Editor’s Note: The Indigenous Women of Peehee Mu’huh have set up an Indigenous Women’s Camp (Ox Sam Newe Momokonee Nokutun) blocking the construction of a water pipeline for Lithium Nevada’s open-pit lithium mine. The land is a historic site, and has witnessed two massacres of indigenous people. The following text was written by Paul Cienfuegos, Founding Director, Community Rights US. We share it here to update you on the latest happenings at Thacker Pass. This piece is also a call for action for all to share the word and help the movement in any way that they can. More information can be found at the Indigenous Women’s Camp website oxsam.org. Thank you for reading.
Last Thursday, May 11th, the next nationally significant Standing-Rock-like prayer and action camp at Thacker Pass, Nevada (Pee’hee Mu’huh in the Paiute language meaning “rotten moon” named for the massacre of Paiute ancestors in 1865) was launched to try to stop the construction of what would become the largest open pit lithium mine in the world, as a false and ecologically devastating “green energy solution” to our fossil fuel woes.
I am proud to have played a small role in this just launched camp which only days ago was given a proper name by the Paiute Shoshone women elders who are in charge: Ox Sam Newe Momokonee Nokutum. Ox Sam was one of only a few surviving members of the 1865 massacre of dozens of Native people at Thacker Pass. And Newe Momokonee Nokutum translates as Indigenous Women’s Camp and is open to ALL — Native and non-Native, women and men. (Here’s a pronunciation guide for speaking that beautiful name: New’-weh Moe-moe-koht’-nee Noh-kuh’-duhn.)
Here’s a 1-minute video intro to this issue:
We simply cannot dig our way out of our climate emergency. And if you don’t believe me, I urge you to read Bright Green Lies by Derrick Jensen, full of the hard data we all need to stop lying to ourselves about an electric battery future nirvana. A real solution is a rapid transition first to a steady state or zero-growth economy (which is frankly impossible under capitalism which requires constant growth) followed rapidly by carefully planned, massive and rapid economic shrinkage. There really is no other option if we truly want to see the survival of diverse species thriving on Mother Earth.
And when We the People continue to allow large business corporations to exercise their so-called Constitutional “rights” — of property, of free speech, access to the courts, etc, which were never approved by the public in our nation’s history — our options are limited when We try to stop these outrages against land, water, and people. Because corporations really do have more constitutionally protected “rights” than We do. So we need to tackle this crisis on many fronts. (If you want to learn more about this aspect of the crisis our society is facing, check out my new book.)
If we can stop the Thacker Pass lithium mine this year, then we have a fighting chance to stop the other (dozens?) of planned lithium mines all across the Americas.
For the first few days of the new camp, I played a highly significant support role on site: as the Liaison between those drivers trying to reach the mining operation (workers, mine deliveries, and occasionally just members of the public driving up this rural county road) and the grandmothers who are in charge there. I didn’t hold a leadership position. I didn’t speak for the camp. I simply moved information back and forth between the drivers and the grandmothers, who decide who gets to pass and who does not.
Here’s what my role as Liaison actually looked like on the entrance road in these minute-long videos. This man is one of the mine security supervisors…
It has been a scary and intimidating but also incredibly moving and powerful experience for me, and we’ve already stopped dozens of vehicles with our banner held high by camp participants standing across the roadway, and always with a local Native elder in prayer sitting in front of the banner.
Meet three extraordinary leaders of the camp in this 23-minute video:
The sheriff’s office has been in constant communication for days with Lithium Nevada Corporation managers (behind the scenes) as they’ve been going out of their way to not arrest any of us, even though we are creating quite the hassle for their daily operations. What they want, more than anything, is to make this look like it’s led by a handful of white out-of-state eco-freaks so they can mock the camp in their news releases. But the reality is that the camp is 90% Native people, mostly local, and THEY are its leaders.
On Friday evening, we found out that Max Wilbert (co-founder of Protect Thacker Pass) and myself were the only named people in a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), which the company has put before a judge this weekend, and once it’s approved, they will try to serve Max and myself. I came prepared to risk arrest, so all is well.
Please be advised that Lithium Nevada is filing an Application for Temporary Order for Protection Against Harassment in the Workplace against Max Wilbert and Paul Cienfuegos later this afternoon, in the Justice Court in the Township of Union Humboldt County, Nevada.
All of this in furtherance of the company’s desperate attempt to attach white leadership to the story of this camp, when in reality neither of us has stood in the way of any employee or company vehicle.
The camp currently stands right on top of the company’s ongoing water line construction. One Tipi is now in place, and more on the way. More tents are arriving daily on the company’s BLM-leased land. Or more accurately, on land “beyond the treaty frontier”, as the US government has no treaties in place. The only claim is conquest by which this land was taken from the local Paiute Shoshone communities. So they have more right to be on this land than any other persons or corporations.
Trucks halted at Ox Sam Indigenous Women’s Camp. Photo by Bhie-Cie Zahn-Nahtzu
Which is where YOU come in! And when I say you, I mean YOU, the person reading these words right now!
Please share this information with your own social networks in the next 48 hours.
Standing Rock started when local Native people took a stand against a pipeline. Other Native peoples came to support them. Then the non-Native environmental and social justice movements took notice and started showing up en masse. Major media coverage followed from there. And a historic Native-led mass encampment was born, which shook the consciousness of the nation. We can do this too — here at Thacker Pass, Nevada.
We need all hands on deck NOW. This week. We need bodies. We need supplies. We need media support. We need funds. The small group holding this camp simply cannot sustain itself unless YOU and people YOU know are willing to do SOMETHING to support us THIS WEEK.
I thank all of you reading this, from the bottom of my heart. This is NOT just another single-issue campaign. The success or failure of this effort could have historic impact on the future survival of the extraordinary diversity of creatures here on this beautiful and mysterious orb we call home, floating in the endless blackness of space.
🌎 Join the land defense: Come to Thacker Pass / Peehee Mu’huh and stand with native elders and supporter to protect the land.
