White Gold
Oct 6, 2021
Season 1 | Episode 1

White Gold

To get off fossil fuels, you need a lot of batteries. To get a lot of batteries, you need to mine a lot of lithium. Welcome to Thacker Pass, Nevada, where a proposed lithium mine has sparked protests.

The massive transition off fossil fuels is going to require batteries. A lot of batteries. Right now, most of those batteries rely on lithium, a silvery-white metal that’s in the ground all around us. All we have to do is get it out. Sounds simple, right? But as we’ll learn in this series, solutions are not always simple.

In the United States, we hardly mine any lithium at all. But some companies — and indeed our own government — believe it’s time for that to change, and quickly.

In this episode, we travel to Thacker Pass in rural Nevada to visit the site of a proposed lithium mine that’s generating a lot of backlash. 

This area is also home to the native Paiute-Shoshone tribe. Some members of the tribe reject the idea that they should sacrifice their ancestral land for this mine. The mine would generate about one thousand jobs in the area, but for some tribal members the jobs aren’t “worth the destruction of this land,” explained Daranda Hinkey, a Paiute-Shoshone member. “To native people, that’s everything. The land is everything.” But other tribal members want this mine and say the economic opportunity would be a huge benefit for people on the reservation. 

Many local farmers and ranchers also oppose the mine. They’re worried about traffic, noise, air pollution and the impact to the water they all share. Even in the face of the climate crisis many feel that the potential harm outweighs the benefits.

“I’m not willing to bear that burden,” said Gina Amato, a local farmer. “I want to do whatever I can to prevent us from being the sacrificial lamb.”

Our first season is all about lithium, so-called white gold, and the messy business of finding climate solutions. New episodes are out every Wednesday. Be sure to follow us on your favorite podcast app and tell a friend if you’re enjoying the show.

“How We Survive” episode 1, “White Gold” transcript

Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.

Molly Wood: In case dear listener, you’re wondering what that was, it was a frickin sand tornado.

I am a tech reporter. So how did I find myself out here? 

Molly Wood: It’s like a cartoon out here. But like the really fatal kind.

It’s hard not to notice the increasing urgency of the climate crisis and how closely it’s starting to resemble apocalyptic science fiction. 

Molly Wood: This is parable of the sower right here. It’s like way too hot. It feels like society has collapsed. 

And now after decades of inaction, we have a very brief window – maybe only one decade – to make dramatic changes to how much carbon we dump into the atmosphere if we want to potentially survive on Earth. 

So a few years back, I decided that how we adapt to the worst weather impacts of the climate crisis is in many ways, a tech story. One climate scientists told me it’s an engineering problem. And you better believe it’s a business story. So after 20 years of covering startups and innovation and tech companies and investment, I went looking for climate solutions. First, I took the plunge and leased an electric car. 

Molly Wood: Oh my god, are you plugging it? How do you what do I do? 

I picked up a couple of ace producers and engineers who are willing to indulge in a little karaoke.

Molly Wood: Friends in low places! Do you know the song? 

Caitlin Esch: No.

And we drove all over the American West during some record breaking heat waves. 

Molly Wood: The thing you definitely don’t want to crap out at 118 degrees in the desert, when you have like some driving to do, is the AC. I just keep sort of like trying to lower the temperature. I’m sorry, I dragged you guys into the desert, in an experimental vehicle. I didn’t know the whole car was a beta. It’s fine.We’re fine. 

We talked to people with just about every viewpoint imaginable.

Jesse: I’m personally on Team extinction, which I know is an unpopular viewpoint. I don’t think we’re worth the harm we cause. 

Beverly Harry: Our Mother Earth hurts and we if we don’t protect her, how is she supposed to protect us.

Martin Muratore: There is some sort of a climate change. My belief is it’s not manmade.

Gina Amato: We can’t fight everybody’s fight for them. We just have to fight for ourselves here. 

Max Wilbert: I think that if we don’t make these changes, future generations are going to look back at us and say, What the hell was wrong with them?

Molly Wood: And so I found a lot of messy human conflict and drama. But don’t worry, I also found some solutions and some hope. 

One of the most promising solutions that exists right now is so boring that it was hard for me to convince almost anyone that it would make a good podcast topic: batteries. I know. But stay with me. Batteries are crucial to transitioning us off of fossil fuels. Let me explain. 

