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How Circular is the Circular Economy?

Low-tech Magazine

November 3, 2018

By Kris De Decker

The circular economy – the newest magical word in the sustainable development vocabulary – promises economic growth without destruction or waste. However, the concept only focuses on a small part of total resource use and does not take into account the laws of thermodynamics.

Circular-economy-2

Illustration: Diego Marmolejo.

Introducing the Circular Economy

The circular economy has become, for many governments, institutions, companies, and environmental organisations, one of the main components of a plan to lower carbon emissions. In the circular economy, resources would be continually re-used, meaning that there would be no more mining activity or waste production. The stress is on recycling, made possible by designing products so that they can easily be taken apart.

Attention is also paid to developing an “alternative consumer culture”. In the circular economy, we would no longer own products, but would loan them. For example, a customer could pay not for lighting devices but for light, while the company remains the owner of the lighting devices and pays the electricity bill. A product thus becomes a service, which is believed to encourage businesses to improve the lifespan and recyclability of their products.

The circular economy is presented as an alternative to the “linear economy” – a term that was coined by the proponents of circularity, and which refers to the fact that industrial societies turn valuable resources into waste. However, while there’s no doubt that the current industrial model is unsustainable, the question is how different to so-called circular economy would be.

Several scientific studies (see references) describe the concept as an “idealised vision”, a “mix of various ideas from different domains”, or a “vague idea based on pseudo-scientific concepts”. There’s three main points of criticism, which we discuss below.

Too Complex to Recycle

The first dent in the credibility of the circular economy is the fact that the recycling process of modern products is far from 100% efficient. A circular economy is nothing new. In the middle ages, old clothes were turned into paper, food waste was fed to chickens or pigs, and new buildings were made from the remains of old buildings. The difference between then and now is the resources used.

Before industrialisation, almost everything was made from materials that were either decomposable – like wood, reeds, or hemp – or easy to recycle or re-use – like iron and bricks. Modern products are composed of a much wider diversity of (new) materials, which are mostly not decomposable and are also not easily recycled.

For example, a recent study of the modular Fairphone 2 – a smartphone designed to be recyclable and have a longer lifespan – shows that the use of synthetic materials, microchips, and batteries makes closing the circle impossible. Only 30% of the materials used in the Fairphone 2 can be recuperated. A study of LED lights had a similar result.

The large-scale use of synthetic materials, microchips, and batteries makes closing the circle impossible.

The more complex a product, the more steps and processes it takes to recycle. In each step of this process, resources and energy are lost. Furthermore, in the case of electronic products, the production process itself is much more resource-intensive than the extraction of the raw materials, meaning that recycling the end product can only recuperate a fraction of the input. And while some plastics are indeed being recycled, this process only produces inferior materials (“downcycling”) that enter the waste stream soon afterwards.

The low efficiency of the recycling process is, on its own, enough to take the ground from under the concept of the circular economy: the loss of resources during the recycling process always needs to be compensated with more over-extraction of the planet’s resources. Recycling processes will improve, but recycling is always a trade-off between maximum material recovery and minimum energy use. And that brings us to the next point.

How to Recycle Energy Sources?

The second dent in the credibility of the circular economy is the fact that 20% of total resources used worldwide are fossil fuels. More than 98% of that is burnt as a source of energy and can’t be re-used or recycled. At best, the excess heat from, for example, the generation of electricity, can be used to replace other heat sources.

As energy is transferred or transformed, its quality diminishes (second law of thermodynamics). For example, it’s impossible to operate one car or one power plant with the excess heat from another. Consequently, there will always be a need to mine new fossil fuels. Besides, recycling materials also requires energy, both through the recycling process and the transportation of recycled and to-be-recycled materials.

To this, the supporters of the circular economy have a response: we will shift to 100% renewable energy. But this doesn’t make the circle round: to build and maintain renewable energy plants and accompanied infrastructures, we also need resources (both energy and materials). What’s more, technology to harvest and store renewable energy relies on difficult-to-recycle materials. That’s why solar panels, wind turbines and lithium-ion batteries are not recycled, but landfilled or incinerated.