🌎 Be Eagle Eyes! Camp at Sentinel Rock, traditional lookout for the Thacker Pass area to keep an eye on the mining construction that is happening up at Thacker Pass. Send us photos and reports via our website.
🌎 Get trained! We need people trained in nonviolent discipline and principles to help educate people for permanent camp.
🌎 Keep the Pressure On! Write op-eds, organize your own protest, make art, write poetry, and get the word out about Peehee Mu’huh / Thacker Pass.
🌎 Share! Share Protect Thacker Pass on social media and with friends.
🌎 Donate! Our legal work to Protect Thacker Pass is intensifying and increasing in cost; please donate if you can. We spend every donated dollar on this 2.5 year fight to Protect Thacker Pass.
Thank you Thacker Pass Warriors! We need you all and so appreciate all you have done to help us.
Editor’s Note: We are witnessing the results of a culture in overshoot. Having extracted everything that is easily accessible on land, corporations are turning to the remote depths of the ocean in search of profitable metals. The fact that deep sea mining is being considered is proof that this way of life can’t last. Industrial mining will, of course, come to an end. And the world will be far better off if the mining is stopped before it destroys the ocean rather than after.
While the fight against deep sea mining has largely focused on areas beyond national jurisdiction, there are many national projects, like the one in Norway, that require opposition.
A living ocean is far more valuable than the metals that can be extracted from it.
Norway is moving forward with plans to mine its continental shelf to procure minerals critical for renewable energy technologies. However, some scientists, members of civil society and even industry leaders have raised concerns about Norway’s proposal, arguing that deep sea mining in this part of the ocean could cause widespread environmental harm.
The nation’s Ministry of Petroleum and Energy has proposed opening up a 329,000-square-kilometer (127,000-square-mile) portion of the Norwegian Sea to deep sea mining, an area nearly the size of Germany. The region overlaps with many marine areas previously flagged by Norwegian research institutes and government agencies as vulnerable or valuable. A study by the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD), a government agency responsible for regulating petroleum resources, found that this area holds significant quantities of minerals such as magnesium, cobalt, copper, nickel and rare-earth metals. Investigators found these minerals on manganese crusts on seamounts and sulfide deposits on active, inactive or extinct hydrothermal vents at depths of 700-4,000 meters (2,296-13,123 feet).
A sliver of this proposed mining area is within Norway’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The rest falls across the adjoining continental shelf — the gently sloping seabed stretching out from Norway’s mainland into the ocean — in international waters beyond Norway’s jurisdiction. However, Norway gained access to the continental shelf that borders its EEZ in 2009 after filing an application with the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, a U.N. body that manages extended access to the nations’ continental shelves. Norway’s access applies only to the seabed, not the water column or surface waters above the continental shelf.
In 2021, the Norwegian government began working on a mining impact assessment and released it for public consultation in October 2022. It received more than 1,000 responses, most from individuals, research institutes, environment agencies and other groups expressing opposition to Norway’s deep-sea mining plans.
One response came from the Norway Environment Agency, a government bureau under the Ministry of Climate and Environment. The agency raised several issues with the impact assessment, including that it did not provide adequate information about how mining could be done safely and sustainably. The agency argued that this omission violates the country’s Seabed Minerals Act, a legal framework created in 2019 for surveying and extracting minerals on the Norwegian continental shelf.
Now that the public consultation process has finished, the decision whether to open Norway’s EEZ and continental shelf to deep sea mining sits with the federal government. If the government does open the area, Norway could become one of the first nations to initiate deep-sea mining in its nearby waters. A few other countries, including China, Papua New Guinea, the Cook Islands and New Zealand, have explored starting similar projects, but none have begun full-scale exploitation. According to the Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Authority, a government agency responsible for regulating seabed minerals, the country has issued exploration licenses to obtain “the information necessary to inform future decisions about whether it will allow mining to commence in line with the precautionary approach.” In the case of New Zealand, its supreme court blocked a proposed seabed mining operation in 2021, generating a major stumbling block for the industry.
‘Enormous supply gap’
Walter Sognnes, the CEO of Loke Marine Minerals, one of three companies looking to mine Norway’s continental shelf, said he believes the deep sea is key to supplying the “increasing demand” for critical minerals. Loke is aiming to mine manganese crusts that occur on seamounts on Norway’s continental shelf, believed to hold cobalt and rare-earth metals worth billions of dollars.
“We need to solve this enormous supply gap that is coming … and we think deep-sea minerals are the right way to go,” Sognnes told Mongabay.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), today’s mineral supply will fall short of what’s needed to transform the energy sector, resulting in a delayed and more expensive transition to renewable technologies. A recent study in Nature Communications likewise suggested that demand will escalate as countries work to replace gas-combustion vehicles with electric ones. For instance, it suggested that if nations aim to make all vehicles electric by 2050, the global demand will increase by 7,513% for lithium, 5,426% for nickel, 2,838% for manganese and 2,684% for cobalt. The study also pointed out that most of these critical minerals were available only in “a few politically unstable countries such as Chile, Congo, Indonesia, Brazil, Argentina, and South Africa.”
While environmental experts argue that industries can obtain minerals through means such as battery recycling, Sognnes said he doesn’t think that will become a viable option for at least a couple of decades.
Mineral supply chains can also be complicated by geopolitical tensions with countries like China and Russia, which currently generate many critical minerals, Sogness said.
“You have to look at the alternatives,” he said. “We believe that if you apply the best technology and work together [to protect] the environment, deep sea minerals can be a better alternative, both on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) rating, but also on the geopolitical side, you can have a resource that makes us less dependent on China.”
An ESG rating is a measure of how well a company addresses environmental, social and governance risks.
Sognnes said if Norway does open its continental shelf, Loke would not begin mining until early in the 2030s. He said it would first be necessary to map and explore the seabed and develop the best possible technologies. Loke plans to use excavation tools, thrusters and pumps to “scrape” the manganese crusts then transport them to a collection vessel.
