Of course, Mexico has been in the front line of atrocities and destruction that come out of mining. Mexico is a land blessed with wide biodiversity that includes minerals that have caught the attention of foreign companies who then act as the machinery to do what this industrial culture does best –converting the living into the dead. High revenue for the company stakeholders, negative benefit for the inhabitants and nothing but endless destruction for the land.
In 1521, Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, was taken over by the Spanish army consolidating Mexico’s Conquest. From then on, mining as an industry started in Mexico as Spaniards started to exploit places where mineral deposits could be located. Mining was carried out mostly in the North and Center of what is now modern day Mexico. Many important mineral deposits started to be discovered in places that later would become famous as they would generate wealth (for whom?) and human settlements. It was only a matter of time before the land subject to mining would be turned into cities such as Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas, Taxco, Chihuahua and Durango.
Mines kept spreading and mining created many jobs and wealth (I hate to be repetitive, but whose wealth?). Is there even a mention of all the evils done to the indigenous land and people? Not at all, the history of mining is portrayed as progress, as an unquestionable good thing, as a victory and in no terms as a defeat or loss. The whole History of Civilization is pretty much like that, now that I think of it.
When the Independence movement of Mexico started in 1810, mining projects were negatively affected and had to be stopped. It was not until 1823 when the movement ended that mining activity was restarted. Remember that I mentioned my surname Straffon being from Cornwall, England? Well, it was precisely during these years that the British Real del Monte Company was established thanks to English capital. This company provided both technology and workforce, some of it straight from Cornwall to re-establish silver mines located in Real del Monte, Hidalgo. 1,500 tons of equipment including 9 steam engines with their large boilers, 5 for pumping, 2 for crushing ore and 2 for use in powering saw mills; various pumps; large cast iron pipes to connect the pumps to be placed at the bottom of the mines with the surface. And so started the rebuilding and modernization of the district’s mining industry. The Cornish miners had brought the Industrial Revolution to Mexico.
By the beginning of the 20th century, Mexico was entering a major political transformation as new laws and codes were created. During Porfirio Diaz’ administration, for example, most of the railroad infrastructure was built all through the country, focusing on the main mining centers that were already established. Then the American corporations showed up offering the means for better extraction as mines during the times of Nueva España were certainly used, but could not be exploited to their maximum because Spain lacked the technology and resources to do so.
The Fresnillo Company, Mazapil Cooper Co., Peñoles Mining Co., and Pittsburg & Mexico Tin Mining Co. were some of the companies looking to make a profit out of Mexico’s mines. Parallel industries started to rise, the economy diversified and the country’s elite dreamed of Mexico being on its way to becoming a world economy. Metallurgical processes were improved with maximum return on capital and mineral processing efficiency as the main goal. The bonanza would cease somewhat in the 1960s when the mining industry was nationalized and mine administration passed to the charge of Mexican professionals.
Doctor María Teresa Sánchez Salazar has set out very interesting mine “conflict maps” which consider many parameters including land conflict, environmental conflict, social conflict, labor conflict or a combination of those factors. Data shows that 75% of these conflicts have to do with land, that is, land grabs by the mining companies or due to environmental conflicts, and almost 70% of them happen in open-pit mines. Another interesting number – 60% of the conflicts have involved foreign company owned mines.
She adds that there are places where conflict started due to land grab and the subsequent leasing to mining companies and the implementation of ways to displace people from their native lands. Of a total of 181 natural areas, 57 have been leased for mining. Eight of them focus more than 75% of the surface to this activity. Twenty of them have at least 93% of their surface leased. One example is the Rayón National Park in Michoacan, its land is practically 100% leased for mining as well as Huautla Mountain Range that is between Morelos, Puebla and Guerrero.
Safety is also an issue for the Mexican mining sector. There are powerful cartels that have quite an influence in the entire country, including mining states such as Sonora, Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Guerrero. Mines have been object of many armed robberies that have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Extortion, threats and employee kidnapping have been the most common crimes reported by the mining companies.