Input Exceeds Output

The third dent in the credibility of the circular economy is the biggest: the global resource use – both energetic and material – keeps increasing year by year. The use of resources grew by 1400% in the last century: from 7 gigatonnes (Gt) in 1900 to 62 Gt in 2005 and 78 Gt in 2010. That’s an average growth of about 3% per year – more than double the rate of population growth.

Growth makes a circular economy impossible, even if all raw materials were recycled and all recycling was 100% efficient. The amount of used material that can be recycled will always be smaller than the material needed for growth. To compensate for that, we have to continuously extract more resources.

Growth makes a circular economy impossible, even if all raw materials were recycled and all recycling was 100% efficient.

The difference between demand and supply is bigger than you might think. If we look at the whole life cycle of resources, then it becomes clear that proponents for a circular economy only focus on a very small part of the whole system, and thereby misunderstand the way it operates.

Accumulation of Resources

A considerable segment of all resources – about a third of the total – are neither recycled, nor incinerated or dumped: they are accumulated in buildings, infrastructure, and consumer goods. In 2005, 62 Gt of resources were used globally. After subtracting energy sources (fossil fuels and biomass) and waste from the mining sector, the remaining 30 Gt were used to make material goods. Of these, 4 Gt was used to make products that last for less than one year (disposable products).

Circular-economy-diego

Illustration: Diego Marmolejo.

The other 26 Gt was accumulated in buildings, infrastructure, and consumer goods that last for more than a year. In the same year, 9 Gt of all surplus resources were disposed of, meaning that the “stocks” of material capital grew by 17 Gt in 2005. In comparison: the total waste that could be recycled in 2005 was only 13 Gt (4 Gt disposable products and 9 Gt surplus resources), of which only a third (4 Gt) can be effectively recycled.

About a third of all resources are neither recycled, nor incinerated or dumped: they are accumulated in buildings, infrastructure, and consumer goods.

Only 9 Gt is then put in a landfill, incinerated, or dumped – and it is this 9 Gt that the circular economy focuses on. But even if that was all recycled, and if the recycling processes were 100% efficient, the circle would still not be closed: 63 Gt in raw materials and 30 Gt in material products would still be needed.

As long as we keep accumulating raw materials, the closing of the material life cycle remains an illusion, even for materials that are, in principle, recyclable. For example, recycled metals can only supply 36% of the yearly demand for new metal, even if metal has relatively high recycling capacity, at about 70%. We still use more raw materials in the system than can be made available through recycling – and so there are simply not enough recyclable raw materials to put a stop to the continuously expanding extractive economy.

The True Face of the Circular Economy

A more responsible use of resources is of course an excellent idea. But to achieve that, recycling and re-use alone aren’t enough. Since 71% of all resources cannot be recycled or re-used (44% of which are energy sources and 27% of which are added to existing stocks), you can only really get better numbers by reducing total use.

A circular economy would therefore demand that we use less fossil fuels (which isn’t the same as using more renewable energy), and that we accumulate less raw materials in commodities. Most importantly, we need to make less stuff: fewer cars, fewer microchips, fewer buildings. This would result in a double profit: we would need less resources, while the supply of discarded materials available for re-use and recycling would keep growing for many years to come.

It seems unlikely that the proponents of the circular economy would accept these additional conditions. The concept of the circular economy is intended to align sustainability with economic growth – in other words, more cars, more microchips, more buildings. For example, the European Union states that the circular economy will “foster sustainable economic growth”.

Even the limited goals of the circular economy – total recycling of a fraction of resources – demands an extra condition that proponents probably won’t agree with: that everything is once again made with wood and simple metals, without using synthetic materials, semi-conductors, lithium-ion batteries or composite materials.

 


References:

Haas, Willi, et al. “How circular is the global economy?: An assessment of material flows, waste production, and recycling in the European Union and the world in 2005.” Journal of Industrial Ecology 19.5 (2015): 765-777.