Some researchers have suggested that plumes generated from deep sea mining extraction could be highly destructive by distributing sediment and dissolved metals across large swaths of the ocean, which would threaten organisms and introduce heavy metals into the pelagic food chain. However, Sognnes said he does not expect Loke’s crust cutting and collection to generate plumes.
Loke also recently acquired UK Seabed Resources (UKSR), a deep sea mining firm formerly owned by U.S. global security company Lockheed Martin. This acquisition has given Loke full ownership of two exploration licenses and partial ownership of another in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) in the Pacific Ocean. This proposed mining would focus on extracting polymetallic nodules, which are potato-shaped rocks containing critical minerals like manganese, nickel, cobalt and copper. Since the CCZ is located in international waters beyond any nations’ jurisdictions, mining activities there are regulated by the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a U.N.-affiliated body tasked with protecting the marine environment while ensuring nations receive equal access to minerals.
While the ISA has yet to issue an exploitation license for deep sea mining, it is working to finalize a set of regulations that could allow mining to start as early as next year — a move that has garnered criticism from governments, civil society organizations, research institutes and many other individuals and groups. Those in opposition say that not enough is known about the deep sea to accurately assess the impacts of mining, and that mining technology is not advanced enough to minimize harm. Additionally, critics say what is known about the deep sea suggests that mining could cause irreversible harm to habitats and species that are essential to the functioning of the ocean.
Some nations and delegates to the ISA are calling for a “precautionary pause” or a moratorium on deep sea mining until more research is conducted on the deep sea and the possible impacts of mining. France has even called for an outright ban.
Norway, an ISA council member, has generally supported swiftly completing the international mining regulations but stated at recent ISA meetings that no mining should proceed without the “necessary knowledge about ecosystems.”
Other Norwegian companies looking to mine in Norway include ADEPTH Minerals and Green Minerals. While Norwegian energy company Equinor previously expressed interest in deep-sea mining, the company called for a “precautionary approach” during the public consultation, saying experts must have sufficient time to properly understand the possible environmental consequences of deep-sea mining.
‘Too quick and too big’
Peter Haugan, a scientist who serves as policy director of Norway’s Institute of Marine Research and director of the Geophysical Institute at the University of Bergen, said the Norwegian government should not rush mining in the country’s continental shelf.
“Jumping right into mining and opening big areas for exploration first with the implication that there will be mining is a bit too quick and too big,” Haugan told Mongabay. “Normally, when we think about new industries that may be moving into areas in the ocean, we typically take small steps.”
Haugan said that while some academic research has been conducted on features like hydrothermal vents in the proposed mining area, more is needed to understand this deep-sea environment, the water column and the organisms that live there. Before mining is allowed to proceed, he said researchers need to conduct extensive baseline studies to understand the impacts for both the mining area and the wider environment, which would be hard to do within short timespans.
“It’s very difficult to imagine that a single company getting a license for a small area will be prepared to do the environmental baseline that is needed in their area and in the surrounding areas, which may be affected and which may have connected ecosystems,” Haugan said.
According to an assessment by the Institute of Marine Research, there is a lack of information for 99% of the proposed mining area.
Kaja Lønne Fjærtoft, a marine biologist and global policy lead at WWF, told Mongabay it’s difficult to “nail down the actual consequence” of deep-sea mining on the Norwegian shelf without more knowledge of the environment, technology and mining impacts. Based on what is known, she said there is concern that mining manganese crusts or sulfide deposits could have widespread effects on species through the destruction of habitat, generation of harmful plumes and noise pollution. (Sognnes of Loke, however, said his company’s proposed operations would not target unique habitats or generate plumes and would produce minimal noise.)
Norway’s plans also raise several transboundary concerns. For one, mining activities could impact fisheries operating in the water above the extended continental shelf, Fjærtoft said.
“We don’t have exclusive rights to fisheries above it, so the mining that could happen in the seabed could impact international fisheries because most of the [proposed mining] areas are also in areas where like the U.K. would be fishing, the EU would be fishing,” she said. “And that’s not really accounted very well for in the impact assessment.”
According to 2019 data, the U.K. and several EU countries fish in the proposed deep sea mining area, targeting species like shrimp, cod, sole, haddock and mussels.
Norway submitted its impact assessment to Denmark and Iceland in accordance with the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment, which requires parties to disclose if activities could cause transboundary environmental harm. Denmark’s Environmental Protection Agency wrote a letter to the Norwegian Environment Agency, arguing that the mining’s possible effects on seabirds and marine mammals have not been thoroughly investigated, according to documents reviewed by Mongabay.
Another issue is that part of Norway’s proposed mining area falls across the continental shelf of Svalbard, an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. The Svalbard Treaty, which 48 countries have ratified, recognizes Norway’s sovereignty over Svalbard but also specifies that parties have equal rights to engage in commercial activities there. However, in a letter viewed by Mongabay, Iceland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs informed the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs that the exploitation of any mineral resources on Svalbard’s continental shelf was “subject to the provisions of the Svalbard Treaty, including the principle of equality.” In other words, Norway couldn’t claim sole ownership of these resources.
“If Norway actually goes ahead with extraction of seabed minerals, it will be the first time the Svalbard Treaty — in terms of extractive seabed resources, including oil and gas — is tested in that region,” Fjærtoft said. “This will set precedent for future potential oil and gas extraction in this area.”
Fjærtoft also argues that Norway’s plans for deep sea mining contradict its commitments as a founding member of the Ocean Panel, a global initiative that aims to help member nations “sustainably manage” 100% of their national marine waters by 2025.
In a paper, the Ocean Panel stated that nations should take a precautionary approach to deep-sea mining and that regulations and knowledge should be in place by 2030 to “to ensure that any activity related to seabed mining is informed by science and ecologically sustainable.”