So first, we need to make this massive switch to renewable energy. Stop pouring billions of tons of carbon into the air every year by burning oil and gas and coal. We already have geothermal and water and solar and wind energy. But it turns out, you need batteries, walls of them, buildings full of them, to store and distribute energy when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. You need batteries for electric vehicles, batteries to power houses when the lights go out. You need so many batteries. 

And the irreplaceable foundation of most batteries right now is lithium, a metal that’s everywhere in the Earth’s crust, but most of the world’s supply is still stuck in the ground. The US is trying to get into the lithium mining game fast and it’s really important for this huge energy transition. But not everyone is happy about that.

I’m Molly Wood. This is How We Survive, a podcast from Marketplace about how finding solutions to the climate crisis is a messy business. This is episode one, White Gold. And in this first episode, we’re starting with a lithium mining project that’s generating a lot of fighting. 

I’m way up in northern Nevada in a crescent shaped mountain pass not too far from the Oregon border called Thacker Pass. 

Dust devil, dust tornado, almost ate those people. 

It is gorgeous. The mountains are Stark and tall and brown green with this mix of dirt and miles and miles of sagebrush. 

This is a cool landscape. 

There are high fluffy white clouds, and when it storms in the late afternoon, this whole valley smells like this earthy wet sage. And a company called Lithium Americas wants to dig up a big chunk of it and build a mine that would produce lithium for up to 40 years. That proposal has all kinds of people in this part of Nevada freaking out.

Max Wilbert: We’re gonna fight this mine like hell, we’re gonna try and stop it.

Molly Wood: That’s Max Wilbert. He started a protest camp at Thacker Pass back in January, and here’s the fundraising video they made back then.

Max Wilbert: This is a $1.3 billion mining project, and we’re trying to raise $5,000 to resist it. So if there’s ever been a David versus Goliath story, this is one of them.

Molly Wood: Max and his best friend, Will Falk – an activist and a lawyer – have been living here in the protest camp pretty much full time through the winter and the sweltering summer. Will has been filing legal briefs from a Jeep parked up on the pass.

Will Falk: My life is devoted to stopping this mine right now.

Molly Wood: Those legal briefs are aimed at Lithium Americas, a Canadian based company and its American subsidiary, Lithium Nevada. This part of Nevada has one of the largest known lithium deposits in the country. 

Over the next four decades, the company says it will provide jobs and make a real dent in this major energy transition off of fossil fuels. Lithium Nevada has been planning the mine for almost a decade. Last winter, it had gotten pretty close to breaking ground. But Max and Will are kind of the Pied Pipers of Thacker Pass. Over the months, they’ve convinced some of the tribe members from the nearby Fort McDermitt reservation, and even neighboring tribes from farther away, to join them in opposing the digging. The mine, Max tells me, would bulldoze habitat for sensitive wildlife species like sage grouse, pronghorn antelope hunt and trout, even apparently a rare species of snail.

Max Wilbert: These companies like Lithium Nevada are primarily interested in making money. That’s their goal. And they may tell these stories to us about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, about saving the world. They have no obligation to actually go forward with that. It makes for really good marketing speak. But when it really comes down to it, the laws say they have to do the best as they can to return investment money to their shareholders.

Molly Wood: But the main point of the protest, Max says, is that this land is sacred burial ground for the Paiute Shoshone people. I can’t really help but notice that Max and Will, the ones doing most of the talking, are white, and so are most of the people at the protest camp. The day I was there, however, there was one exception.

Daranda Hinkey: I think a lot of people showing up here I think, depending on like, non-Indigenous or Indigenous Indigenous, you know, they see it potentially as like a next DAPL, Dakota Access Pipeline. And so, you know, they’re wanting to stand with us they’re wanting to hear that Indigenous voice.

Molly Wood: This is Daranda Hinkey. She is a Fort McDermitt Paiute Shoshone tribal member. She said she read about the proposed mine in a news article after Max and Will had set up their protest camp in January. She was away at school, at Southern Oregon University, and was surprised she hadn’t heard about the project before.

Daranda Hinkey: And so that’s when I started doing my research, you know. I was looking at put lithium mines, like how destructive they were down in South America. I ran across Max and Will, that’s when I met them. And that’s when I started doing a little bit more education and teaching with a lot of our family members on the, on the reservation and then more tribal members and like hey, we should do something you know, we need to stand up like this is our ancestral homelands.

