Individual choices, collective duties

Photo: Timon Studler, Unplash.

At Thacker Pass, activists chant, “You can’t mine your way out of a climate crisis!”

I agree.

With a national narrative calling for “net-zero” carbon emissions by 2050, recent legislation has committed substantial resources toward developing electric vehicles and the electric grid’s transition to “clean” energy sources. 

“Net-zero” means zero carbon emissions, not zero environmental impacts. 

“Clean” energy means energy where the production does not contribute to carbon emissions, irrespective of the impact that extracting “clean” energy has on aquifers, ecosystems and soils.

So, what is going on at Thacker Pass in Nevada?

The Burns Paiute Tribe, Reno- Sparks Indian Colony and Summit Lake Paiute Tribe filed a lawsuit this year against the Bureau of Land Management to protect Thacker Pass from large-scale lithium mining. 

Lithium Americas Corp. wants to develop the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine at the site of the largest known deposit of lithium in the United States. According to the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Native American tribes were not consulted in a permitting process fast-tracked by the Bureau of Land Management. The developer argued in court that it took pains to relocate the project outside the Montana Mountains. The relocated project will impact the lands and sacred waters of Indigenous tribes instead. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Bureau of Land Management and the Mine this year on Nov. 24 .

In the dominant culture’s drive to slow carbon emissions while maintaining a consumer-based economy, lithium is an important natural resource. It is used in rechargeable electric batteries. 

The transition to electric vehicles in the United States may require three times the current demand of lithium in the entire global market — a rise in demand of over 40 times by 2040. 

This level of extraction is devastating to aquifers in the ecosystems impacted by lithium mining. As a society, we will accept polluting waters to stop polluting air.

Indigenous leaders are standing up as land and water protectors at Thacker Pass. They do this not just for themselves and their people but for all of us who need clean water and soils to survive and thrive. 

The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony states: “The only true solution to environmental crisis is to scale down — to dramatically reduce consumption and energy use, abandon growth and live more localized lives. We cannot consume or drive our way out of a climate crisis!” 

Research at the University of California Davis has demonstrated that thinking beyond cars to investing in strategies based upon sharing, including a transition away from cars to integrated transit systems, can substantially reduce the demand for lithium.  

Where do we stand in a complex world of competing interests? To do our part in reducing carbon emissions, many of us have invested in electric cars. While this is not wrong, it denotes our willingness to make individual choices but not necessarily to acknowledge collective obligations. 

Our collective voice can call for solutions that do not endanger Indigenous peoples, lands, waters and all the Earth. Our collective voice can call for the only true solutions: those that require sharing. 

Deuteronomy 30:15-16 calls us to choose life by turning to God, creator of the universe: “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.” If we love God and keep God’s commandments, “then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you.”

The alternative is death. What is required of us? How do we love God and keep God’s commandments? 

Micah 6:8 says to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly. 

In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus explains that to love the Lord with all that we have means to love our neighbors as ourselves.

As the body of Christ, we can stand with our neighbors, those marked for destruction. For the Coalition to Dismantle the Doctrine of Discovery, this means standing with Indigenous land and water protectors, at Oak Flat, Thacker Pass and beyond. Please join us.  

Sarah Augustine

Sarah Augustine, a Pueblo (Tewa) woman, lives with her family in White Swan, Washington. She is the Executive Director of Read More

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