If this was a Robin Hood kind of deal then I should certainly support it, but in the end workers are the most affected, operations are seldom slowed down and the exploitation just does not stop. If the criminal gangs were to take over, not much would change as, let’s be honest, both companies and cartels pretty much operate the same way but at a different scale.
In times prior to the year 1600, this area was inhabited by Opata indigenous settlements. In the year 1645 a mission named San Luis Gonzága de Bacadéhuachi was founded by the Jesuit missionary Cristóbal García. Its current inhabitants dedicate their lives to taking care of livestock and making cheese, bread and tortillas which are sold among themselves; within the world economy, they don’t have much of a choice. Being only 270 kilometers away from Hermosillo, capital of the State of Sonora, the road takes 5 hours to transit due to the uneven and complex terrain that in turn makes it a dangerous travel.
This town is on the same route of the high mountain range that takes you to Chihuahua, its neighbor state. This is a high-risk road as armed conflicts are constantly raging between groups that are looking to take control of this area. Some months ago, armed men went into the municipality creating such a situation and ending the peaceful environment to the point that the Mexican National Guard and the State Police now have to be constantly present.
Bacadehuachi has around 500 houses, most of them made of adobe, occupied by around 1,083 people according to the The National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI). It has cobblestone roads and few are made of concrete due to the minimal vehicle transit. It is more common to see people on horses or donkeys than in motor vehicles. Everything is around the corner, there are no gas stations nearby. It has 3 municipal police officers that issue around 10 different fines a year. There is only one health center for basic checkups and a doctor is available every 3 days.
Regarding education, only one preschool, one primary school and one secondary school exist. For those who want to receive higher education, their only choice is to go to Granados, a municipality 50 kilometers away from the town. The road is risky to say the least, young students must stay at the neighboring town and go back to their families at the weekends in a municipality sponsored bus. To go to college is a victory, a luxury, a rare occurrence for the townspeople.
Don’t Know What I’m Selling
Miguel Teran is a farmer and former owner of La Ventana ranch. He sold his land to Bacanora Lithium for the Sonora Lithium Project. He asserts that the first explorations started back in 1994. Geologists came to the La Ventana ranch in government cars. They took some soil samples, came back 8 years later, measured the land and after that they never came back. Ten years ago, Bacanora Lithium carried out some studies. They drilled around 115 holes with the permission of Miguel and then they offered to buy the land.
I told them: you know what you’re buying, but I don’t know what I’m selling. Don’t take advantage of me. That’s how the negotiation started, but they wanted to pay as if it was a mere piece of land.”
Miguel wasn’t disappointed yet he acknowledges that he could have made a better deal as he has since found out what treasure lies in the 1,900 hectares that were sold and integrated into the Sonora Lithium Project. For the time being and until the mineral is extracted, Miguel may allow his cows to graze there as stipulated in the contract.
I am within my rights until I get in the way, but I have already bought some land.” Finally, he adds, “sometimes my car battery would fail and they would tell me that I had lithium here, but I only know about horses and chickens; not lithium.”
The Trauma of Our Technological Selves
As a city-dweller, my experience with Nature has been for the most part parks and decorative gardens. Since I live so disconnected from the land itself, I can only enter into relationship with my own species, our creations and the animals we call pets. For a long time I’ve been scared of insects and even though working in a garden has helped diminish the feeling, I still feel uncomfortable in certain scenarios. Soil and its minerals are even weirder to me, because I had never considered them something other than a resource, a component that can be used for my benefit through technology. They don’t seem alive, they don’t seem to have any other purpose than sitting there for us to transform them into something else.
Perhaps my biggest realization during my journey to connect with the land is the enormous damage that Capitalism, Colonialism and Industrialism have inflicted on the planet. It has reached the point that we are also physically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually bent and broken enough for us to barely notice the indifference and violence around us. Indifference and violence done to each other and to ourselves. And yet, those who notice don’t always take action. Even less, those who know and take action don’t have a clear idea, much less a strategy to stop the abuse.