Murray, Alan, Keith Skene, and Kathryn Haynes. “The circular economy: An interdisciplinary exploration of the concept and application in a global context.” Journal of Business Ethics 140.3 (2017): 369-380.

Gregson, Nicky, et al. “Interrogating the circular economy: the moral economy of resource recovery in the EU.” Economy and Society 44.2 (2015): 218-243.

Krausmann, Fridolin, et al. “Global socioeconomic material stocks rise 23-fold over the 20th century and require half of annual resource use.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2017): 201613773.

Korhonen, Jouni, Antero Honkasalo, and Jyri Seppälä. “Circular economy: the concept and its limitations.” Ecological economics 143 (2018): 37-46.

Fellner, Johann, et al. “Present potentials and limitations of a circular economy with respect to primary raw material demand.” Journal of Industrial Ecology 21.3 (2017): 494-496.

Reuter, Markus A., Antoinette van Schaik, and Miquel Ballester. “Limits of the Circular Economy: Fairphone Modular Design Pushing the Limits.” 2018

Reuter, M. A., and A. Van Schaik. “Product-Centric Simulation-based design for recycling: case of LED lamp recycling.” Journal of Sustainable Metallurgy 1.1 (2015): 4-28.

Reuter, Markus A., Antoinette van Schaik, and Johannes Gediga. “Simulation-based design for resource efficiency of metal production and recycling systems: Cases-copper production and recycling, e-waste (LED lamps) and nickel pig iron.” The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment 20.5 (2015): 671-693.

[Kris De Decker is the creator and author of “Low-tech Magazine”, a blog that is published in English, Dutch and Spanish. Low-tech Magazine refuses to assume that every problem has a high-tech solution. (Since 2007).]

Well Funded Traditional Owner Splinter Group Continues To Fight Over Land Use Agreement With Adani Mining Company

Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council

December 2, 2017

 

“We, the Wangan and Jagalingou people, are the Traditional Owners of the land in Queensland’s Galilee Basin. Corporate conglomerate, Adani, wants to use our ancestral lands for their Carmichael coal mine. We do hereby firmly REJECT a Land Use Agreement with Adani for the Carmichael mine on our traditional lands. We DO NOT consent to the Carmichael mine on our ancestral lands.We DO NOT accept Adani’s “offers” to sign away our land and our rights and interests in it. We will not take their “shut up” money. We will PROTECT and DEFEND our Country and our connection to it.”

 

The Wangan and Jagalingou people are the proud Traditional Owners and Native Title Applicants of a vast area of land in central-western Queensland. [Source]

Commentary by Wrong Kind of Green’s Australian correspondent Michael Swifte:

“People should be asking the Queensland South Native Title Services about that dodgy vote. They are the brokers on behalf of the W&J (Wangan and Jagalingou) claim group. We should also be asking the National Native Title Tribunal what information they actually collect from Registered Native Title Bodies Corporate and their agents for use in arbitration for disputes over ILUA negotiations. Having spent several hours on the phone with the NNTT trying to ascertain if the ILUA negotiations with the Juru, Birriah, and Jannga peoples over the North Galilee Basin Rail Project corridor I can say with absolute confidence that the NNTT is in no position to effectively arbitrate any conflict over negotiations and voting meetings.

In a document titled ‘Unfinished Business‘ authored by the very same people who’ve written the installments in the recent New Matilda 5 part series on the W&J Family Council, the QSNTS and the NNTT are identified as active agents in delivering outcomes that favour the Queensland Government and Adani.