Molly Wood:Daranda has since moved back to the reservation and spends a good amount of time at the protest site. Up there, you’ll see a few tents and a fence covered in signs that say things like Protect Thacker Pass, lithium lies and also Protect Peehee Mu’huh. Daranda tells me Peehee Mu’huh is the tribe’s name for this land.

Daranda Hinkey: And that’s why we push for Protect Peehee Mu’huh, you know, using that name,

Molly Wood: And she says there’s a gruesome story about the spot. 

Daranda Hinkey: The story about Peehee Mu’huh was that this was a camp. This was a campsite.

Molly Wood: Daranda says about 200 years ago, this land was a migration route used by the Paiute people. One day, hunters left the camp to find buffalo. She says as they returned, they noticed a terrible smell that got worse as they got closer. And when they made it back to the campsite, she says 

Daranda Hinkey: The whole camp, their families, the the woman, the children, they’re all massacred.

Molly Wood: Daranda says the buffalo hunters returned under a full moon to a shocking discovery.

Daranda Hinkey: Their intestines were, were draped along the sagebrush.

Molly Wood: She says the bones of those massacred remain in this ground making it sacred to the tribe, especially since the massacre was so horrific. The word Peehee Mu’huh, she says, means rotten moon. But other members of the same tribe say…what now? 

Alana Crutcher: I’ve never heard of a massacre. 

Molly Wood: That’s Alana Crutcher, a fellow Paiute Shoshone, who grew up on the reservation, and now lives in Elko, Nevada, about three hours from Thacker Pass.

Alana Crutcher: That’s not the name of that mountain. That’s not the name of that place.

Molly Wood:She tells me she had never heard of this land being called Rotten Moon. She says, actually, she thinks the tribe is being used as a prop to stop a project that could help her people.

Alana Crutcher: I’m not gonna say that they’re liars, but you know, I’m not gonna say that there’s, you know, where they got their information. I don’t know. We’re totally being misrepresented.

Molly Wood: We couldn’t confirm the massacre story either way. I looked everywhere… books, internet, we called a local museum. We checked with other tribe members and basically got the same conflicting histories. The Paiute Shoshone have an oral tradition, and the word Peehee Mu’huh doesn’t appear in any written records. 

Until stories about the mine at Thacker Pass started showing up late last year. The Paiute Shoshone tribe is split. We’ve talked to some members who actively support the mine, many who don’t. The question of whether it’s a burial ground won’t get settled until an archaeological group does some digging to see what if any artifacts lie in the ground on Thacker Pass. But either way, protests like Dakota Access Pipeline have shown that indigenous people across this country are tired of having their land taken whenever it’s convenient for white people. And so the opposition to this mine has recruited tribal support from beyond Thacker Pass. 

Back on the pass, Daranda showed me the ground littered with these light colored rocks, which it turns out are the stuff that’s causing all the fuss.

Daranda Hinkey: So I think this is the lithium that they’re going for, oh, really, this is what they’re mining. This is the white gold.

Molly Wood: Alright, as you can probably tell, Thacker Pass is a place with a lot of layers and no easy narratives except one. The people who are used to sacrificing are sick of it. And the ones who don’t usually have to, really don’t want to. Those are the farmers and ranchers of the nearby town of Orovada, who we’ll visit next.

Nevada is a state with a long mining history. In fact, in some ways, Northern Nevada doesn’t feel that far from the gold rush of 1849. There are still active gold and silver mines and legal brothels. We stayed in nearby Winnemucca and I met a couple of young miners in the elevator cussing each other out on their way to do laundry after 12 hour shifts. Thacker Pass is about an hour north of Winnemucca, along Highway 95 and the closest town to the pass is Orovada, population about 200. We’ve met farmers and ranchers who’ve been neighbors and close friends for decades, but who have a lot of different opinions on the question of the mine. 

Molly Wood: Thanks for having us.

Wendelyn Muratore: I’m Wendolyn Muratore.

Molly Wood: Hi, I’m Molly.

Molly Wood: Wendelyn and Martin Muratore are alfalfa farmers who live about five miles south of the proposed mine site. Wendelyn told us we could find their one story ranch house by looking for the Trump 2024 flags out front. She and Martin have been married 44 years and have 10 kids together. They met when Wendelyn was 14. 

Wendelyn Muratore: We were at a high school dance. And his friend Paul brings him over and says, here he likes you.

Molly Wood: And that, was basically that. The couple said they had always dreamed of farming and living off the grid. They call their operation Disaster Farms. It’s named after Disaster Peak, which you can see in the distance from their house. Wendelyn offered us iced tea and the couple told us they’d been following the mine project for nearly a decade, but it was the sort of thing they just thought never would really happen.

