Over the past 14 months that Will Falk and I have been fighting the Thacker Pass lithium mine, one of the most common questions we’re asked by journalists has been “So if you oppose electric cars, what is your solution?”
At first, the question seems to be asking “how can we save the planet?” But that’s not actually what most people are asking, as becomes clear when we answer that question. Most people are actually asking “how can I still have a car, or the luxury that a car provides me, and not destroy the planet?”
And of course, the answer is, you can’t.
What they’re really saying is, “I like cars and I rely on them for my lifestyle, my work, and my enjoyment. I believed that electric cars would allow me to have all the benefits of car culture, with none of the harms. I cannot imagine a world without cars. You’re challenging the idea that electric cars are a solution, so what kind of alternative can you offer me?”
Many people pose this question as a sort of “gotcha,” as if it were my responsibility to provide simple solutions and cater to their consumer demands—as if they were wishing that I would have an alternative battery technology or alternative green car or some other sort of product that I could sell them. This is because we’re trained to be passive consumers, not active political subjects, the shapers of our future society.
So, when I tell people that the ecological crisis—including global warming—will not be solved by buying products, but rather by a transformation of our society and dramatically scaling back our population, consumption, and impact on the planet, many people, especially journalists, seem confused.
Their reaction reminds me of the iconic hubris of George H.W. Bush, stating that “The American way of life is not up for negotiation” before the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.
What’s really not up for negotiation are the ecological limits which are rapidly imposing themselves upon us. Physics is not a debate, and neither is biodiversity collapse or the chemical poisoning of the only planet known to support life.
Lewis Mumford was one of the most important American philosophers, and one of the world’s most important thinkers on technology. He said it very clearly: “Restore human legs as a means of travel. Pedestrians rely on food for fuel… Forget the damned motor car and build the cities for lovers and friends.”
The American way of life is, in fact, negotiable. It must change. And so must the entire world economy. Political leaders seem to mostly ignore this truth in favor of technotopian fantasies. So we are going to have to change the world ourselves. That means getting organized and taking action. It means building our own institutions and collaborating on projects that are both realistic, starting in the here and now, and rapidly move toward the world that is necessary. That’s what we’re doing at Thacker Pass, and the fight doesn’t end here. This is generational work, and we need all hands on deck.
Photo by Max Wilbert: sunset on Thacker Pass, NV