Mining the Land

(Note: This exercise has a bit of required reading, though you can skim some of it to get the lay of the land and then come back as you think about the questions. Just follow the directions in each section.)

This is Thacker Pass in Humboldt County, Nevada.

Electric cars require large lithium batteries to store the energy that drives their powerful engines. Lithium is in short supply in the US but can be mined from a site called Thacker Pass in Humboldt County, Nevada. Here are three resources about Thacker Pass mining to look at. Below them you’ll find a few questions to help you process what you’ve read as it relates to the subject of this entire exercise. Please quickly scan all three of the linked resources, and read the parts you find you need to engage with to respond to the questions.

1. The Great Basin Resource Watch reports that that the Thacker Pass Mine “was fast-tracked, meaning the decision for its approval along with the analysis required under the National Environmental Policy Act for it, were completed on a much shorter timeframe than is typical for the permitting of a mine in the United States. The company has failed to receive community consent for the project from local communities.” (PDF here if link stops working)

2. Maddie Stone writes in Grist that local ranchers were initially excited about the mine, but as they learned more about it — it will be by far the largest lithium mine in the US — they have grown increasingly worried. (PDF here if link stops working)

3. Jennifer Solis reports in Nevada Current that Thacker Pass is the traditional homeland of several related Indigenous nations, including the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Reservation, the Fort McDermitt Paiute Shoshone Tribe, Lovelock Paiute Tribe, Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe, Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony. In the colony’s traditional language Thacker Pass is referred to as “Peehee mu’huh” which translates to “rotten moon” in honor of the colony’s ancestors who were massacred in an area of the Pass shaped like a moon. “To disturb this massacre site Peehee mu’huh would be like disturbing Pearl Harbor or Arlington National Cemetery,” reads the letter. “Destroying these sites destroys our history. And, it makes us wonder if an underlying motivation for this mine is to destroy the historical evidence of the genocide perpetrated against our people.” (PDF here if link stops working)

Question: At this point in the process, what are your thoughts about mining lithium at Thacker Pass? (Remember that you don’t have to show anyone your response, so be honest.) Is this mining simply necessary despite any potential drawbacks? Are the people in Nevada guilty of NIMBY (“Not in my back yard”) thinking? If you had authority to postpone the beginning of mining while mitigating factors or solutions are considered, what would you want to investigate or explore?

Now I will provide three additional resources that aren’t specifically about Thacker Pass or lithium mining but that relate to what’s happening there. After each of these resources I will ask another question to help you stir that material into your process.

4. This article from NPR (National Public Radio), aired and printed in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of 9/11. In it, Tim Lambert writes about the relational accountability his family had to others after Flight 93 crashed on their Pennsylvania farm property. (He didn’t use the term “relational accountability,” which I doubt he knows. But read the article for yourself and see what you think.) Please read enough of the article to respond to the question in a meaningful way. The NPR material is, tellingly, adapted from a podcast entitled “Sacred Ground.” (PDF here if link stops working)

Question: Does this essay change the way you see the comments of the people who live near Thacker Pass? In what way(s)? Does it change the way you see the Indigenous group’s comments more or less than the way you see the non-Indigenous group’s comments?

5. This passage about electric cars is from the UC Davis Research Center electric car resource FAQ page. (You don’t need to visit the linked website unless you wish to. Just read the passage I have cited below.)

Q: “Aren’t electric vehicles slow and boring, like golf-carts?

A: “Nope! Many golf carts are electric, but an electric car doesn’t have to drive like a golf cart. Electric and plug-in hybrid cars are a lot of fun to drive because the electric motor is able to provide a lot of torque quickly, which means a fast, smooth acceleration. One of the most extreme examples of how fast an electric vehicle can be is the Tesla Roadster, which can accelerate from 0-60 mph in just 3.9 seconds.”

Questions: What does this brief passage tell you about the values that are driving “green” personal transportation choices as cars change from gasoline-powered to electricity-powered engines?  What’s the relationship between bigger and more powerful engines and lithium batteries? In what ways does this influence your thinking about mining Thacker Pass? What values do you think should motivate “green” technology solutions? Remember Oren Lyons’ talk “Value Change for Survival”? When you permit this very short passage above, and the awareness it has generated, to interact with the wisdom Oren Lyons expressed in that talk, how does it impact your thinking about mining lithium at Thacker Pass?

6. Finally, please look at this very different article about electric cars from NPR. (PDF here if link stops working.)

Question: How does the information in this article influence your thinking about the values driving “green” solutions such as electric cars? Where does it leave you with respect to lithium mining at Thacker Pass?

When you have finished working through this page, go to Mining the Sun. But before you go, please remember that these pages absolutely do NOT argue for continued use of carbon-based energy sources. Instead, they point to one of the biggest problems facing contemporary people today: unnecessarily dualistic “either/or” energy solutions that focus on what type of energy to use without including additional considerations such as how much energy to use. Either/or duality forces people into making choices that trade one destructive and non-sustainable “solution” for another because the real underlying problem — in this case, that we use unsustainable amounts of energy — is never seen or addressed.