Martin Muratore: Now it’s starting to look like apparently they’re getting more serious that they’re going to do something, and so you get more alarmed because it’s really going to happen.

Molly Wood: Here are the basics of the mine proposal. They would sit on about seventeen thousand acres of land in all. Five thousand acres of that would be a pit mine, basically a huge hole in the ground. I’m talking about a hole the size of five thousand football fields. in very simple terms, workers will dig up the clay that contains the lithium, they’ll use water to dissolve the clay and then use sulfuric acid to separate the lithium from what clay is left. The acid will be made on site. The company will truck in thousands of tons of hot melted sulfur every day. And once it’s there, they’ll burn it until it turns into gas and then they’ll convert it in a couple more sciency steps into sulfuric acid. These are the kinds of details that, when you hear them, create questions. So back in 2015, Lithium Nevada started reaching out to the ranchers and farmers of Orovada and surrounding towns with some gatherings. There were, Wendelyn told me, sandwiches.

Wendelyn Muratore: They had a luncheon for all the communities and they they had this really nice lunch for us. So they invited us to,

Molly Wood: They wanted everyone in the community to have a chance to come and learn about the mine and address any concerns with company representatives. And Wendelyn had a lot of concerns: traffic, noise, air pollution and impact to the water they all share. 

Wendelyn Muratore: So we ate our lunch, and then they started feeding us the BS.

Molly Wood: Wendelyn claims, they said, the mine would be tiny, no noise, no pollution, maybe a few trucks up and down the road every day, barely any traffic at all. It’s like a miracle mine.

Wendelyn Muratore: It’s the best thing that’s ever going to happen to us because nothing could go wrong, according to them.

Molly Wood: But then Wendelyn says another executive started answering that trucks question a little differently.

Wendelyn Muratore: He said, we will have at least one truck an hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year on the highway with just the sulfur.

Molly Wood: And she’s like, whoa, whoa, how many trucks? All of a sudden, Wendelyn’s sandwich wasn’t sitting so well.

Wendelyn Muratore: And after seeing all the shenanigans they pulled up there, I’m just like, these people couldn’t be transparent if their life depended on it, and they don’t want to be.

Molly Wood: We asked Lithium Americas about the details of that meeting. The company said the truck traffic data from Wendelyn’s story is flawed. Their spokesman pointed to a published report that said there would actually be three trucks an hour of sulfur and other mining material. Also, he said he’s pretty sure the meal was dinner. Anyway, that was a few years ago. And it’s kind of how things were left until December of 2020. That’s when the Bureau of Land Management released its environmental impact statement for the Thacker Pass project. And then in January, Lithium America’s got a gift: federal approval of the project. The approval was part of a handful of energy and mining projects that were unexpectedly pushed through on President Trump’s last Friday in office.

Wendelyn Muratore: I was just in a state of disbelief that they could basically just lie, and the BLM would fall for it hook line and sinker.

Molly Wood: But like everything in Thacker Pass, there are some more layers here. For example, Wendelyn and Martin are very opposed to big government. They fought with the IRS for years over federal taxes. For them, the mine is just another example of government overreach by the Bureau of Land Management. And then there’s climate change. It’s a lot easier to get behind the mine If you believe in the premise of its benefits, right? Well, while we were talking with Gwendolyn, her husband Martin came in with a load of groceries. And he chimed in from the counter on this question,

Martin Muratore: I can guarantee you there, there is a climate change. I’ve been farming for 45 years and some in California some here, I can guarantee you there is some sort of a climate change. 

Wendelyn Muratore: But 

Martin Muratore: My belief is it’s not man made. The earth has done, done it for thousands of years, if not millions, and we go through these things. Ice ages come down, warming happens. And there’s nothing we could do to change it. If we could we’d fix it…and you can’t.

Molly Wood: And Wendelyn says things that we think are solutions to climate change cause more problems than they solve. Take wind turbines, for example. 

Wendelyn Muratore: They can’t have cows feed under those because it, it causes some kind of birth defects. This is what my sister who has cattle was telling me.

Molly Wood: So I looked, I couldn’t find any scientific evidence of that. But like so many things here in Nevada, you can find some truth in what almost everyone has to say.