This is not something that modern technology can fix. Not the electric cars, not the solar cells nor the electric batteries. Not the tote bags and the bamboo toothbrushes that you can use as compost. Our home is being gutted and we just stand there watching, unsure on what to do. When you actually want to stop a killer, you go ahead and do it. You don’t offer knives from recycled metal or whips made out of hemp. You go ahead and put an end to the abuse by neutralizing any capacity to inflict damage that the perpetrator might have. You stop the killing, you stop the behavior, you commit yourself to do so.
Today I read that only 3% of world’s ecosystems remain intact. Civilization is going down regardless of what we do. Nothing can grow indefinitely without collapsing. The real question is what will be left when our civilization goes down. Our struggle resides in stopping it before there is nothing left.
Cristopher Straffon Marquez a.k.a. Straquez is a theater actor and language teacher currently residing in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. Artist by chance and educator by conviction, Straquez was part of the Zeitgeist Movement and Occupy Tijuana Movement growing disappointed by good intentions misled through dubious actions. He then focused on his art and craft as well as briefly participating with The Living Theatre until he stumbled upon Derrick Jensen’s Endgame and consequently with the Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet both changing his mind, heart and soul. Since then, reconnecting with the land, decolonizing the mind and fighting for a living planet have become his goals.
Nearly a third of the world lacks safe drinking water, though I have rarely been without. In a red rock canyon in Utah, backpacking on a week-long wilderness training in my mid-twenties, it was challenging to find water. Eight of us often scouted for hours. Some days all we could find to drink was muddy water. We collected rain water and were grateful when we found a spring.
Now water is scarce, and the demand for it is growing. Globally, water use has risen at more than twice the rate of population growth and is still increasing. Ninety percent of water used by humans is used by industry and agriculture, and when groundwater is overused, lakes, streams and rivers dry up, destroying ecosystems and species, harming human health, and impacting food security. Life on Earth will not survive without water.
In the Navajo Nation in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, a third of houses lack running water, and in some towns, it is ninety percent. Peabody Energy Corporation, the largest coal producer and a Fortune 500 company, pulled so much water from the Navajo aquifer before closing its mining operation that many wells and springs have run dry. Residents now have to drive 17 miles to wait in line for an hour at a communal well, just to get their drinking water.
Worldwide, the majority of drinkable water comes from underground reservoirs called aquifers. Aquifers feed streams, lakes, and rivers, but their waters are finite. Large aquifers exist beneath deserts, but these were created eons ago in wetter times. Expert hydrologists say that like oil, once the “fossil” waters of ancient reservoirs are mined, they are gone forever.
Peabody’s Black Mesa Mine extracted, pulverized, and mixed coal with water drawn from the Navajo aquifer to form a slurry. This was sent along a 273-mile-long pipeline to the Mojave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nevada, to power Los Angeles. Every year, the mine extracted 1.4 billion gallons (4,000+ acre feet) of water from the aquifer, an estimated 45 billion gallons (130,000+ acre feet) in all.
Pumping out an aquifer draws down the water level and empties it forever. Water quality deteriorates and springs and soil dry out. Agricultural irrigation and oil and coal extraction are the biggest users of waters from aquifers in the U.S. Some predict that the Ogallala aquifer, once stretching beneath five mid-western states, may be able to replenish after six thousand years of rainfall.
Rain is the most accurate measure of available water in a region, yet over-pumping water beyond its capacity to refill is widespread in the western U.S. and around the world. The Middle East ran out of water years ago—it was the first major region in the world to do so. Studies predict that two thirds of the world’s population are at risk of water shortages by 2025. As ground water levels fall, lakes, rivers, and streams are depleted, and the land, fish, trees, and animals die, leaving a barren desert.
Mining in the Great Basin
The skyrocketing demand for lithium, one of the minerals needed for the production of electric cars, is based on the misperception that green technology helps the planet. Yet, as Argentine professor of thermodynamics and lithium mining expert Dr. Daniel Galli said at a scientific meeting, lithium mining is “really mining mountains of water.” Lithium Americas plans to pump massive amounts of water—up to 1.7 billion gallons (5,200 acre feet) annually—from an aquifer in the Quinn River Valley in Nevada’s Great Basin, the largest desert in the United States.