“The W&J argue that their engagements with the native title regime, including through organisations including the NNTT and the local NTRB, Queensland South Native Title Services, have seen the consistent prioritising of state and mining interests over their own interests in exercising meaningful consent in relation to Country.” [p. 26, UNFINISHED BUSINESS: ADANI, THE STATE, AND THE INDIGENOUS RIGHTS STRUGGLE OF THE WANGAN AND JAGALINGOU TRADITIONAL OWNERS COUNCIL 2017]

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Watch this powerful video and commentary shared by Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Council:

“Murrawah’s question to ABC Q&A last night… If only they ran it! Instead, there are those who have nothing to do with our country or people, who aren’t correct about what’s been happening to W&J, like Warren Mundine, who get to speak instead of us. If this question was put, he wouldn’t get such a free run at misinforming the community, like he did last night.”

Youth spokesperson for the W&J Traditional Owners Council, Murrawah Johnson:


“Adani and the State Government didn’t ‘negotiate’ and achieve the free, prior, informed consent of the W&J people. Instead Adani, backed by the State Government and past NNTT decisions, relied on the threat that they would compulsorily take our land.

 

The meeting, that all these Adani supporters cite where the purported majority voted for the ILUA 294 to 1, is not a true expression of the W&J Traditional Owners. Over 220 of that meeting’s attendees are people that are not Wangan and Jagalingou people according to our law and custom. They have never been involved in the W&J claim or decision making, and are identified with other people and claims. They were bussed in and paid for at Adani’s considerable expense, while hundreds of the rightful W&J Traditional Owners refused to attend this sham meeting.” [Source]

Destroy Here and Destroy There: The Double Exploitation of Biodiversity Offsets

World Rainforest Movement

August 23, 2017

Bulletin 232

 

 

This issue of the WRM bulletin is focused on one of the key strategies that (mainly extractive) industries use to expand within the framework of the so-called “green economy”: biodiversity offsets. We believe it is important to warn about the strong corporate push that is trying to get governments to relax their environmental laws, and thus allow certain industrial activities to take place in areas previously considered to be unviable. The only requirement is that the biodiversity destroyed upon implementing the industrial activity be “offset.” These offset projects incur double destruction, exploitation and domination: on the one hand, of lands affected by industrial activities, and on the other hand, of lands targeted for offset projects. The latter generally entail severe social and cultural destruction.

In order to understand the rationale behind “offsets”, whether they be for biodiversity, carbon, water or anything the like, it is important to always keep the following in mind: the main purpose of these compensation mechanisms is to enable the dominant economic model—which is dependent on fossil fuels—to continue to thrive and expand. In the context of the current socio-environmental crises, adopting offsets was necessary for both governments and companies responsible for these crises to appear to be taking action to move towards a “greener” model. Yet this smokescreen, full of misleading discourse and empty promises, actually further deepens these crises.

Considering this starting point, we can understand why offset mechanisms do not seek to stop the driving forces behind the destruction of territories and forests. On the contrary, they enable destructive activities to expand into areas which, until recently, were impossible to imagine being handed over for exploitation. This is how mining, petroleum, infrastructure, monoculture plantations, mega-dams and many other industries—along with the thousands of kilometres of access roads, workers’ camps, drainage ditches and other impacts these industries cause—continue to grow their operations and profits. Let us not forget that the dominant economic model, which is structurally racist and patriarchal, unloads almost all of its destruction, invasion and violence on indigenous peoples and peasant families, so as to keep exploiting, producing and accumulating profits.

Offsets also make it easier for industries and their allies (governments, conservation NGOs or others) to access more and more land. At the end of the day, offsets have become a green light for destructive activities to proceed within a legal framework; never mind that areas which previously could not have been legally or legitimately destroyed now will be. The only requirement is that the biodiversity destroyed at the site of operations be recreated or replaced elsewhere. In order to achieve this, the argument goes, the biodiversity lost in the area that is destroyed must be “equivalent” to the alleged protection or (re)creation in the area chosen to supposedly replace what is destroyed. Yet this “equivalence” argument actually covers up important contradictions and questions of power, territorial rights, inequalities, violence and colonial history.

