherwise, however, the agency had prepared its documents thoroughly and neighbors were advised that a legal challenge probably wouldn’t have been effective. Although the BLM offered a number of concessions—the trail is only open Friday and Saturday to registered users, from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., among other restrictions—the agency legitimized crime, rewarding criminals with the sacrifice of another dwindling scrap of feral public land.
The Coyote Canyon example highlights several reasons why so few are willing to protect the land, and why they’re losing so badly. One is fear of reprisals from enemies (such as intentional trespass and vandalism of property, already an issue for neighbors of Coyote Canyon). Another is a reasonable assumption that their efforts will be ineffective—though of course making no effort will certainly be ineffective. Yet people tend to accept whatever situation they’re given. It’s uncommon to question an established arrangement, whatever it may be, and if one continues to question it life gets more uncomfortable. A resister will always face ridicule, accusations of poor mental, emotional and social adjustment, eventual ostracizing and occasionally murder. Yet social changes demand challenges to established practice.
When the BLM announced their decision to open Coyote Canyon to oil spills, noise, litter, piles of shit and soiled rags of toilet paper, almost everyone who was asked to help offered only a passing moment of sympathy. Not “what can I do,” not “what are our options,” but “that’s too bad.” It’s no wonder fights like this are frequently lost, when reactions are so feeble.
Industry and recreation groups, by contrast, are well organized and ready to rush to their own common cause. The right wing tends to be more accepting of orders; the boss says jump, they ask how high. They have something tangible they’re working for, a thing they like doing, a righteous maintenance of their privilege—such as driving anywhere they want. They stand to gain something where resistance stands only to prevent something—at least in situations like Coyote Canyon, where no comparable force opposes them.
Resistance is tough. It means making one’s self unpopular, a hard thing to do among those who’ve been taught their whole lives that popularity is everything. Organizing can provide the possibility of overcoming our fear of reprisal, of ridicule, and of failure; it’s the only chance at effectively confronting injustices. Those who wish to prevent agency actions like the Coyote Canyon trail, or to promote re-localization of food production—any defensive or restorative action—can become an effective force if they work together, consistently and reliably supporting one another. Many progressives have been bled off by dogmas of non-confrontation, by intoxicating feel-good-ness, and by the idea that individualism is of primary importance. They’ve become lazy, fatalistic, and cynical; committed, organized struggle seems to be the sorry lot of desperately poor people in faraway places.
The examples that we have of committed resistance movements often are of desperately poor people, immediately threatened by the activities of rich and powerful enemies. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta is one good example, and so are the more than 130 First Nations governments in western Canada that have gathered against the tar-sands Enbridge Northern Gateway Project and the Kinder Morgan pipeline and tanker projects.  We who are in a position to protect the land mostly lack the ability to respond, to turn our empathy for places like Coyote Canyon into action.
The situation at the frontiers of wild land is desperate, too. Wealth and privilege let us pretend it isn’t, because we get food from supermarket shelves and water from a tap. We see little or no connection between the health of the land and our own well-being. Public land use is an issue that can be influenced relatively easily—unlike, say, racism—because land managers so routinely ignore or violate laws and effective tactics usually have to do with citizen enforcement. But environmentalists continue to lose, partly because exploiters have miscast conflict as user-group obstruction—framing the terms of the debate to ridicule love of the wild world, separating its fate from human fate. By allowing this, would-be activists surrender the land and leave the future to sadists and imbeciles.
The destruction of the planet, however easy it is to ignore, will catch up with us all. The civilized economies that steal from the poor to give to the rich will eventually end. They need to consume limited resources to exist and those resources—fossil fuels, topsoil—will not last forever. When this happens, we will again depend upon the land to sustain us. If that land is stripped of its capacity to sustain life by industry, agriculture, and recreation, then there will be nowhere else to go, and nothing to do but wage war and starve.
Abuse of the land is now normalized by faith in nonexistent frontiers (of renewable energy and electric cars, for example) and by misguided tolerance. Naming abuse—the destruction of the land in the name of fun or individualistic pursuits and the destruction of our selves by abusive people and systems—is often portrayed as abusive in itself. This is outrageous and infuriating, but should be expected.
Though it is far less damaging than industry and agriculture, the evidence for ORV destruction is well documented and easy to come by. It’s not even really contested by ORVers themselves. Those of us determined to stop this behavior face the same problem law enforcement does: the damage is so widespread and difficult to regulate that there’s little anyone can do. But there’s also a serious lack of activists with effective tactics and a coherent strategy to follow through on. This doesn’t mean, though, that we should back down.