Thacker Pass, the site of the proposed 1.3 billion dollar open-pit lithium mine, would pump 1,200 acre feet more water per year than Peabody Energy Corporation extracted from the Navajo aquifer. Yet, the Quinn River aquifer is already over-allocated by fifty percent, and more than 10 billion gallons (30,000 acre feet) per year. Nevada is one of the driest states in the nation, and Thacker Pass is only the first of many proposed lithium mines in the state. Multiple active placer claims (7,996) have been located in 18 different hydrographic basins.
Deceit about water fuels these mines. Lithium Americas’ environmental impact assessment is grossly inaccurate, according to hydrologist Dr. Erick Powell. By classifying year-round creeks as “ephemeral” and underreporting the flow rate of 14 springs, Lithium Americas is claiming there is less water in the area than there actually is. This masks the real effects the mine would have—drying up hundreds of square miles of land, drawing down the groundwater level, sucking water from neighboring aquifers—all while claiming its operations would have no effect.
Peabody Energy Corporation’s impact assessment similarly misrepresented how their withdrawals would harm the Navajo aquifer. Peabody Energy used a flawed method to measure the withdrawals, according to former National Science Research Fellow Daniel Higgins. Now Navajo Nation wells require drilling down 2,000–3,000 feet, and the water is depressurized and slow to flow to the surface.
Thacker Pass lithium mine would pump groundwater at a disturbing rate, up to 3,250 gallons per minute. Once used, wastewater would contaminate local groundwater with dangerous heavy metals, including a “plume” of antimony that would last at least 300 years. Lithium Americas plans to dig the mine deeper than the groundwater level and keep it dry by continuously pumping water out, but when the pumping stops, groundwater would seep back in, picking up the toxins.
It hurts me to think about this. I imagine water being rapidly extracted from my own body, my bloodstream poisoned. The best tasting water rises to the surface when it is ready, after gestating as long as it likes in the dark Earth. Springs are sacred. When I feel welcome, I place my lips on the earthy surface and fill my mouth with their sweet flavor and vibrant texture.
Mining in the Atacama Desert
Thirteen thousand feet above sea level, the indigenous Atacamas people live in the Atacama Desert, the most arid desert in the world and the driest place on Earth. For millennia, they have used their scarce supply of water and sparse terrain carefully. Their laws and spirituality have always been intertwined with the health and well-being of the land and water. Living in mud-brick homes, pack animals, llama and alpaca, provide them with meat, hide, and wool.
But lithium lies beneath their ancestral land. Since 1980, mining companies have made billions in the Salar de Atacama region in Chile, where lithium mining now consumes sixty-five percent of the water. Some local communities need to have water driven in, and other villagers have been forced to abandon their settlements. There is no longer enough water to graze their animals. Beautiful lagoons hundreds of flamingos call home have gone dry. The birds have disappeared, and the ground is hard and cracked.
In addition to the Thacker Pass mine proposal, Lithium Americas has a mine in the Atacama Desert, a joint Canadian-Chilean venture named Minera Exar in the Cauchari-Olaroz basin in Jujuy, Argentina. Digging for lithium began in Jujuy in 2015, and there is already irreversible damage, according to a 2018 hydrology report. Watering holes have gone dry, and indigenous leaders are scared that soon there will be nothing left.
Even more water is needed to mine the traces of lithium found in brine than in an open-pit mine. At the Sales de Jujuy plant, the wells pump at a rate of more than two million gallons per day, even though this region receives less than four inches of rain a year. Pumping water from brine aquifers decreases the amount of fresh groundwater. Freshwater refills the spaces emptied by brine pumping and is irreversibly mixed with brine and salinized.
The Sanctity of Water
As a river guide, I live close to water. Swallowed by its wild beauty, I am restored to a healthier existence. Far from roads, cars, and cities, I watch water swirl around rocks or ripple over sand. I merge with its generous flow, floating through mountains, forest, or canyon. Rivers teach me how to listen to the currents—whether they cascade in a playful bubble, swell in a loud rush, or ebb in a gentle silence—for clues about what lies ahead.