Since the aim is not to stop the destruction, but rather to “offset” it, most offset projects are focused on indigenous peoples’ and other traditional forest-dependent communities’ territories. In many cases, forest-dependent communities are required to surrender their land—or control of it—in the name of the offset project. Offset mechanisms thus incur double destruction, exploitation and domination—on the one hand, of land affected by extractive/capitalist industrial activities, and on the other hand, of territories targeted for offset projects. The latter generally do not involve environmental destruction, since they supposedly protect an area for conservation; however experience has shown that they do, indeed, entail severe social and cultural destruction.

“Offset areas” must be under some kind of threat, at least on paper—since, if this were not the case, why would a project be needed to protect them? Thus, almost all projects identify traditional communities as the main threat to conservation. Numerous restrictions are placed on communities’ access to, control of, and rights to use these forests that are turned into offsets. Project proponents argue that “conservation” can only be “successful” through the dominant Western approach (which has its roots in colonization); that is, through the creation of fenced-off parks, or “nature without people.” Usurping forest-dependent communities’ customary rights and territorial control—and hence also their traditions, cultures and livelihoods—is fundamentally racist and violent. (See more on Environmental Racism in Bulletin 223 from April 2016.) 

So, how do so-called biodiversity offsets work in practice?

First and foremost, offsets for loss of biodiversity must be able to measure and quantify “biodiversity.” The elements that will be destroyed must be established and categorized in order to later be recreated elsewhere, or to ensure that the protection of another area has an “equivalent” amount of these elements. Of course, reducing the destruction of a territory—in a specific place and time, and with a specific history and stories—to mere categories and measurements, ignores the coexistence of peoples, cultures, traditions and interconnections within forests and lands, as well as many other aspects. The only thing that matters in this logic is that which can be measured, and therefore exchanged or replaced.

The investment criteria of multilateral banks—such as regional development banks or the World Bank—aim to influence countries’ environmental legislation. In this vein, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank, changed its Performance Standard 6 in 2012. Any company wishing to access an IFC loan for a project that will destroy what the IFC considers to be “critical habitat,” must present a plan stating that the biodiversity destroyed will be compensated elsewhere. Accordingly, governments mainly from the Global South are increasingly relaxing their environmental laws to follow the “rules” established by corporate power—concentrated in financial institutions. They can now accept the viability of certain operations previously considered to be unviable, as long as they offset the biodiversity which will be destroyed upon project implementation.

Many biodiversity offset projects are presented as “conservation projects”. About many of them, there is scarce and difficult-to-access information. In these cases, forest-use restrictions imposed on communities are also framed within conservation arguments. This is very problematic: it covers up the fact that, in practice, offset projects prevent communities from carrying out subsistence agriculture, hunting or fishing activities, meanwhile permitting corporations to extract petroleum or build mega-dams in areas that are often protected due to their biological diversity. Once again, the prevailing economic model—reinforced by the offset system—reveals its dominating and racist characteristics.

Worse yet, in some cases, companies claim they even “create” “more biodiversity”; for example, when in addition to the offset project, they implement complementary activities—such as planting trees to “enrich the biodiversity” of the area. They call this having a “net positive impact.” The result is that a mining company—which is extremely destructive—can advertise that its activities not only have no impact, but are also positive for the environment. Meanwhile, communities are forced to change their practices, a few might be offered employment as park rangers – reporting on whether their relatives and neighbours comply with the rules imposed by the offset project -, or leave their territories because they can no longer obtain a livelihood from the land.

In other words, biodiversity offset mechanisms are a strategy for destructive industries to expand even more without violating legislation. The diverse life that is destroyed can never be recreated or replaced. Each space, time and interconnection is unique. These kinds of compensation mechanisms—whose proponents seek to turn them into national and regional policies, international treaties, and ultimately the “status quo,”—impose a worldview based on dominating others’ lives. Clearly, this is not a fortuitous imposition, but rather a violently racist one.

Therefore, it is essential to actively stand in solidarity with struggles to defend lands and territories, and simultaneously expose these mechanisms for what they are. This is necessary in order to break paradigms of domination and open up space—not only to respect, but to learn from, the many other worlds that exist.