More recently, Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, the current head of the Ocean Panel, said in an interview with a Norwegian paper in March that deep-sea mining can be one of three sustainable ocean actions Norway can set in motion and that deep-sea mining could be done in a way that doesn’t harm marine biodiversity. Støre’s comments garnered criticism from environmental NGOs.
Haugan, who serves as co-chair of the Ocean Panel’s Expert Group, said the Norwegian government’s course technically satisfies the panel’s “not very precise” statement directing a precautionary approach to deep sea mining. However, he said he was still concerned about how quickly things were moving.
“There is a real fear that the quality and quantity of those environmental investigations will not be sufficient,” Haugan said. “And therefore, there’s this big danger that this will run off and lead to inappropriate actions in the deep sea.”
What happens next?
Amund Vik, state secretary of Norway’s Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, the body forwarding the proposal to mine, told Mongabay the impact assessment, consultation impact and resource report from NPD “will form an important part of the decision basis on whether to open areas” to deep-sea mining. However, he emphasized that a decision to open the area wouldn’t necessarily result in commercial activities. Vik also said the government will submit a white paper about the issue to parliament in “spring.”
“A comprehensive permitting regime has been established in Norwegian legislation, and this regime is based upon a stepwise approach to allowing commercial activities to take place,” Vik said in an emailed statement. “Seabed mineral activities will only take place if it can be done in a prudent and sustainable manner.”
However, Fjærtoft said she believes if and when the Norwegian government does approve the opening of the proposed mining area, commercial activities could quickly begin. The nation’s Seabed Minerals Act specifies that companies may immediately apply for exploitation licenses alongside exploration licenses. According to Fjærtoft, companies are likely to opt for exploitation licenses because they confer exclusive rights to an area; exploration licenses, on the other hand, are nonexclusive.
“Norway could be the first country to give an exploitation license,” Fjærtoft said. “If they do that, that is heavily criticizable because you definitely do not have enough knowledge to be able to assess anything on the impact of exploitation. You don’t even have enough to assess impacts of exploration.”
Elizabeth Claire Alberts is a senior staff writer for Mongabay. Follow her on Twitter @ECAlberts.
A criminal slips a police officer a handful of bills and walks free. A businessman buys a politician with a briefcase full of cash. We often think of bribery and corruption in these blatant terms, and as something that happens in poor countries, elsewhere.
But corruption often looks different.
In the United States, where I live, corruption is common. It’s also mostly legal.
In fact, dirty money has become part of the political fabric of our nation. It has become normalized, institutionalized, and even regulated. And yet, the effects of this corruption are just as insidious and destructive as blatant payoffs. Corruption is a rot in our political system, and it is spreading.
This article is about American corruption, but the story will be told by looking at one particular Canadian mining company called Lithium Americas, which is working in the United States through a wholly-owned U.S.-based subsidiary, Lithium Nevada Corporation.
For two and a half years, I’ve been fighting Lithium Nevada to stop them from destroying Thacker Pass — a biodiversity hotspot and Native American sacred site known Peehee Mu’huh in the Paiute language that is in northern Nevada, just shy of the Oregon border. Lithium Nevada, as you have probably guessed, wants to turn this place into an open-pit lithium mine.
This is a special place. Thacker Pass is home to dwindling sage-grouse, Pronghorn, mule deer, and golden eagles. It’s a migratory corridor and climate change refuge. It’s the watershed for local communities, and the site of two massacres of Paiute people, including one on September 12, 1865 in which US Army soldiers killed between 30 and 50 men, women, children, and elders in a surprise attack at dawn. It’s been recognized by the Federal Government as a “Traditional Cultural District,” a landscape of outstanding importance to Native American history and cultural identity.
And right now, as you read this, it is being destroyed by a corrupt corporation and a corrupt government. Bulldozers are rolling and centuries-old sagebrush, millennia-old artifacts, and the lives of precious desert creatures are being crushed under metal treads.
How is this possible? How, in a democracy where people have the right to protest, to speak out, to comment, to petition, to file lawsuits, how is it possible to have such a miscarriage of justice? And more broadly, how is it possible that our governmental system is failing to address the ecological catastrophe we are facing: the 6th mass extinction of life on Earth?
Part of the answer is corruption, which we can break down into five categories: lobbying, writing laws, the revolving door, campaign contributions, and community bribery. Let’s look at each in turn, using Lithium Americas and Thacker Pass as an example.
Lobbying: How Corporations Gain Disproportionate Access
Lobbying is based on a simple principle: that government officials should listen to their constituents.
Transparency International defines lobbying as “Any activity carried out to influence a government or institution’s policies and decisions in favor of a specific cause or outcome.”
“Even when allowed by law,” they say, “these acts can become distortive [harmful to democracy and justice] if disproportionate levels of influence exist — by companies, associations, organizations and individuals.”
Today’s lobbying is not the simple practice of people talking to their elected officials. Instead, it’s a tightly regulated $3.73 billion industry dominated by political insiders and major corporations, rife with corrupt “revolving doors,” and matched by at least $3-4 billion in “shadow lobbying” that isn’t regulated or disclosed to the public in any way.
The regulation of lobbying is essential to its proper functioning as a method of corruption. As Ben Price, National Organizing Director at the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, puts it, “regulation is not so much a way to curb corruption, but more to the point, regulations legalize the corruption by defining the limits to it that will be disallowed.”
“In doing so,” he continues, “the principle effect of regulations is to shield bribery from legal liability by legalizing enough of it to serve the purpose of the corporate legislative influencers.”
Like advertising, corporations use lobbying because it works.
Studies have found that spending more money on lobbying and campaign contributions results in direct reductions in federal taxes, state taxes, and more federal contracts. One analysis looking at only the nation’s 200 most “politically active” corporations found they spent $58 billion on lobbying the federal government and “campaign contributions”[i] between 2007 and 2012, but received $4.4 trillion in federal subsidies, contracts, and other support during the same time period. That’s a 7,580% return on investment.