The indigenous Atacamas peoples understand that water is sacred and have purposefully protected it for centuries. Rather than looking at how nature can be used, our culture needs to emulate the Atacamas peoples and develop the capacity to consider its obligations around water. Instead of electric cars, what we need is an ethical approach to our relationship with the land. Honoring the rights of water, species, and ecosystems is the foundation of a sustainable society. Decisions can be made based on knowledge of the land, weather patterns, and messages from nature.
For millennia, indigenous peoples have perceived water, animals, and mountains as sentient. If humans today could recognize their intelligence, perhaps they would understand that underground reservoirs have a value and purpose, beyond humans. When I enter a cave, I am walking into a living being. My eyes adjust to the dark. Pressing my hand against the wall, I steady myself on the uneven ground, hidden by varying amounts of water. Pausing, I listen to a soft dripping noise, echoing like a heartbeat as dew slides off the rocks. I can almost hear the cave breathing.
The life-giving waters of aquifers keep everything alive, but live unseen under the ground. As a soul guide, I invite people to be nourished by the visions of their dreams, a parallel world that is also seemingly invisible. Our dominant culture dismisses the value of these perceptions, just as it usurps water by disregarding natural cycles. Yet to create a sustainable world, humans need to be able to listen to nature and their dreams. The depths of our souls are inextricably linked to the ancient waters that flow underground. Dreams arise like springs from an aquifer, seeding our visionary potential, expanding our consciousness, and revealing other ways to live, radically different than empire.
I set my backpack down on a high sandstone cliff overlooking a large watering hole. Ten feet below the hole, the red rock canyon drops into a much larger pool. My friend hikes down to it, filling her cookpot with water. She balances it atop her head on the way up, moving her hips to keep the pot steady. Arriving back, she pours the water into the smaller hole from which we drink and returns to the large pool to gather more.
Women in all societies have carried water throughout history. In many rural communities, they still spend much of the day gathering it. Sherri Mitchell of the Penobscot Nation calls women “the water bearers of the Universe.” The cycles in a woman’s body move in relation with the Earth’s tides, guiding them to nourish and protect the waters of Earth. We all need to become water bearers now.
Indigenous peoples, who have always been the Earth’s greatest defenders, protect eighty percent of global diversity, even though they comprise less than five percent of the world’s population. They understand water is sacred, and the world’s groundwater systems must be defended. For six years, indigenous peoples have been fighting to prevent lithium mining in the Salinas Grandes salt flats, in Jujuy, Argentina. Five hundred indigenous people camped on the land with signs: “No to lithium. Yes, to water and life in our territories.”
In February 2021, President Biden signed executive orders supporting the domestic mining of “critical” minerals like lithium, but two lawsuits, one by five Nevada-based conservation groups, have been filed against the Bureau of Land Management for approving the Thacker Pass lithium mine. Environmentalists Max Wilbert and Will Falk are organizing a protest to protect Thacker Pass. Local residents, including Northern Paiute and Western Shoshone peoples, are speaking out, fighting to protect their land and water.
We can see when a river runs dry, but most people are not aware of the invisible, slow-burning disaster happening under the ground. Some say those who oppose lithium mining should give up cell phones. If that is true, perhaps those who favor mines should give up drinking water. Protecting water needs to be at the center of any plan for a sustainable future.
The “fossil water” found in deserts should be used only in emergency, certainly not for mining. Sickened by corporate water grabbing, I support those trying to stop Thacker Pass Lithium mine and aim to join them. The aquifers there have nurtured so many for so long—eagles, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, old-growth sagebrush, hawks, falcons, sage-grouse, and Lahontan cutthroat trout. I pray these sacred wombs of the Earth can live on to nourish all of life.
In this article, Max Wilbert talks about his experience in fighting tar sand mining in Washington and Utah, and how this is related to the current campaign against lithium mining in Nevada. “I think it’s wrong to blow up a mountain for tar sands. I think it’s wrong to blow up a mountain for lithium, too. I guess I’m just stubborn like that.”
It’s often said that solar panels, wind turbines, and the lithium-ion batteries that store their energy and power electric vehicles will save the planet.