Wendelyn Muratore: It’s just like people have lost their common sense in some areas in trying to save the planet. But I’m not so sure they’re saving anything. They’re making a lot of people rich. I mean, there’s a lot of money to be made in green.

Molly Wood: Layers, am I right? But bottom line by the spring of 2021, opposition to the mine had gotten really loud. There were multiple lawsuits. There were community meetings between Lithium Nevada and the farmers and ranchers of Orovada, that Wendelyn and other folks in the valley told us got really heated, like people storming out of them kind of heated. Way worse than the sandwich meeting. 

People in the mining industry say communities often get upset and vocal when a mining project is close to breaking ground. But this did seem unusually hostile. So Lithium, Nevada started formally negotiating with some representatives of the community – not the tribal protesters – and offered up some concessions, like millions of dollars for a new school, and they found some takers. 

Wow, this is hail weather and there it is. 

Gina Amato: Yeah, this is what happened this time of year. It’s crazy.

Molly Wood: Nothing like a little hail to start an outdoor interview, where I found myself hiding under the awning of Orovada’s only school.

Gina Amato: My name is Gina Amato, and I am a local farmer in the area. And right now we are standing in front of Orovada Elementary School.

Molly Wood: The school is an issue because it’s right next to the two lane road where those dozens of trucks filled with sulfur and other material will be traveling every day. Gina told me that she’s deeply conflicted. She personally doesn’t want the mine to go in. But she’s trying to be realistic.

Gina Amato: I hope that it can be stopped. But we have to deal with the reality that it might not be. And if it’s not, this mining company that comes in, there’s going to be more demand for it is not going to stop.

Molly Wood: This spring, Gina became co-chair of the Thacker Pass Concerned Citizens Group, looking for a better way to engage with each other and with Lithium Nevada. The concerned citizens got this concession they’re really happy about. Lithium Nevada committed verbally in one of those public meetings to spend $12 million on a new school in a new location. 

Gina says she just wants the community to be taken care of. But if it were up to her, there definitely wouldn’t be a mine at all, no matter how good it is for the planet. 

Well, and of course, the other argument for the mine is climate change, right? Is the environment, is this idea that it could potentially contribute to a massive energy transition that saves a lot of people and animals and property. Where do you fall on that part of it?

Gina Amato: At what cost? Are we the sacrifice for that cost and where I fall on that is I’m not willing to bear that burden. And I want to do whatever I can to prevent us from being the sacrificial lamb.

Molly Wood: Whatever the deal is that the concerned citizens and the mine may come up with, however, it does not include the nearby Fort McDermitt reservation, and the tribal members who don’t want to sacrifice their native lands. That, says Gina, is a different fight. 

What’s different about the fight? You mean the land itself, or… because everybody would benefit from infrastructure and

Gina Amato: Well, yes, yes, but I think that we’ve gotten sectioned off into our own. They’re worried about, more about the environmental impact and the sacred lands. And of course, those are all important to us. We’re worried about things like the school that might not necessarily affect them. We’re worried about the direct impacts on the people who live and work among this community here, that don’t necessarily affect them where they are. So we just, we can’t fight everybody’s fight for them. We just have to really fight for ourselves here.

Molly Wood: After the break, the protesters at Thacker Pass say they’re willing to fight too. Back at the protest site on Thacker Pass, protest organizer Max Wilbert is telling me how instead of an energy transition, we need to change everything about how we live and leave pristine land pristine, drive less, consume less, populate less.

Max Wilbert: I think that many of the mainstream solutions that we’re being sold, especially these technological solutions, like electric cars, are not real. I think they’re greenwashing. They’re more marketing than they are substance.

Molly Wood: But when I pushed him for solutions, I got problems. We’ve known for over 100 years, that carbon contributes to global warming, right? We’ve changed nothing. Don’t we have to do everything now?

Max Wilbert: I think we do. The problem is that when we focus on electric cars, we’re ignoring the fact that that is like pointing a squirt gun at a raging wildfire.

Molly Wood: But what if we’re focusing on energy transition, I’m not, I’m not talking about cars. Let’s say we’re, let’s say we’re like baby steps toward energy transition.

Max Wilbert: Yeah, I think the problem that I have with the whole energy transition idea is twofold. One is that it’s entirely dependent on fossil fuels. So 

Molly Wood: Now?

Max Wilbert: It is, yes.

Molly Wood: Now 

Max Wilbert: Yeah 

Molly Wood: Chicken and egg?