Another study found even bigger returns: “on average, for every dollar spent on influencing politics, the nation’s most politically active corporations received $760 from the government” — a 76,000% payout.
Corporations are Writing Our Laws
Corporations use lobbyists because their wealth allows them disproportionate access to the government, meaning that they can build relationships with politicians and staffers, influence policy, share ideas, and even draft legislation. They can also bribe judges, as the recent Clarence Thomas corruption scandal shows. But it goes further. As one report in NPR notes, “It’s taken for granted that lobbyists influence legislation. But perhaps less obvious is that they often write the actual bills — even word for word.”
Our laws are being written by corporations.
And this isn’t just a federal problem. A 2019 USA Today investigation found more than 10,000 bills introduced to legislatures in all 50 states over an 8-year period were “almost entirely copied from bills written by special interests.” The report also notes that their investigation detected these bills using automated techniques, and “the real number is probably far higher.”
Our politicians rarely write laws. Instead, corporations and lobbyists write laws; congress sells the laws to the public; then lobbyists pay their congresspeople in campaign contributions, Super PAC funding, and revolving-door job opportunities – topics we will look at next.
The Revolving Door
Another way that corruption has become endemic inside the government of the United States is through what’s known as the “revolving door.”
The revolving door refers to the common practice of corporate employees quitting their jobs and going to work in the government, and vice versa. It’s quite common for government employees and elected officials to quit or end their terms and immediately get jobs in the industries they were supposedly regulating.
This is a sort of “retroactive bribery” where government officials do what corporations want, then get paid off afterwards. And it’s completely legal.
Occasionally there will be stories of lobbyists who stray into outright bribery — Jack Abramoff, notably — but these stories are rare, not because corruption is uncommon, but becauseyou don’t really need to break the law as a corporation: you wrote the laws. And you did it deliberately to make your bribery and influence campaigns legal.
As of 2016, about half of retiring senators and a third of retiring House Representatives register as lobbyists to collect their checks. This is equally common among Democrats and Republicans.
Lithium Nevada Corporation’s Lobbying Activities (the ones we know about)
Harbinger is “a leading federal government and political affairs firm” that was founded by and employs former high-level Republican congressional aides and political operatives. They have been listed as among the top lobbyists in Washington D.C. and made a total of $10.9 million in 2021 from a client list which includes the airline industry, major banks and investment firms, mining companies, biotech, the military-industrial complex, Facebook, electric utilities, General Electric, and the oil and gas industry.
“We leverage our experience as former senior staff to the Congressional Leadership and the Executive Branch to position clients for a seat at the decision-making table,” they write on their website. They continue: “[Harbinger is] founded on the belief that every client deserves partner-level legislative expertise” — a “boutique model” — that they use “for one simple reason: it gets results.”
In the state of Nevada, Lithium Nevada Corporation has hired at least 4 lobbyists since 2017 from two businesses: Argentum Partners, “a full-service strategic communications firm… with a hungry, energetic, and experienced team of lobbyists,” and Ferrato Corporation, “a full service bi-partisan public affairs firm.”
Notably, Lithium Nevada’s Argentum lobbyists included Mike Draper, who “helmed the media relations and public affairs for the planning, permitting, construction and opening of the Ruby Pipeline, the largest natural gas pipeline in North America.” The Ruby Pipeline was fought vehemently by environmentalists and Tribes in 2009 and 2010.
Another technique of legalized corruption is “campaign contributions,” also known as donations to politicians.
Many countries in the world place strict limits on the amount of money that people can donate to political candidates, or even have political campaigns funded by the government, removing the influence of money almost entirely. The United States is not one of those countries.
Elected officials in the United States are desperate for money. The average U.S. senator has to rase $14,000 a day just to stay in office — and that’s once they’re already elected. This is true for both Democrats and Republicans, which is why corporations, both directly and through their lobbyists and employees, tend to play both sides by donating to both political parties.
For example, Jonathan Evans, CEO of Lithium Americas Corporation, donated at least $10,250 to political candidates between 2021 and 2022 including Catherine Cortez Mastow (Democratic Senator from Nevada) and Mark Amodei (Nevada’s Republican Governor). George Ireland, Board President of Lithium Americas, has donated at least $19,800 to candidates since 2011, including $500 to the Trump campaign and $6,600 to John Hickenlooper. Data from OpenSecrets.org shows that 7 other Lithium Americas employees, Board members, and associated parties gave at least another $10,819 to political candidates between 2018 and 2022.
These amounts don’t include the MUCH larger political contributions given by employees and family members of Harbinger Strategies, who gave $392,842 to political candidates in the 2020 election cycle alone.
Many of these people donated up to the legal limit, implying that if the limit were higher, they would give more money — and perhaps that they would seek ways to circumvent contribution limits via so-called “Super PACs” and other dark money techniques.
Keep in mind that less than 1.5% of Americans donate more than $200 to political candidates or parties in any given year. This is the domain of the wealthy.
Lithium Americas money is well-spent.
In what appears to be a quid pro quo for their lobbying and campaign contributions, Lithium Americas Corporation has been granted a total of $8,637,357 in tax abatements from the State of Nevada, including a partial sales tax abatement worth $5 million, a $3.3 million property tax abatement and about $225,000 in payroll tax abatements. That money is unavailable for schools, healthcare, social services, small business assistance, environmental programs, etc.
From the Federal Government, Lithium Americas has received a loan from the Department of Energy’s “Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program” (ATVM) which is likely to cover “up to 75% of the Thacker Pass’ total capital costs for construction.”
This loan program offers highly favorable terms that amount to a significant subsidy of as much as $3 billion USD.
Based on a very conservative estimate for Lithium Americas Corporation lobbying and employee campaign contribution of, say, $400,000, they’re looking at a return on investment of 2,100% — and that’s before including the massive financial value of the ATVM loan.
Corruption in politics is often matched with corruption at a local level.