What most people don’t know is that producing lithium has direct links to the Alberta Tar Sands (also known as the Athabasca tar sands), the largest and most destructive industrial project on the planet.
This is a personal issue for me. I have fought the tar sands for over a decade. Starting in 2010, I began campaigning for the city of Bellingham, Washington to forbid a spur of the Trans Mountain pipeline which carries “dilbit” (diluted bitumen, AKA unrefined tar sands to which gas has been added so it’ll flow easily through a pipeline) under the city.
After months of campaigning, Bellingham became the first city in the nation to unanimously pass a resolution declaring tar sands fuel to be harmful. But despite overwhelming public opposition, the city’s attorneys said they couldn’t prevent the pipeline from operating using the law. What that says about the state of democracy is worth a whole different article. And perhaps a revolution. But I digress.
After my years in Bellingham, I lived in Salt Lake City, where I took part in the campaign to protect the Tavaputs Plateau in northeastern Utah from tar sands strip mining. As part of that work, I took part in public meetings, family camp-outs on the site, disruptive protests, and several direct actions against the U.S. Oil Sands Corporation.
For the last three months, I’ve been in Nevada, on Northern Paiute territory, holding down a protest camp established on the proposed site of an open-pit lithium mine. I’m an equal opportunity land defender. I think it’s wrong to blow up a mountain for tar sands. I think it’s wrong to blow up a mountain for lithium, too. I guess I’m just stubborn like that.
But as I’ve implied, these projects are directly related. It turns out, the proposed mine at Thacker Pass would likely rely directly on materials sourced from the Alberta tar sands as the key chemical ingredient in their production process.
According to the Final Environmental Impact Statement, the proposed Thacker Pass mine would produce 5,800 tons of sulfuric acid per day for use in refining lithium. That would require importing 1,896 tons of sulfur per day. That’s nearly 700,000 tons per year, roughly equivalent to the mass of two Empire State Buildings annually. This would be brought in to Thacker Pass on dozens of (diesel-fueled) semi-trucks each carrying 3,800 gallons of molten sulfur.
Most sulfur comes from oil and gas refineries, where it’s a byproduct of producing low-sulfur fuels to meet air-quality regulations. And here’s the punchline: according the U.S. Geological Survey, tar sands contain 11 times as much sulfur as conventional heavy crude oil. There are literal “mountains” of sulfur piling up in Alberta, and at other refineries which process tar sands fuel.
That includes the refineries in Anacortes, Washington, which refines the “dilbit” from the pipelines running underneath Bellingham, my old home. These two refineries are major sources of sulfur for the entire western United States, shipping out millions of tons annually.
According to Lithium Americas Corp. Vice President of Global Engineering, the proposed lithium mine at Thacker Pass would purchase sulfur on the bulk commodity market, and it would be delivered by rail to Winnemucca (60 miles south), then brought by truck to Thacker Pass. That bulk commodity market sources nearly 100% of its elemental sulfur from oil and gas refineries.
And so we come full circle: the lithium destined for lithium-ion batteries that will be extracted from Thacker Pass, will almost certainly be directly connected to the total destruction of Alberta’s boreal forest, the poisoning of the water across thousands of square miles, the epidemic of cancers and rare diseases in that region, the wave of missing and murdered indigenous women in Alberta, and all the other harms that come from the tar sands. And, lest we forget, the tar sands are a major contributor to global warming. Canadian greenhouse gas emissions have skyrocketed over recent decades, as tar sands oil production has expanded.
Revenue from sales of sulfur is not unimportant to the economics of tar sands oil extraction. One report from 2018 found that as much as half a million barrels per day of tar sands product would be economical to extract if legal levels of sulfur allowed in bunker fuel were lowered. Another report found that “developing a plan for storing, selling or disposing of the sulphur will help to ensure the profitability of oil sands operations.”
All this points to a relatively simple conclusion: extraction of lithium at Thacker Pass would directly support the economics of extracting additional sulfur-rich crude oil and bitumen at the tar sands, further incentivizing the destruction of the planet.
