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The Eradicate Ecocide Movement Welcomes Dr. Martin A. Blake
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One month ago on May 15th, I, along with our Non-Executive Director Dr Martin Blake, attended a Gaia Foundation Event entitled ‘Mining The Earth’. Held in St Stephen’s Church in Belsize Park, the lofty and elegant atmosphere set the scene to discuss issues of a higher plane, issues I had previously been aware of to only a very basic degree.
Extracting my collective knowledge on mining from the back filing cabinets of my brain involved a very brief review of firstly the BP Gulf Of Mexico Disaster followed by a couple of less recent A-Level Chemistry and Geography classes that told me that mining was very bad for the environment, but we have to do it to uphold the economy. This is not untrue, yet the expert panellists at this event enabled the details of this simplistic image to be filled in with intricate brush strokes. It opened my eyes to the fact that much of the material building blocks of the computer you are looking at the screen of right now, the structure of the building you are residing in and much of your surrounding environment and everyday objects, have been extracted from the ground at one point or another. The Gold and Copper 2012 Olympic medals will be from Rio Tinto, for example.
Do we ever stop and think about where all these minerals come from? There were 4 key speakers who dared to bare the realities of the earth-mining situation, the final of whom was Dr Vandana Shiva, an internationally renowned environmental activist and Peace Prize winner. She began by quoting Thomas Berry: “the earth is not a collection of objects, but is a community of subjects” and emphasised that through not knowing and not acting, you can contribute to destruction.
This was illustrated by a passionate guy and panellist called Richard from the London Mining Network who pointed out that ~50% of the world capital for mining is raised in the UK and that London is the world centre for mining finance (the Canadian Barrick Gold has funding from UK banks whilst one of the largest investors of Peabody Energy (Coal) is Barclays). Pensions are often invested in mining without the knowledge of their owners. Unfortunately it becomes a trade-off between the negative impacts of funding mining, against often great ROIs for otherwise ‘poor’ pensioners.
So what exactly are the UKs greying population unknowingly funding? Philippe Sauvant, specialist in oil mining and undertaking research for the Gaia Foundation, stated quite simply that “mining is a violent process- against both the earth and humans”. With shocking statistics like ‘every American born will need 2.9 million lbs of fuels, metals and minerals in their lifetime’ and ‘the UN estimates 20-50mn tonnes of electronic waste is produced each year’, the extent of the mining issue becomes clearer and it is imperative to look at the systemic processes that make us consume in this way.
Although one can now purchase a laptop made from 100% recycled materials, in the production of mobiles and laptops, both plastics and metals are needed including: lithium in batteries, zinc, copper, magnesium, lead, silver and gold (the latter’s extraction process is highly polluting). Both of these items are highly ubiquitous, and increasingly so in emerging economies, so ‘sustainable mining’ processes (if achievable) become more important.
Food packaging is the largest use of aluminium. For every tonne of aluminium produced, 13500KW electricity is used, 13.1 tonnes of CO2 is produced and lots of water used. Most of the aluminium extracted and steel produced in India goes to China. ‘Rare earth’ extraction is highly polluting and often next to ores in the ground are radioactive substances which can be disturbed. What is quite interesting is looking at the substances used to build ‘green technologies’. In the Toyota Prius Hybrid, there are 25 lbs of rare earth elements. In a CFL bulb, there are rare earths and also bauxite. In a solar panel there is arsenic, bauxite, baron, cadmium, copper, gallium, indium, etc. What is in a wind turbine?
Approximately 50% land used for gold mining comes from indigenous peoples lands and Dr Shiva states that mining companies are ‘declaring war’ against tribals. Throughout the event, it was emphasised that this is a form of imperialism that needs to be resisted, particularly as self-definition and collective culture are very linked to the land.
Dr Shiva spoke of the problem in her native India. Posco Ltd are damaging a lot of India’s native communities and environment. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet recently visited India to promote ‘the art of giving’, but ironically Warren has 5% shares in Posco.
The more the tribes in India lose territory, the more they arm themselves. Dr Shiva told of a recent story of a mining company wanting to tear down an entire mountain in India for bauxite; there were many villages on that mountain and for every 2 tonnes of bauxite extracted, 1 tonne will become toxic waste. Culturally, politically and economically it was more sensible to keep the bauxite in the mountain. Luckily a local campaign group stopped it.
In terms of legislation and governance, there is the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the EU is working on a ‘Raw Materials Initiative currently and small progress was made at a recent meeting in New York of the Commission on Sustainable Development.
Despite this, there continues to be many sad stories to tell and a closing comment from Dr Vandana Shiva was “what we need are more discussions like this, to multiply the stories and connect the dots”. We are custodians of the land and should be looking after it for future generations.
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