Max Wilbert: Yes, but there are basic things like steel production, are commercially impossible at this point without coal. Producing steel, which is used in

Molly Wood: Any way, you can argue with Max for a while, and I did, but in some ways, his diagnosis of our problems is hard to argue with. Humans do cause more species extinction than climate change. Capitalism has blocked real action on global warming. Manufacturing cars, even electric ones, has a huge carbon footprint, and we just don’t need as many cars as we have now. All of that is true. But I couldn’t quite figure out what solutions Max was arguing for, until I did a web search and found out that both Max and his buddy Will are members of a radical environmental group called Deep Green Resistance. Here’s Max in a video from their YouTube channel posted last December, right before they moved to Thacker Pass.

Max Wilbert: The basic aim of DGR is to dismantle industrial civilization, is to take the biggest manifestation of the dominant culture that is destroying the planet, and to directly fight it, to directly stop it.

Molly Wood: The group believes that in order to save the planet, modern civilization needs to collapse. And the Deep Green Resistance website has some pretty detailed strategies for disrupting society. They range from policy to quote “all out attacks on infrastructure using a militant underground network of operatives”. The site frames these decisive ecological warfare scenarios as hypothetical, but also as a manual for triggering the collapse of society that Deep Green Resistance argues is the only way to save the species. Even if millions or billions die in the process.

Max Wilbert: We have to recognize this, that this is a war.

Molly Wood: So I asked Max directly whether he thought sabotaging infrastructure should be an option. And he told me yes, if fossil fuel or mining industries continue to accelerate an ecological and humanitarian climate crisis,

Max Wilbert: And they’re not willing to stop, what do you do about that? What’s the morally right thing to do? Personally, I think that sabotage against those industries is completely morally justified

Molly Wood: If the legal challenges fail, and the, you know, occupation on the mountain fails. is violence an option at Thacker Pass?

Max Wilbert: You cut right to the heart of the matter, don’t you?

Molly Wood: I only have one job, man.

Max Wilbert: Direct questions. No, I hear you. It’s an important question. And I’m trying to think how to answer that. Because I don’t want to get arrested. I’m not interested in being a martyr. I’m interested in protecting land. So that is, very pragmatically a very difficult question for me to answer. We have said from the beginning that this is a non violent campaign, and it’s going to remain that way. The elders have asked that this camp remain non violent, that no weapons be allowed here. And we’re following along with their wishes. You know, that said, there are always people involved in any fight like this, who are willing to cross those lines. And are their actions justified? I don’t know because no one has done anything yet. Right? I can’t say that a certain thing is justified because we’re not in that situation.

Molly Wood: So that sounds like a solid maybe. What does this mean for the members of the tribe who have joined in opposing the mine? 

Dorece Antonio: I think there’s a fight coming.

Molly Wood: That’s Dorece Antonio, an aunt of Doranda, the young woman you heard from at the beginning of the episode. We found a Dorece on the Fort McDermitt reservation, sitting outside her home under a pop up tent for shade. She was sitting with two elder relatives who mostly refused to talk to us. Dorece’s two grandsons ran around playing with a water hose and a plastic swimming pool. It was hot, horseflies buzzed around and an old grey pitbull slept under the table with his head on my foot. Initially, Dorece says she was happy when she heard about the mine.

Dorece Antonio: I was excited for it. Because, you know, just like the other people I thought, well, you know, it’s a job, you know, close to home. You know, it’s going to pay a lot. And until, Daranda and my brother, you know, talked about it and brought awareness to us and then talking to Max and Will back in February or something when we did our first protest in Orovada is when they, you know, opened up my eyes more,

Molly Wood: There’s Max and Will again. And now,

Dorece Antonio: We’re going to stand strong. We’re going to stand up for our land for our children, for our grandchildren, for our children’s grandchildren. I’m willing to do that, when the time

Molly Wood: What are you willing to do?

Dorece Antonio: Whatever I have to do, you know, if the machine start coming in, you know, if I have to stand in front of a machine, I’m willing to do it. You know, I’m going to do it for my people.

Molly Wood: Back at Thacker Pass, Max and Will have hinted increasingly at direct confrontation if the mining project moves forward. Here’s Will, who is also a member of Deep Green Resistance.

Will Falk: Daranda’s aunts and grandma, there’s five sisters that are really active here. And I sat down with them in their living room one day and all five of them looked me in the eye and said that they would die before they let this mine go in.

Molly Wood: I asked Max about the danger people might be in. 