Why do we defend the land here at Thacker Pass? There are so many reasons. It is important habitat. It is sacred ancestral land for our Northern Paiute friends from the nearby Fort McDermitt tribe. It is beautiful. But we also stand to protect this place because we stand for the truth. Lithium mining, and by extension, much of the so-called “green economy” that is being developed is not separate from fossil fuels. It is firmly dependent on fossil fuels.
Besides the sulfur, this project would burn tens of thousands of gallons of diesel fuel per day — operating heavy equipment made of steel that was produced with metallurgical coke, a type of coal. That same steel makes up the frame of the electric cars, too. The roads into the mine site would likely be made of asphalt concrete. You know what another name for asphalt is? Bitumen. AKA tar sands.
The idea of a “green” electric car is a fantasy. The sooner we face that reality, the sooner we can put a stop to false greenwashing projects like the Lithium Americas/Lithium Nevada Thacker Pass mine. The sooner we face reality, the sooner we can recognize that to shut down the tar sands, we actually have to shut down the tar sands, not just blow up other mountains elsewhere and hope that leads to the end of the tar sands.
Do not fool yourself. This is not some great green transition. It is more of the same. More destroyed land, more poisoned water, more decimated wildlife.
It’s beautiful here at Thacker Pass. Yesterday morning, I woke before 5am to visit the Greater sage-grouse “lek” — mating ground — on top of the mountain directly above the proposed mine. I watched the male grouse strut and dance, and thought about the new USGS report showing that grouse populations have declined by 80% since 1965, and nearly 40% since 2002. That comes on top of previous population collapses. The population was 16 million a century ago. Now, it’s closer to 200,000. That’s a 99% decline. This region, the northwestern Great Basin, has been particularly hard hit.
It is possible for humans to live sustainably. Our ancestors managed it for hundreds of thousands of years. Is it possible to live sustainably, and drive cars? No, I don’t believe it is. You may not like it, but there’s a thing about the natural laws of the universe: they don’t give a damn if you like them or not. Gravity exists. Ecological constraints exist. If you ignore them, you will pay the price.
We cannot afford to ignore the truth, and because of this, we must stop the Thacker Pass mine — and the tar sands. We need your help. If you can contribute to this campaign, or to the broader transformation of society that is needed, reach out to us at https://ProtectThackerPass.org. Construction might begin very soon. If that happens, Thacker Pass will die. The water will be poisoned. And the truth will be crushed along with the sagebrush, under the hard metal treads of the bulldozers. Stand with us.
In this excerpt, Samir offers an outline of the rationale for the harmful development of lithium mines. In parallel we are also offered an outline of the development of the protest camp. While we are happy that a popular outlet like Vice News is writing about our campaign, we do not agree with all of the author’s statements. DGR is strongly opposed to any kind of industrial processes like mining because they are inherently destructive to life on planet earth. Hence we do not believe that there can be a “greener” kind of industrial resource extraction.
A mining giant wants to extract lithium from the Nevada desert to power electric cars. But a more sustainable future doesn’t come without costs.
One of the largest known lithium deposits in the world has sat undisturbed under the Nevada desert for centuries. Now, a mining giant wants to extract the resource to power electric cars using a potentially harmful method.
Before bringing in its equipment, however, the company will have to go through a blockade of environmental protesters that have been camped out at the site since December.
“Like the wildlife, we hunker down when the weather gets very bad and wait for the storm to break,”
said Max Wilbert, who started the Protect Thacker Pass, the grassroots organization leading the occupation.
“But we’re not backing down. What is at stake here is the soul of the entire environmental movement.”
Right now, Thacker Pass, a section of public land stretching hundreds of acres in northern Nevada, is several environmental permits—and lawsuits—away from becoming a massive open-pit mining project run by Canada-based Lithium Americas. The metal excavated from the planned 18,000-acre site will be used to manufacture rechargeable lithium-ion batteries for electric cars.
But a more sustainable future doesn’t come without its costs:
The proposed mining process at Thacker Pass uses sulfuric acid, which could seep into the water supply. The operation also requires tapping into groundwater, which could decrease its availability. Both would impact the ecosystems of several at-risk species, like golden eagles, pronghorn antelope, and Nevada’s state fish, the Lahontan cutthroat trout.