Identifying with the Real World
Once on Cedar Mesa, in Southeast Utah, I watched an ORV intentionally veer to crush a dozing snake. The reptile churned and writhed in the machine’s track, dead or near dead as its nerves popped and struggled and ran down. I went to it, to witness its pointless death. A thick and handsome bull snake, it spent its last moments bleeding out in the dust. Why? Why do this? What drives this sick, stupid behavior? Why does our culture hate every living thing?
I lifted the snake into the sage and blackbrush so it could at least die in its home. “If they can’t evolve to get out of the way,” someone once told me about road killed animals, “then that’s their problem.” Of course, not evolving to changing conditions is what causes extinction. There’s little doubt that our culture will not voluntarily evolve to halt the worsening conditions that industry and recreation are creating on the planet. So how does anyone fight activity like this? How do we stop deforestation, global warming, ocean acidification? And given those immense problems, is ORV land abuse something to focus limited energy and resources on?
In addition to the suggestions made in these articles, activists can develop tactics and strategies and their way forward will eventually become clear. With hard work and determination a chance of winning would almost certainly emerge. But in a world of Keystone XL pipelines and epidemic levels of fracking, is the effort worth it? If you caretake a few acres of land, blocking travel and pulling weeds, how much does it matter if you stop, or get distracted, or die? If those acres are again immediately vulnerable, is your effort a waste?
Few things anger me more that seeing wanton destruction for fun. I wonder, though, if this is an unhelpful distraction. It’s easy to get angry at something so obviously disrespecting of the land. In terms of permanent impacts, though, industry is much worse, and the scale of destruction is enormous. Of course what runs it is oil. Always this—the temporary, illusory power locked in a liquid hydrocarbon, driving ORVs, factory fishing trawlers, factory farms, and industrial agriculture. It’s warming the atmosphere and leading us to a horribly impoverished future, where most of us will be unable to afford the lifestyle we’ve been subjected and addicted to, let alone find enough to eat.
Remove the oil and the engines stop, and a besieged biosphere can begin to heal. This is part of the strategy that Deep Green Resistance has proposed.  But in the meanwhile…ORVs, just one part of the picture, continue to cut apart what little wild life remains, the last seed bank of evolution as we’ll ever know it. The momentum of established civilized practice is now enormous—seemingly unstoppable—and its terminal is in global destruction, the eradication of all complex life. Challenge to this system is so psychologically and practically difficult that most of us ignore it.
Fighting for the real, wild world can begin with the understanding that humans are not everything, and that the fate of the world is ultimately our fate. It is much different to fight for your own beloved family than for a rocky canyon you’ll never visit. We progressives like to talk about how hatred of “other” races cannot be tolerated (not that much is ever done about that). But we hardly ever extend this principle to the non-human world—constant victim of our culture’s violence—because we’ve been conditioned to believe that humans are all that matter. The loons, the snakes, the too-slow creatures smeared across the roads and ground under rubber tires into the dirt, they and the people yet to come who won’t be able to live as we have because the oil is gone—none of them will care about our abstract, self-indulgent moral wrestling. That is the wall that human supremacy has built around us; it must be torn down.
Imagine again that an occupying culture, whose every act is force and theft, was destroying the means of your survival. Imagine them extracting fuel to use the world as a playground. Of course, it is not enough to stop them from driving their toys in every possible place. To survive in the long term we must also stop the extraction, the root of the problem, and eliminate the fuel for destruction. We must reclaim our adult responsibilities and stand up to defend the land where we live, knowing that until oil extraction and consumption is ended, there will always be a new group of occupiers finding new ways to destroy the land.
 Foreman, Dave. Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching. Tucson: Ned Ludd Books, 1987, 89-109.
 Security Culture: A Handbook for Activists (PDF)
 “Resources,” Wild Earth Guardians, accessed July 13, 2014, http://www.wildearthguardiansresources.org/
 Carrie Saxifrage, “How the Enbridge Pipeline Issue Unified Northern BC,” The Vancouver Observer, February 13, 2012, http://www.vancouverobserver.com/politics/2012/02/13/nation-building-how-enbridge-pipeline-issue-unified-northern-bc
“Interior First Nations Pipeline Ban,” Dogwood Initiative, You Tube, December 2, 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4G5KtqPSW8Q
Carrie Saxifrage, “No Oil Pipeline Here: Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel in Smithers finds 100% opposition,” The Vancouver Observer, January 17, 2012, http://www.vancouverobserver.com/sustainability/2012/01/17/enbridge-northern-gateway-joint-review-panel-smithers-finds-100-opposition
 “Decisive Ecological Warfare,” Deep Green Resistance, accessed August 28, 2014