Lithium Americas’ plans to destroy Thacker Pass have created serious community opposition among farmers and ranchers from the rural areas closest to Thacker Pass, among local citizens in the nearby town of Winnemucca, among environmental groups concerned about impacts to wildlife, plants, air, and water, and among Native American tribes concerned about their sacred and culturally important sites, animals, and medicines.
The response has been predictable. Anti-mining activist Joan Kuyek’s book Unearthing Justice: How to Protect Your Community From The Mining Industry describes the myths repeated incessantly by Lithium Americas and almost every mining company:
“The mine will create hundreds of jobs and enrich governments.”
The mine can make community members rich and solve all of their social and economic problems.”
“Modern engineering will ensure that the mine doesn’t damage the water, air, or the wildlife.”
When these myths are exposedasfalse, they resort to legalized bribery. At Thacker Pass, that takes the form of Lithium Americas Corporation paying for a new school for the community of Orovada, and signing an agreement with one local Tribal Councilwoman for construction of a cultural center. One tribal member, my friend Shelley Harjo, wrote in response: “A few promised buildings and a cultural center do not supersede the responsibility we have to our ancestors before us nor our obligation to our unborn after.” Another Tribal leader in the region says of the mining companies, “They take advantage of our poverty.”
That poverty gives the mining companies serious leverage. Among community members at Fort McDermitt, rumors of bribery are common.
Lithium Americas’ Involvement in Human Rights Abuses Overseas
Lithium Americas has deep business links and personnel overlaps with Chinese state-owned mining corporation Ganfeng Lithium (the largest lithium company in the world). In fact, Ganfeng and Lithium Americas are co-owners of an Argentinian lithium mining company known as Minera Exar.
The Minera Exar mining project is located in the Andean highlands in the so-called “lithium triangle,” an arid region near the borders of Chile and Bolivia. Over the years that Minera Exar has been active in the region, they — like other lithium mining companies in the area — have come under criticism for serious environmental and human rights abuses.
“Mining companies have for years been extracting billions of dollars of lithium from the Atacama region… But the impoverished Atacamas have seen little of the riches… one lithium company, a joint Canadian-Chilean venture named Minera Exar, struck deals with six aboriginal communities for a new mine here. The operation is expected to generate about $250 million a year in sales while each community will receive an annual payment — ranging from $9,000 to about $60,000 — for extensive surface and water rights.
The exposé continues:
“Yolanda Cruz, one of the leaders of the village in Argentina, said she signed the [community benefits agreement with Minera Exar] but now regrets it. At the time she valued the opportunity to create jobs for her village. But she now worries, ‘we are going to be left with nothing.’ she said. ‘The thing is the companies are lying to us —that’s the reality. And we sometimes just keep our mouths shut,’ she said. ‘We don’t say anything and then we are the affected ones when the time goes by.’”
Meanwhile, Ganfeng Lithium recently announced plans to mine for battery metals in the Xinjiang region of China, where the Chinese Government has detained and imprisoned Uyghyrs and other Muslim groups in forced labor and indoctrination camps.
Waste of Government Funds
We are being told the main goal of lithium mining at Thacker Pass is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is another lie, a new type of corporate greenwashing which is becoming increasingly common. In fact, many analyses actually find that the emissions reductions from switching to electric vehicles are relatively minor.
Producing a single electric car releases greenhouse gas emissions—about 9 tons on average. This average is rising as the size of electric cars is going up substantially. The more electric cars are produced, the more greenhouse gases are released. And so while EVs reduce emissions compared to gasoline vehicles, bigger EVs don’t reduce them much. Analysis from the Center For Interdisciplinary Environmental Justice says that electrification of cars in the United States will reduce national emissions by only 6 percent.
Further, producing lithium at Thacker Pass would require 700,000 tons per year of oil refining byproducts — sulfur, perhaps largely sourced from the Alberta Tar sands. While Thacker Pass receives billions in subsidies from the government, carbon emissions are continuing to rise.
Environmental activist Paul Hawken, as another example, doesn’t put electric cars in his top 10 climate solutions. In fact, it’s number 24 on his list, with almost ten times less impact than reducing food waste, nearly six times less impact than eliminating the use of refrigerants which are powerful greenhouse gases, and behind solutions like tropical rainforest restoration (about 5 times as effective at reducing emissions as is switching to EVs) and peatland protection (more than twice as effective).
Corruption and waste go hand-in-hand. The data makes it clear that if reducing greenhouse gases is your goal, subsidizing the Thacker Pass lithium mine is not a good use of government funds. It’s wasteful.
If you actually want to allocate government funds to effectively halt global warming, giving money to extractive industries is the exact wrong thing to do.
Instead, start with women’s rights, educating girls, and making contraception and family planning widely available. Start with economic relocalization initiatives. Start with insulating homes properly, which may have the biggest immediate carbon impact per dollar spent. Start with demand-reduction initiatives.
Stop wasting taxpayer money on subsidies to Earth-destroying corporations, and start taking actions that really matter.
The Banality of Evil
Lithium Americas’ corruption reminds me of what political philosopher Hannah Arendt called “The Banality of Evil.” Writing of Otto Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi officer who was one of the major organizers of the Holocaust, Arendt explains that Eichmann felt no guilt; indeed, he never even considered that what he was doing might be wrong: “He did his ‘duty’…; he not only obeyed ‘orders’, he also obeyed the ‘law’.”
As one article states, “[Eichmann] performed evil deeds without evil intentions, a fact connected to his ‘thoughtlessness’, a disengagement from the reality of his evil acts. Eichmann ‘never realised what he was doing’ due to an ‘inability… to think from the standpoint of somebody else’. Lacking this particular cognitive ability, he ‘commit crimes under circumstances that made it well-nigh impossible for him to know or to feel that he [was] doing wrong’.”
Lithium Americas is not killing people en masse, nor are they even among the “worst” mining companies. They may even be acting completely within the boundaries of the law. And yet they are complicit in cultural genocide, in ecological destruction for personal gain, and in what may be an even bigger crime against the future: greenwashing their destruction as positive and thus creating more financial and political incentives for more of this madness.