In an effort to protect the land, dozens of protestors from across the country have posted up at the site in freezing nighttime temperatures with heated tents and portable mini-toilets. Local ranchers, concerned about the welfare of their land and water supply, have also joined the cause.
Written By Max Wilbert and originally published on January 25, 2021 in Sierra Nevada Ally. In this article Max describes the plans for an industrial scale lithium mine, the harm this will cause and why we need to protect the area for endangered species.
Thacker Pass landscape. Image: Max Wilbert
On January 15th, my friend Will Falk and myself launched a protest occupation of the proposed lithium mine site at Thacker Pass, Nevada. We have set up tents, protest signs, and weathered more than a week of winter weather to oppose lithium mining, which would destroy Thacker Pass.
You might already be wondering: “Why are people protesting lithium? Isn’t it true that lithium is a key ingredient in the transition to electric cars, and moving away from fossil fuels? Shouldn’t people be protesting fossil fuels?”
Let me put any rumors to rest.
I am a strong opponent of fossil fuels and have fought against the industry for over a decade. I’ve fought tar sands pipelines, stopped coal trains, and personally climbed on top of heavy equipment to stop fossil fuel mining.
Now I’m here, in northern Nevada, to try and stop lithium mining. That’s because, in terms of the impact on the planet, there’s little difference between a lithium mine and an open-pit coal mine. Both require bulldozing entire ecosystems. Both use huge amounts of water. Both leave behind poisoned aquifers. And both are operated with massive heavy machinery largely powered by diesel.
I want people to understand that lithium mining is not “good” for the planet.
Sure, compared to coal mining, a lithium mine may ultimately result in less greenhouse gas emissions. But not by much. The proposed Lithium Americas mine at Thacker Pass would burn more than 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel every day, according to the Environmental Impact Statement. Processing the lithium would also require massive quantities of sulfur—waste products from oil refineries. One local resident told me they expect “a semi-truck full of sulfur every 10 minutes” on these rural, quiet roads.
This is not a “clean transition.” It’s a transition from one dirty industrial energy source to another. We’re making the argument for something completely different, and more foundational:degrowth. We need economic contraction, relocalization, and to stop using and wasting so many resources on unnecessary consumer products.
When people think about wilderness and important habitat, they generally don’t think of Nevada. But they should. Thacker Pass is not some empty desolate landscape. It’s part of the most important Greater sage-grouse habitat left in the state. This region has between 5-8% of all remaining sage-grouse, according to Nevada Department of Wildlife and BLM surveys.
Thacker Pass is home to an endemic snail species, the King’s River pyrg, which biologists have called “a critically imperiled endemic species at high risk of extinction” if the mine goes forward. Burrowing owls, pygmy rabbits, golden eagles, the threatened Lahontan Cutthroat Trout, and hundreds of other species call this place home, watershed, or migration corridor.
Thacker Pass is home to important old stands of Big sagebrush who are increasingly rare in Nevada and threatened by global warming.
One biologist who has worked in Thacker Pass, and who asked to remain unnamed for fear of retaliation, told me the Thacker Pass area “has seen the rapid decline of native shrubland/bunchgrass communities that form the habitat foundation.” He continued, “Those communities (particularly sagebrush) are already under tremendous stress from the dual-threat of invasive annual grasses (especially cheatgrass) and the increased fire returns that those volatile fuels cause.”
Now the BLM is permitting Lithium Americas corporation to come bulldoze what is left, tear away the mountainside for some 50 years, and leave behind a moonscape.
We are engaging in direct action and protest against this mine because the public process is not working. Despite sustained opposition, BLM ignored serious concerns about this mine and “fast-tracked” this project under the direction of the Trump Administration. We mean to stop the mine with people-power.
If you are interested in joining us, visit our website, to learn more about getting involved. And speak out on this issue. We can’t save the planet by destroying it. Transitioning away from fossil fuels and fixing humanity’s broken relationship with the planet will require a more critical approach. Follow