Molly Wood: It’s a little troubling to hear, like the last time I spoke to Will, him say, you know, we’re working with these people and Daranda’s aunties have told me that they’re willing to die for this project.

Max Wilbert: I would not do the elders that we have relationships with the disservice of thinking that I am somehow brainwashing them or that they’re not intelligent people who can assess evidence and information and come to their own conclusions about what the morally important thing to do in any given issue in any given situation is.

Molly Wood: But the Fort McDermitt tribal members are far from united on the issue.

Alana Crutcher: A lot of the protesters aren’t even our tribal members, aren’t even people from from the Fort McDermitt reservation, and they don’t, they don’t represent us. They don’t represent us people as a tribe.

Molly Wood: That’s Alana Crutcher, the woman we heard from at the beginning of the episode. She grew up on the Fort McDermitt reservation, and now lives in Elko, Nevada, about three hours from Thacker Pass. Alana says she respects the opinions of Daranda and the tribal elders who oppose the mine. But something about the other protesters isn’t sitting right with her.

Alana Crutcher: I don’t think they have the best interest of our people. I think they’re using our people as a scapegoat. I truly believe that.

Molly Wood: Alana has worked in the mining industry for 17 years. She’s a heavy equipment operator and a new hire trainer. She wrote a letter supporting the mine that lawyers for Lithium Americas quoted during one of the legal hearings back in August. Alana told us many members of the Paiute Shoshone tribe have worked in mines over the years. And she says plenty of them want this lithium mine to come in. Alana says growing up on the reservation lots of families, like hers, didn’t have much.

Alana Crutcher: I don’t think we had electricity until maybe I was in junior high. We had an outhouse. We slept on the floor, we didn’t have our own bedroom, we didn’t have lights. We didn’t have TV. We had a gas lamp. We didn’t have all those amenities. That’s why I want I want those things for people.

Molly Wood: As for the non native protesters, and Max and Will, she says she thinks eventually they’re just gonna bail.

Alana Crutcher: Where are they going to be at when, you know when, when our family is, is going through things. They’re not going to be there. Hell no thay ain’t gonna be there to help us.

Molly Wood: They have suggested that we should you know, instead of mining lithium sort of stopped driving cars and using technology, I sort of feel like when I hear you describe how you grow up, some of them are saying that’s how we should be living.

Alana Crutcher: Well, then let them go on buggy and wagons, you know, let him go by horse and carriage. Let’s see how long that lasts. That part of us is history now. That’s part of our history and who we were and who we still represent. Now that that doesn’t mean that we’re no longer that person. With that doesn’t mean that that no longer runs through our blood. We’re still that person, but we need to move on with technology, we need to move on with the world.

Molly Wood: So let’s review our layers here. Here’s this lithium mine that really could supply enough lithium to help electrify millions of cars, buses, trucks, power grids, even buildings and houses. That’s a transition that would dramatically take Increase our use of fossil fuels as we hurtle toward a level of warming that could easily wipe out almost all of us. And also, everyone in this story is both right and wrong, all at the same time. And the world just keeps getting hotter. It’s confusing. 

In the next episode, we’re going to track down some people who do support the mine and try to figure out if this necessary evil – resource extraction and digging up pristine mountains – is worth the sacrifice, or if we have a chance to do things differently this time around.

Jennifer Granholm: We want to get the lithium clearly, but you can do it in a way that doesn’t, you know, that doesn’t hurt the people the land and the history.

Molly Wood: This is Jennifer Granholm, President Biden’s Secretary of Energy. 

Molly Wood: You sort of sound like you might have some concerns about that Nevada project.

Jennifer Granholm: I do. 

Molly Wood: Didn’t see that coming. That’s next time on How We Survive. 

How We Survive was created and hosted by me, Molly Wood. 

Hayley Hershman produced this episode with help from Marque Greene and Grace Rubin. Hayley and I wrote this episode. Caitlin Esch is our senior producer; she edited this episode with help from Catherine Winter and Peter Thompson. 

Scoring and sound design is by Chris Julin, mixing by Brian Allison, field engineering by Lianna Squillace and Drew Jostad. 

Sitara Nieves is the executive director of on demand at Marketplace. Our theme music is by Wonderly. Thank you for listening. Please subscribe if you haven’t and tell a friend.

The team

Molly Wood Host
Caitlin Esch Senior Producer
Hayley Hershman Producer
Marque Greene Associate Producer