Fossil fuel companies learned a long time ago tactics to reframe what they do to the communities and ecosystems their projects impact. Since 1992—the year of the first United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—these companies have perfected greenwashing and wokewashing by using language that obfuscates what they do—with words like “Net Zero”, “digital innovation”, “carbon offsets”, “nature-based solutions”, “social license to operate”—and by appealing to people’s desperate yearning for anything that will allay their fears and concerns about climate change. By powering their extraction with wind power, or touting their commitment to social justice and diversity in their work places, these companies make people feel like they care, about them and the environment. It’s all lies and obfuscation, of course, meant to distract us from the true nature of what these companies do—extract fossil fuels from the ground to fuel the industry that is killing the planet—and divert our attention from the ever-increasing CO2, methane, and other greenhouse gasses and pollution being pumped into the atmosphere and the environment on a daily basis.
Now we see mining companies taking pages from the same playbook, especially mining companies that extract the materials used to build “clean technologies” such as those used for manufacturing EV batteries and battery storage, for building and maintaining the electric grid, for insulating and upgrading buildings, and for so-called clean energy, including solar, wind, dams, hydrogen, geothermal, and nuclear technologies. Many mining companies—including Lithium Americas, the company that wants to destroy Thacker Pass—even describe themselves as “green” because they are mining materials for “clean energy” technologies, like battery-powered cars.
Think about that for a moment: the word “green”, as related to environmentalism, has become so bastardized that a mining company can call themselves “green” while completely destroying the land, poisoning the water, and emitting hundreds of thousands of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere annually. This is the very definition of “greenwashing”.
By far the most common way fossil fuel companies and mining companies “wokewash” their projects is by invoking the word “jobs”. These companies claim they are bringing opportunities to impoverished communities and that somehow makes destroying the land alright. A recent article in USA Today featured three women (sex-equality in the mining industry!) who described how “mining brings roads, electricity and jobs to remote villages while supplying minerals to the world.” Wow. Mining sounds fantastic doesn’t it? Of course, the land is completely destroyed, the mining tailings are likely to poison the surface and ground water for centuries or longer, and the wildlife, trees, and plants who lived there are now gone. But hey, it’s okay, because it’s not just men anymore; women are doing the destroying now too.
Lithium Americas is expert at wokewashing: they recently paid to bring 60 students and a few teachers from schools in the Fort McDermitt area to Thacker Pass to learn about geology with a female Lithium Americas geologist accompanying them (presumably to virtue signal their sex-equality bonafides). As the company community relations manager stated in a November 26, 2022 article for the Nevada Independent, this helps to establish the company’s “social license to operate”, which is just another way of saying, “bribing the community with jobs and education so the community members will let us destroy the land.” The same manager even said, “[H]opefully, one day, [these students] will be our employees.”
We don’t blame communities for giving a company like Lithium Americas a “social license to operate”. They are, like communities everywhere, caught in a Catch-22 of epic proportions. Our entire global economy and industrial culture is based on extracting materials from the Earth. There would be no economy as we know it now without this extraction and the destruction of the natural world that goes with it. There is no way to opt out of the destruction except by dismantling the entire system, and most people feel utterly powerless to do so. That leaves only one question: “How close is the destruction to where I live?” Most destruction happens near or in poor and rural communities, because those are the communities that most need the jobs on offer from these companies, and they are also the communities with the fewest alternatives, the fewest resources to put up a fight to protect their land, air, and water. Mining companies know this. And so these companies have become expert at exploiting these communities while framing it as “establishing a social license to operate.”
As scientists, technologists, and politicians continue to clamor for “clean technologies”, all requiring massive amounts of metals and minerals to build, we can expect to see a whole lot more greenwashing and wokewashing from the mining companies lining up to supply those materials and technologies. They will all claim they are supplying the materials for the “clean economy” or other such nonsense term to make it sound like the destruction and pollution they cause is somehow now magically okay because the cars run with batteries instead of fossil fuels. They will all claim to care about “social justice” while they destroy the land that provided for these communities through the ages; the land that holds the history of the people, the plants and animals who fed their ancestors, and the tenuous threads that hold them together.
We are all—humans and others—caught in a cage of our own making—yes, even the mining executives perpetrating atrocities to land and people today—because without extraction the global economy as we know it now ceases to function, and with extraction the natural world upon which we all depend for our very lives is being destroyed.
Until we all band together to protect what brings us life, what allows us to flourish—Mother Earth herself—and to fight those who wish to destroy her, we can never break free of the cage.
Art by Deep Green Arts