 

Greenwashing Capitalism: Conservation’s Cosy Relationship with Corporations

Conservation Watch

By Chris Lang

March 21, 2017

Since the year 2000, there have been many partnerships between conservation organisations and the industrial corporations responsible for destroying nature. Mining companies are particularly popular.

A new paper by William M. Adams published in the Journal of Polical Ecology explores the “surprising closeness and apparent warmth of the relations between biodiversity conservation organisations and corporations”.

The paper is titled, “Sleeping with the enemy? Biodiversity conservation, corporations and the green economy”, and can be downloaded here.

Adams traces the partnerships between conservation organisations and the mining industry to a series of initiatives starting in the 1990s:

1997: Conservation International published Reinventing the well, a report on “minimizing the environmental and social impacts of oil development in the tropics”.

1998: a Global Mining Initiative, “to provide sustainable leadership for the mining and minerals industry in the areas of our economic, social and environmental performance”.

1999: The World Business Council for Sustainable Development began a Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development project.

1999: Rio Tinto started working with Conservation International.

2000: Conservation International published a report on large-scale mining, titled, Lightening the lode.

2001: The International Council on Mining and Metals was formed, “to act as a catalyst for performance improvement in the mining, minerals and metals industry”.

2000–2002:The Mining Minerals and Sustainable Development Project, a research collaboration between the WBCSD and IIED.

Adams argues that,

[C]onservationists are turning a blind eye to their own past and to the working of neoliberal capitalism, showing a remarkable willingness to entertain future risks to biodiversity from the outworking of neoliberalism.

Conservation has been transformed by neoliberalism. Instead of looking at how capitalism uses (and destroys) nature, neoliberal conservation presents capitalism as the way of achieving environmental sustainability.

In their 2012 paper, Bram Büscher, Sian Sullivan, Katja Neves, Jim Igoe and Dan Brockington write that,

[N]eoliberal conservation shifts the focus from how nature is used in and through the expansion of capitalism, to how nature is conserved in and through the expansion of capitalism.

Benefits and consequences

Adams highlights the benefits and the consequences of partnerships between conservation organisations and corporations. There are three benefits:

  1. Power: Conservationists see corporations as having the power to make decisions to either conserve or destroy biodiversity. “Conservationists therefore engage because they want influence.”
  2. Funding: Corporations are key financiers of conservation, from sponsorship of NGO activities, to support for partnership activities, to philanthropic support from individuals in corporations, to linked for-profit enterprises, such as conservation-endorsed commodity chains.
  3. Careers: Corporate executives on NGO Boards allows for career mentoring, and access to networks of corporate contacts. “Corporate support also offers opportunities for career development: all NGOs depend on cash income to develop their programmes, and working in a way that aligns your programme with the interests and activities of corporations is a good way to keep your job and grow your program.”

An obvious problem with conservationists partnering with corporations is what Adams calls the “fundamental nature of capitalism”.

Capitalism is parasitic on nature, in that it “continuously gnaws away at the resources base that sustains it”, as Geographer David Pepper puts it in his 1993 book, Eco-Socialism: From deep ecology to social justice.

Corporations need to make only slight changes to their corporate strategies. But for the conservation organisations working with corporations, the ideological and organisational changes are significant. Biting the hand that feeds, by criticising corporate partners, is out of the question.

And conservation organisations that work closely with corporations start to look more like corporations themselves. Mark Tercek, the President and CEO of , previously worked at Goldman Sachs, rising to Managing Director and Partner.

Adams points out that corporate partnerships “do not in any obvious way ‘work’ for conservation, in terms of systematically addressing the fundamental drivers of biodiversity loss”.

Adams writes that the partnership between conservation organisations and corporations is a Faustian bargain, “a deal with the devil to acquire power in exchange for the soul”. Adams adds,

If conservation is Faust, the power it wins by its bargain with capitalism is inevitably trivial and transient: ultimately, in the face of capitalism’s destruction of nature, conservation will lose.