They believe that what they are doing is right and they are “following the rules.”
The corruption at Thacker Pass is not unique. Lobbying, campaign contributions, greenwashing, and community bribery is common in the United States and across much of the world. I believe there is likely much more corruption that we are not aware of. Perhaps there really are briefcases full of cash being exchanged. We can only speculate. And, this article has not even begun to discuss the government complicity in lawbreaking, corruption, and ethical violations at Thacker Pass — a story that is, in some ways, even more sordid.
All of which is part of why academic analyses of the United States tend to show “economic-elite domination” rather than true electoral democracy or pluralism. The wealthy are running our country (and indeed, the world) Our government is corrupt, corporations are running rampant, and our world is being destroyed.
For many, the situation we find ourselves in is paralyzing. What can do in the face of this?
When I first came out to begin protecting Thacker Pass and setup a protest camp on the planned mine site in the depths of winter 2021, I had no illusions. I knew that the courts weren’t likely to save us. Remember, the laws were written by corporations. I knew that public commenting wasn’t going to work; the regulations are written to favor corporate interests. I knew that the government wasn’t going to help, since the politicians are mostly bought and paid for. I even knew that standard methods of protest would likely be ineffective, given the repression tactics and divide-and-conquer strategies that have been honed over centuries by corporations and colonizers.
As a society, we find ourselves in the midst of the 6th mass extinction event, a global climate catastrophe, and seemingly terminal overshoot. And as an environmental movement, despite our brave and inspired action, it has not been enough.
Whether you agree that this is needed or not, we can all agree that what we are doing isn’t working. I don’t have all the answers. But what I do know is that it’s time to go further.
This article was originally published on Earth Day 2023. Since then, there have been developments in Thacker Pass. Direct action has been able to halt mine construction for the moment. Read more about it here.
Featured image: Resistance in Thacker Pass by Max Wilbert
Editor’s Note: Earlier this year, UN delegates reached an agreement on conservation of marine life on international waters. The agreement, reached after two decades of negotiations, claims it will protect 30 percent of the world’s oceans from biodiversity loss by 2030. It has been hailed as a “breakthrough” by Secretary-General António Guterres. Mainstream environmental organizations have followed suit. These two articles by DGR members question these claims. They explore what the treaty actually says. The article is followed by the invitation to a demonstration against Deep Sea Mining in London on May 3 and 4.
Scrolling through a bright green Facebook page a few weeks ago I saw this headline: “More Than 190 Countries Agree On A Treaty to Protect Marine Life.” Sounds good, but is it really? I wonder if anyone who saw that post actually read and researched the story before reacting to it with likes and hearts and enthusiastic comments.
The article said that The United Nations High Seas Treaty aims to protect 30% of the world’s ocean from biodiversity loss by 2030. My first thought was, why only 30%? My second thought was, There’s got to be something more to this treaty than is being told to us in the article. And there is.
First, let’s look at who is allowed to use ocean resources.
Although the ocean body of water can be used by anyone, the ocean seabed belongs to the coastal state, which is 12 nautical miles from the coast. A nautical mile is a little over a land mile. Each state also has an exclusive economic zone which is 200 nautical miles from its coast. A nation has the right to use the resources in this zone. Beyond the 200 nautical miles is considered international waters — the high seas — which can be used by anyone. The new treaty is supposed to regulate the use of international waters.
Right now, all nations are allowed to lay submarine cables and pipelines along the floor bed of the high seas. That seems destructive enough, but now the UN High Seas Treaty, that is supposed to protect marine life, is going to allow deep sea mining to be exempt from environmental impact assessment (EIA) measures.
Deep sea mining is one of the most destructive activities that can be done to the ocean sea bed. The push for this mining is being driven by an increase in demand for minerals to make so-called renewable energy. More and more of the earth’s land is being mined for these minerals, and the mining industry is now looking to the ocean to continue the destruction.
The land and sea should not be owned by anyone, but as we can see, the most powerful people in this industrial society are just taking what they want. Mining destroys land bases, and now deep sea mining is being added to the destruction of the planet. Whenever governments get together to do something “good,” be very skeptical. It’s usually being done for the good of companies, not the planet.
What they aren’t telling you about the High Seas Treaty
By Julia Barnes
When the High Seas Treaty was announced, conservation groups applauded and social media was abuzz with celebration. The media portrayed it as a long-awaited victory. Commentators claimed that it meant 30% of the ocean would be protected by 2030, that deep sea mining would face strict regulations, and biodiversity would be safeguarded.
The draft text is easily accessible online. It’s a 54-page document, dry and tedious, but clear enough that any lay person should be able to comprehend its meaning.
That is why it is so unforgivable that the treaty has been misrepresented the way it has.
The High Seas Treaty does not guarantee that 30% of the ocean will be protected. It makes no commitment to a percentage, sets no targets. It merely lays out the regulatory framework under which it would be possible to create marine protected areas on the high seas.
When you think of a protected area, you’re likely imagining a place that is off limits to exploitation, where industrial activities are banned.
Under the High Seas Treaty, a protected area is one that is “managed” and “may allow, where appropriate, sustainable use provided it is consistent with the conservation objectives.”
I do not believe that humans possess the wisdom to manage the ocean, nor would we ever be capable of doing a better job than the ocean does itself, with its billions of years of intelligence.
Our track record with managing fisheries should cast serious doubts about our ability to assess sustainability. We must remember that there is no surplus in nature. When something is taken out, even at a rate that is “sustainable,” nutrients are permanently removed from the ecosystem. This cannot happen without consequences.
Even though “protected” might not mean what we expect it to, let’s assume for a moment that an area managed for “sustainable use” is in better shape than one left “unprotected.” Next, we run into the problem of enforcement.
Illegal fishing is rampant, with 40% of fishing boats in the world operating illegally. Marine protected areas are routine victims of poaching. Unless they deploy a navy to patrol the protected areas on the high seas, it is likely these will only be paper parks.
