The sun rose on this Inauguration Day over a chilly Thacker Pass. Frost colored the sagebrush silver. The ground was frozen hard. And, I woke to the sound of coyotes cackling at the sardonic irony in the celebrations of Joe Biden’s ascendancy to leadership of the American Empire.
Last night the temperatures dropped into the single digits along the foothills of northwestern Nevada’s Montana mountains where Max Wilbert and I are camped in protest of Lithium Americas’ proposed Thacker Pass lithium mine. The mine received final approval from the Bureau of Land Management last week and will likely begin destroying this place later this year. The cold temperatures made it difficult to keep a charge on my laptop. In some ways, this was a blessing because it prevented me from witnessing people celebrating Joe Biden’s inauguration online and watching as many on the left pat themselves on the back for “at least making sure Donald Trump isn’t the president.”
These celebrations seem horrifically macabre to me while the dominant culture’s rape of the Earth intensifies.
Don’t get me wrong: Donald Trump was horrible. His policies were a disaster. And, he normalized white supremacy. But, if you love the natural world, and your most pressing concern is to achieve a planet recovering ecologically, a planet not experiencing the worst mass extinction event ever, a planet not in the middle of what scientists recently called an insect apocalypse, a planet where millions of – disproportionately poor and non-white – humans don’t get killed by pollution every year, then you should not celebrate Biden’s inauguration today.
I know many good-hearted and well-meaning people will object to this and ask “What do you mean? Isn’t Joe Biden going to enact the Green New Deal?”
He might. Or, he might have participated in a long tradition of political candidates making countless promises on the campaign trail that they never intend to keep, and perhaps know they never could convince legislators – who are overwhelmingly beholden to ecocidal corporations – to support.
But, even if Joe Biden does enact the Green New Deal, the primary goal of those policies is not a world in ecological recovery. The primary goal is a growing economy. Joe Biden’s website, where his “Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice” is described, declares, “If we can harness all of our energy and talents, and unmatchable American innovation, we can turn this threat into an opportunity to revitalize the U.S. energy sector and boost growth economy-wide.” Unfortunately, a growing economy means more human consumption of the natural world, more extraction, more pollution, and more destruction of natural communities just like the one I’m writing from – Thacker Pass.
Again, objectors will ask, “But, isn’t Biden better than Trump?”
Maybe. If your allegiance is to the natural world, first and foremost, and you recognize that a growing economy is one of the biggest threats to the natural world, and you consider that Trump’s irrational policies often thwarted economic growth, especially in the context of the pandemic, then you might be capable of arguing that Trump, despite his obvious hatred of the natural world, was actually less of a threat to the natural world than Joe Biden is, for all his greenwashed rhetoric.
The threat is especially real for natural communities where the materials needed for Biden’s “clean energy revolution” reside – natural communities like Thacker Pass. Thacker Pass is threatened by a mining corporation that would destroy 5000 acres of some of the last old-growth sagebrush habitat in Nevada, and the homes of countless creatures including a significant number of the planet’s few remaining sage grouse and a highly endangered snail, the King River pyrg. All of this would be done in the name of the “clean energy” electric car batteries are claimed to provide. In reality, Americans are so thoroughly addicted to their cars that most Americans cannot envision a world without cars, even though for 99.9% of human history cars did not exist. And, because they cannot envision this world, they aim to make automobiles slightly less destructive.
We need to realize that asking whether Biden is better than Trump is the wrong question. We need to ask: What does the Earth, what do all the amazing creatures we share this planet with, what do places like Thacker Pass, what do future generations of humans and our other-than-human kin need us to do? When dozens of species are being pushed into extinction every single day, when evermore land is being cleared to “boost growth economy-wide,” when the planet’s carrying capacity is being eroded with every passing moment, the Earth, Thacker Pass, our children, grandchildren, and other-than-human kin need us to stop the destruction, as quickly as possible.
So far, the environmental movement has been woefully ineffective at stopping the destruction of the planet. At best, we have made more people aware of ecological problems than otherwise would have become aware. We might have slowed the destruction a little bit. And, we might have temporarily protected a wild place here or there. But, the natural world is in worse shape than it ever has been in human history.
To become effective at stopping the destruction will require direct, physical confrontation with those who destroy. Joe Biden and his administration are not going to allow us to blockade lithium mines, dismantle pipelines, destroy oil refineries, remove dams, or do anything that seriously impedes economic growth. Kamala Harris, even though she is a woman, isn’t going to. And, Deb Haaland, even though she is a Native American woman, won’t either.
Joe Biden is no friend of the natural world – and, he’s no friend of ours either. The natural world isn’t celebrating his inauguration. And, while good-hearted, well-meaning people celebrate instead of organizing to directly stop the destruction, more of the natural world is murdered. I know many of us are starving for good news these days, but there’s no time to celebrate. Let’s get to work.