And he concludes that,

The reframing of nature as natural capital and the reinvention of conservation as the management of capital flows through market-based instruments, might make a close engagement between neoliberal conservation and corporations look unproblematic. Such a relationship offers the lure of financial resources and power. But conservationists considering getting into bed with corporations should remember the tale of Faust’s bargain. The story takes many forms, but in none of them does the pact turn out well.

 

[Conservation Watch is run by Chris Lang (conserwatch@gmail.com). The views expressed on Conservation Watch do not necessarily reflect the formal positions of any organisations or individuals, except when this is clearly stated. Conservation Watch is funded by the Rainforest Foundation UK.]

May the Earth Tremble at Its Core

Zapatista Army for National Liberation

November 9, 2016

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Photo credit: (AP Photo/Moyses Zuniga, File)

To the people of the world:

To the free media:

To the National and International Sixth:

Convened for the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the National Indigenous Congress and the living resistance of the originary peoples, nations, and tribes of this country called Mexico, of the languages of Amuzgo, Binni-zaá, Chinanteco, Chol, Chontal de Oaxaca, Coca, Náyeri, Cuicateco, Kumiai, Lacandón, Matlazinca, Maya, Mayo, Mazahua, Mazateco, Mixe, Mixteco, Nahua, Ñahñu, Ñathô, Popoluca, Purépecha, Rarámuri, Tlapaneco, Tojolabal, Totonaco, Triqui, Tzeltal, Tsotsil, Wixárika, Yaqui, Zoque, Chontal de Tabasco, as well as our Aymara, Catalán, Mam, Nasa, Quiché and Tacaná brothers and sisters, we firmly pronounce that our struggle is below and to the left, that we are anticapitalist and that the time of the people has come—the time to make this country pulse with the ancestral heartbeat of our mother earth.

It is in this spirit that we met to celebrate life in the Fifth National Indigenous Congress, which took place on October 9-14, 2016, in CIDECI-UNITIERRA, Chiapas. There we once again recognized the intensification of the dispossession and repression that have not stopped in the 524 years since the powerful began a war aimed at exterminating those who are of the earth; as their children we have not allowed for their destruction and death, meant to serve capitalist ambition which knows no end other than destruction itself. That resistance, the struggle to continue constructing life, today takes the form of words, learning, and agreements. On a daily basis we build ourselves and our communities in resistance in order to stave off the storm and the capitalist attack which never lets up. It becomes more aggressive everyday such that today it has become a civilizational threat, not only for indigenous peoples and campesinos but also for the people of the cities who themselves must create dignified and rebellious forms of resistance in order to avoid murder, dispossession, contamination, sickness, slavery, kidnapping or disappearance. Within our community assemblies we have decided, exercised, and constructed our destiny since time immemorial. Our forms of organization and the defense of our collective life is only possible through rebellion against the bad government, their businesses, and their organized crime.

We denounce the following:

In Pueblo Coca, Jalisco, the businessman Guillermo Moreno Ibarra invaded 12 hectares of forest in the area known as El Pandillo, working in cahoots with the agrarian institutions there to criminalize those who struggle, resulting in 10 community members being subjected to trials that went on for four years. The bad government is invading the island of Mexcala, which is sacred communal land, and at the same time refusing to recognize the Coca people in state indigenous legislation, in an effort to erase them from history.

 

The Otomí Ñhañu, Ñathö, Hui hú, and Matlatzinca peoples from México State and Michoacán are being attacked via the imposition of a megaproject to build the private Toluca-Naucalpan Highway and an inter-city train. The project is destroying homes and sacred sites, buying people off and manipulating communal assemblies through police presence. This is in addition to fraudulent community censuses that supplant the voice of an entire people, as well as the privatization and the dispossession of water and territory around the Xinantécatl volcano, known as the Nevado de Toluca. There the bad governments are doing away with the protections that they themselves granted, all in order to hand the area over to the tourism industry. We know that all of these projects are driven by interest in appropriating the water and life of the entire region. In the Michoacán zone they deny the identity of the Otomí people, and a group of police patrols have come to the region to monitor the hills, prohibiting indigenous people there from going to the hills to cut wood.