But all this presumes that marine protected areas will, in fact, be created. The process laid out in the treaty makes this quite difficult. With 193 signatory countries, decisions on the creation of marine protected areas are by consensus, and failing that, will require a two-thirds majority vote.
Proposals for new marine protected areas must undergo a review by a scientific and technical body, then consultation with “all relevant stakeholders,” after which the submitting party will be asked to revise the proposal.
Next, there is a 120-day review period. If another party objects to the establishment of a marine protected area within that time frame, the objecting party will be exempted from the marine protected area.
The review period also leaves time for industries to exploit the proposed area before protection is in place. We’ve seen this happen on land when logging companies targeted soon-to-be-protected forests, cutting as many trees as they could before the protection was granted. It’s not hard to imagine something similar taking place on the high seas, with a proposed area being fished intensively during the 120-day period.
What commentators often ignore is that a large portion of the treaty is dedicated to something called “marine genetic resources” and deals with how to share the “benefits” gained from commodifying the genetic material of marine organisms for use in things like pharmaceuticals.
Conservation groups have falsely claimed that the High Seas Treaty puts limits on deep sea mining, when in fact it does not. Deep sea mining is even exempted from environmental impact assessment measures.
The High Seas Treaty may have been a diplomatic feat, but as is often the case when negotiating with so many parties, to achieve agreement, the text ends up watered down and toothless.
This comes as no surprise. What is disheartening is seeing the way news media and NGOs consistently misrepresent the treaty. For a while, the internet exploded with erroneous claims that 30% protection had been achieved, that the ocean had scored a massive victory.
Meanwhile, the deep sea mining industry is gearing up to begin the largest and most destructive project ever imagined on the high seas, and few people have heard of it.
We have an illusion of protection masking a new era of exploitation.
They have been very secretive about the exact location. Which is understandable considering the destructive nature of this profession. But we have found out where it will be held and we need to have an opposition demonstration there. Everyone and anyone in and around London who is against mining the deep sea should come with signs and solidarity. We have set a time and date to show up but feel free to come express your views anytime during the summit. On May 4th at 1pm BST in front of the London Marriott Hotel Canary Wharf 22 Hertsmere Road defend the deep sea!
Species extinction is considered a “likely outcome” of deep sea mining. This new extractive industry threatens not only the fragile seabed, but all levels of the ocean. Mining would produce plumes of sediment wastewater that spread for 100s of kilometers, suffocating the fish who swim throught them.
We have an opportunity to stop this industry before it begins, but we are running out of time. As soon as this July, commercial mining may begin, opening an area of the ocean as wide as North America to exploitation.
We want to show that there is widespread support for a ban on deep sea mining.
We also want to highlight the incredible biodiversity that is threatened, so we are encouraging people to come dressed as their favorite ocean creatures. Don’t let them think your silence means consent.
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.
“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
Editor’s Note: Over the past two years, we have brought you news about the fight for Thacker Pass, and how destruction will affect the indigenous people and the natural community. The destruction of Thacker Pass has already begun. Despite that, those who were fighting against the ecocide have not stopped. This is a call for action to support them in any way that you can.
On March 23, U.S. District Court Judge Miranda M. Du ruled against the tribes — the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Summit Lake Paiute Tribe, and the Burns Paiute Tribe — who argued that the Bureau of Land Management violated several laws when it permitted Lithium Americas on Jan. 15, 2021 to mine Thacker Pass. The tribes also alleged that the permission violates their access to historically and culturally significant sites.
The region is considered sacred by the tribes, who call it Peehee Mu’huh, or Rotten Moon in the Paiute language, because in 1865 the U.S. Federal Cavalry killed more than 30 men, women and children and then left their bodies to rot.
The full-scale destruction of Thacker Pass, Peehee Mu’huh, this sacred and wild place, has begun. This video was submitted to us anonymously several days ago.
As you read this, life and biodiversity is being bulldozed and destroyed. Ancient artifacts and the remains of ancestors are being crushed into dust. Water is being poisoned and the once-clean air is being fouled with toxic fumes.
And yet, despair is only for those who see the end beyond all shadow of a doubt. We do not.
This fight is not over. There are still court cases ongoing. Residents are rising up. Protesters are gathering. In times of darkness it is most important to look deep into your heart and walk with your head held high.
Never forget, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, that “Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice, and… when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”
MY ECO LIST
Previously published in The POET (UK)
By David Sparenberg
This is not lifeless Saturn
or Jupiter, the Moon, Venus, or Mars.
Because a neighboring planet is
named for a Roman goddess
does not mean that
women originate there as if from
an unearthly temple of extraterrestrial love.
Because another is named
for a Roman god
does not prove that men are
hard wired and destined for war.
Here is Earth.
Earth is a Life Place.
We live here, only, always
within a context of
others also living.
to live appropriately with
of the changing Earth.
Clear your head
(if you cannot
blow your mind) open your heart
reintroduce your suffering
soul to the intricate
complexities of creation.
Buy less, yes.
Possess less, use less.
the Prosperity of Appreciation.
Do not regret
what you give up
in who you save.
One imminent need is
to democratize our
ability to respond to
discern difference between
false and genuine needs.
Another imminent necessity
is to advance “mustard seeding.”
Transition from the solitude of awakening
into a solidarity of commitment. Note
that instead of transcendence
I am favoring imminence and
the dynamic constancy
of transitional movement.
An ancient modality.
Don’t let the garden you
cultivate become overly tame!
Magic of the here and now
is participatory art and natural science.
Magic of the metamorphic
empowers dreams and reverent
dread as well as excitation
of awe-inspiring wonder.
that are Acts of Beauty
choices for seven generations.
Embody delight. Be amorous
with circles. Consciously, conscientiously
joyously: evolve! evolve! evolve!
a Council of All Beings.
like a mountain or
at least your favorite
busy working bees.
Sing with whales. Whales
are profound singers!