Paul and Terra

Thacker Pass: There and Back Again....

After writing the following essay, I did indeed travel to Thacker Pass, NV where I wrote the four essays listed below. I am firmly convinced that Thacker Pass should be protected at all costs.

Summons to an Unknown Desert

"There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places." —Wendell Berry


There are lines being drawn in the sand. Over rock and through sagebrush in a place I have never been but may yet go, there are lines being drawn like conjurer's symbols. There are outlines of buildings: great warehouses with rolling and pounding hammers that beat rock and clay into dust; monstrous vats of bubbling acid; conveyors of leeched and broken Earth. Where the conveyors would end, the lines mark out great mountains of tailings sealed off from the future for the toxins they would contain. There are other lines that wind back through the desert to the heart of the machine from whence these conjurers have come. Finally, and dwarfing all these other shapes—two miles from one end to the other and four hundred feet deep into the Earth—the lines mark out the pit with its spiral winding way into the depths. It is all there in the lines and symbols. It's being summoned. They are calling these things here to mine Lithium from the pit.

Sixteen million years ago a super-volcano erupted, pouring forth such a store of magma that the crust of the Earth collapsed into the cauldron left behind by the molten rock. The resulting sinkhole—roughly oval in shape, 28 miles from North to South, and 22 from East to West—is rich in minerals and precious metals that were brewed in the belly of the Earth. At the southern tip of this cauldron, near the present border between Nevada and Oregon, there once was a lake. For a few hundred thousand years after this dramatic eruption, water percolated through the rock and ash, leeching lithium into the lake where it was deposited in layer upon layer of sediment. The richest deposits contain up to 9,000 parts per million of lithium. Most of it contains much less. This ancient lakebed now bears the name of Thacker Pass.

There are other lines being drawn at Thacker Pass. There are brave souls in love with vast skies and justice who would stop the destruction of this ancient lake. These are not conjurers who draw symbols in the sand; they are summoned by the call of the Earth. Do you not hear it yourself? Or, are your ears stuffed with the stuffing of FoxNewsCNNTwitterNPR? Pull the cotton from your ears and listen for a moment, but wait—not yet. Do it under the night sky if you can find one. Do it where the stars can scream at you too from light years away, the same stars that wait for you in that desert sky at Thacker Pass. Listen there, and you will hear the whispering of spells cast for three million years in the cauldron of an ancient volcano. You are being summoned.

Why this place, and why now? We cannot protect all of the sacred places. How shall one rise above the others?—for as Wendell Berry observes, all places are sacred. Thacker Pass, the jackrabbits and grouse who live there, the eagles who nest and hunt among those hills, and the human communities threatened by toxic waste and collapsing aquifers all deserve protection in their own right. But that is not the only call I hear from Thacker Pass. This place calls, because lithium is power. The lithium at Thacker Pass has the power to change global narratives about renewable energy.

Existing power structures would dodge accountability for ecological devastation, maintain their stranglehold on resources and capital, and shape narratives about global crises by dumping the oil and gas industries (whose futures look bleak anyway) and selling greenwashed lies about solar, wind, and other renewable energies. Manufacture of renewable energy infrastructure will destroy Thacker Pass and other wild places, and we'll get a Green New Deal that looks just like the old one: punch the clock, watch Netflix, and shut up. Unless there is decisive action, we will continue to destroy the Earth. We will wipe away the last vestiges of coral reefs, rainforests, songbirds, and most large mammals, but we'll do it from the driver's seat of a Prius.

None of this can happen without lithium, and that is the call I hear from Thacker Pass. I hear a call to wrench these bright green lies from the grasp of dominator culture. The story of Thacker Pass will echo into other places, and by protecting this lithium, we may protect every desecrated Walmart parking lot, because these places—these acres upon acres of tarmac amounting in the U.S. to somewhat more land than the state of Georgia—need protection mainly from cars. Lithium is a keystone element to the continuation of car culture. Imagine a world without songbirds. Now imagine a world without cars.

One place may not be more sacred than another, but there may be places of power. There are places that volcanoes have brewed in their cauldrons for three million years to summon up elements from the belly of the Earth. There are places that call us together in strange rituals that we have lost the language to fathom or even perceive. There may be many such places. Some of them are already desecrated. Some of them have not yet spoken or called. Thacker Pass is calling you and me today.

Lithium is about more than just cars. It is also a keystone in the devastating electronics industry that threatens to drown us in a tsunami of electronic waste. If the machine wants lithium, let it comb through the trash that poisons people in Thailand and Vietnam. How can we begin to measure the costs of this industry that is powered by lithium? Mass hypnosis by screens; trade in conflict minerals exacerbating wars in the Congo and other places; a deluge of information so intense that we've collectively lost our grip on anything like truth; data harvesting and mass surveillance on an unprecedented scale: it all requires lithium.

Our predicament is deeply interconnected; each issue is inextricably intertwined with many others. Lithium is a thread that weaves itself into the center of this knot. The unraveling of our predicament does not present a simple crossroads at which half the population must drag the other half kicking and screaming into a greener world of solar panels, windmills, and universal health care—thus saving the world from climate change. Rather, the question we must answer now is whether the Earth has cast her spells in such a way that a very small number of brave but hitherto marginalized voices will manage to self-organize into a force that makes sense to talk about in conversations about climate, global economics and resource extraction, or public education. Existing power structures will destroy everything within their reach until they are prevented from doing so by such a force that can't be removed.

Certainly there are other sources of lithium, and even if Thacker Pass were saved perhaps it's naïve to believe that the machine would be greatly disgruntled by that inconvenience. Nor can we know the potential of this moment, this place, and this element to shape global narratives until we apply ourselves to that effort. Yet, there may be a sort of alchemy taking place in the cauldron of that ancient volcano. It may be that we're being summoned to a place that will catalyze our self-organization into whatever it is we're being called to be.

So get your ass to Thacker Pass if you can. I hope to see you soon.

Protect Thacker Pass Official Website