Habitat Destruction For Lithium is Climate and Extinction Crisis Denialism


What if I told you that Glenn Miller’s opinion piece about the Thacker Pass lithium project was a form of climate change denialism? He argues that lithium is necessary to convert our automobile transportation economy from fossil fuels to electric and we should move forward with the construction of the largest open-pit lithium mine in the nation’s history, indigenous people’s concerns aside, because America needs more cars. He claims this will limit global warming.

This perspective flat out denies the reality that the loss of biodiversity poses as great a risk to humanity as climate change. In fact, the loss of biodiversity contributes directly to the climate crisis. Instead of promoting the protection of biodiversity, Glenn Miller proposes we do the opposite, and destroy a large area of Nevada wilderness.

Let’s be clear: what will limit global warming is eliminating carbon pollution. He fails to mention that electric cars would draw their power from the electric grid, which is currently fueled by 70-80% fossil fuels. Maybe that will improve, but at what cost? If we listen to Glenn Miller, we must destroy vast areas of habitat, including some 9 million acres of public land in Nevada that is being opened to solar development, and many millions more in the American West. We must also engage in an explosion of mining for lithium, copper, cobalt and other rare-earth minerals. One begins to wonder whether this is a solution or a cause of climate change.

According to a study published in Science, one of the top peer-reviewed science publications in the world: “Current rates of extinction are about 1000 times the likely background rate of extinction. Future rates depend on many factors and are poised to increase. Although there has been rapid progress in developing protected areas, such efforts are not ecologically representative, nor do they optimally protect biodiversity.” 

Nature recently published an article addressing how denialism of the extinction crisis works in various ways, including implicatory denialism, where the false idea that ‘‘technological fixes and targeted conservation interventions will overcome extinction’ are promoted. They go on to explain that “a disproportionate focus on a subset of drivers is a form of implicatory denial that is contrary to scientific consensus: recognizing the importance of one set of threats does not obviate the need to address others.”

Yes, without question, we need to eliminate carbon pollution. Yet focusing on that one threat does not obviate the need to address the threats to biodiversity, namely habitat destruction. They both need to be tackled. The scientific consensus at the United Nations is that we need to rewild vast areas of the Earth to fight the extinction and climate crisis, both.

We must stop giving people the idea that if we just switch to electric cars, all will be well. Quite frankly, this assertion is infuriating–especially coming from Miller who ought to know better. If the science says we need to stop harming the environment and restore vast areas of habitat, how much more of the planet does Miller believe is acceptable to destroy? I’d love to know, because at current rates there are no limits. According to one study, humans have altered 97% of the Earth’s land through species and habitat loss. Take a scroll across Google Earth and find an area untouched by humans. It’s pretty difficult.

What are the solutions? They are many, and could fill volumes, but they certainly aren’t business as usual and putting more cars on the road. It means we have to start thinking about the necessities of life, and living in a reciprocal relationship with the planet. Humans need clean water, clean air, plentiful biodiversity, food, shelter, and community. Those conditions literally brought forth our species and kept us alive and well for a few hundred thousand years. Is our consumer culture so valuable that we’d rather destroy the planet that gives us life rather than give up the junk we consume?  

Protecting biodiversity isn’t just a matter of my opinion, it’s the reality. The real issue here is that biodiversity is a conflict with mass industrial production and consumerism that people are reluctant to question. Some people want to believe we can have our consumption culture, solve climate change and protect habitat, but clearly the fact that we are planning to destroy vast areas of wild habitat to do this shows us it isn’t true. It’s time we confront reality. We are on a collision course with our own extinction if we don’t change. 

Top photo credit and caption: The motor of a 2019 Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle – image – Brian Bahouth

Justin McAffee is an environmentalist, photographer and filmmaker in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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