In the annals of industrial civilization, the Green New Deal counts as one of the more ambitious projects. Its scale is vast, promising to reform every aspect of how we power our machines, light our homes and fuel our cars. At this late hour of ecological and climate crisis, the Green New Deal is also an act of desperation. Our energy-ravenous culture cannot continue producing carbon without destroying the systems that are the basis of any advanced civilization, not to mention life itself. Something must be done, and quickly, to moderate the pressure on the atmospheric sink while powering the economic machine.
The consensus on the need for scaling up renewable energy is rarely disturbed by a disquieting possibility: What if techno-industrial society as currently conceived — based on ever-increasing GDP, global trade and travel, and complex global production and distribution chains designed to satisfy the rich world’s unquenchable appetite for bigger, faster, more of everything — what if that simply cannot function without energy-dense fossil fuels? What if, despite the promises of Green New Deal boosters, it is impossible to make sustainable the current system that provides billions of people sustenance, shelter, goods?
This possibility is not mentioned thanks to the dominance of “green growth.” This is the idea that the organizing principle of our civilization — endless growth of economies and populations — can be decarbonized swiftly in a way that will involve no material disruption. Green Growth holds out the promise of transitioning from fossil fuels directly into something like an earth-friendly utopia without a hitch and without meaningful sacrifice. This is the sales pitch offered by Green New Deal proselytes such as Ezra Klein, the New York Times columnist and podcaster who brings a relentless optimism to the belief — the faith — that renewables can underwrite business-as-usual. Read more here.
The second piece in the series looks at the plunder of sacred Indian lands in the American West to dig out the white gold, lithium, that will power our renewable energy future. It’s neocolonialism for the climate!
On a stormy day in June, a wildlife biologist named Katie Fite stopped to visit the Indigenous Women’s Camp in a remote valley called Thacker Pass, in northwestern Nevada. She had traveled several hours from her home in Idaho and was hoping to meet the leaders of the camp. These were known as the Grandmas. Mostly Paiute and Shoshone women in their 70s and 80s, the Grandmas held vigil at the sacred fire in the central teepee and cooked for the warriors who maintained the camp and guarded it at night. Their goal, shared by the dozen men, women and children who had gathered at their side, was to halt construction of a massive open-pit mine.
Fite arrived to find the camp abandoned, tents empty, flapping in the wind. The sacred fire, kept burning for weeks by the occupiers, had turned to ash. The teepee that contained the firepit lay smashed to the ground, its cedar poles scattered in the dirt.
This is high desert steppe, cold and snowy in winter, sun-scorched in summer, wind-blasted year-round, a place of sparse human settlement, vast open spaces, immense starlit nights, stark mountain ranges, and valleys of dryland rivers that reduce to a trickle after the spring melt. It is part of the sagebrush sea, the name that biologists have given to the stretches of the Great Basin where the sweet-smelling sage dominates plant communities. While it is held in trust for the American people by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, for the tribespeople of the nearby Fort McDermitt Indian Reservation, it is holy land. In the sagebrush biome at Thacker Pass, the Paiute and Shoshone long practiced ancient lifeways. For unknown centuries, they have hunted mule deer, foraged for foods and medicinal plants, gathered eagle feathers for religious ceremonies, communed with land and sky. Read more here.