 

The originary peoples who live in Mexico City are being dispossessed of the territories that they have won in order to be able to work for a living; in the process they are robbed of their goods and subjected to police violence. They are scorned and repressed for using their traditional clothing and language, and criminalized through accusations of selling drugs.

 

The territory of the Chontal Peoples of Oaxaca is being invaded by mining concessions that are dismantling communal land organization, affecting the people and natural resources of five communities.

 

The Mayan Peninsular People of Campeche, Yucatán, and Quintana Roo are suffering land disposession as a result of the planting of genetically modified soy and African palm, the contamination of their aquifers by agrochemicals, the construction of wind farms and solar farms, the development of ecotourism, and the activities of real estate developers. Their resistance against high electricity costs has been met with harassment and arrest warrants. In Calakmul, Campeche, five communities are being displaced by the imposition of ‘environmental protection areas,’ environmental service costs, and carbon capture plans. In Candelaria, Campeche, the struggle continues for secure land tenure. In all three states there is aggressive criminalization against those who defend territory and natural resources.

 

The Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Tojolabal, Chol and Lacandón Maya People of Chiapas continue to be displaced from their territories due to the privatization of natural resources. This has resulted in the imprisonment and murder of those who defend their right to remain in their territory, as they are constantly discriminated against and repressed whenever they defend themselves and organize to continue building their autonomy, leading to increasing rates of human rights violations by police forces. There are campaigns to fragment and divide their organizations, as well as the murders of compañeros who have defended their territory and natural resources in San Sebastián Bachajon. The bad governments continue trying to destroy the organization of the communities that are EZLN bases of support in order to cast a shadow on the hope and light that they provide to the entire world.

 

The Mazateco people of Oaxaca have been invaded by private property claims which exploit the territory and culture for tourism purposes. This includes naming Huautla de Jimenéz as a “Pueblo Mágico” in order to legalize displacement and commercialize ancestral knowledge. This is in addition to mining concessions and foreign spelunking explorations in existing caves, all enforced by increased harassment by narcotraffickers and militarization of the territory. The bad governments are complicit in the increasing rates of femicide and rape in the region.

 

The Nahua and Totonaca peoples of Veracruz and Puebla are confronting aerial fumigation, which creates illnesses in the communities. Mining and hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation are carried out through fracking, and 8 watersheds are endangered by new projects that are contaminating the rivers.

 

The Nahua and Popoluca peoples from the south of Veracruz are under siege by organized crime and also risk territorial destruction and their disappearance as a people because of the threats brought by mining, wind farms, and above all, hydrocarbon exploitation through fracking.

 

The Nahua people, who live in the states of Puebla, Tlaxcala, Veracruz, Morelos, Mexico State, Jalisco, Guerrero, Michoacán, San Luis Potosí, and Mexico City, are in a constant struggle to stop the advance of the so-called Proyecto Integral Morelos, consisting of pipelines, aqueducts, and thermoelectric projects. The bad governments, seeking to stop the resistance and communication among the communities are trying to destroy the community radio of Amiltzingo, Morelos. Similarly, the construction of the new airport in Mexico City and the surrounding building projects threaten the territories around Texcoco lake and the Valle de México basin, namely Atenco, Texcoco, and Chimalhuacán. In Michocan, the Nahua people face the plunder of their natural resources and minerals by sicarios[hitmen] who are accompanied by police or the army, and also the militarization and paramilitarizaiton of their territories. The cost of trying to halt this war has been murder, persecution, imprisonment, and harassment of community leaders.

 

The Zoque People of Oaxaca and Chiapas face invasion by mining concessions and alleged private property claims on communal lands in the Chimalapas region, as well as three hydroelectric dams and hydrocarbon extraction through fracking. The implementation of cattle corridors is leading to excessive logging in the forests in order to create pastureland, and genetically modified seeds are also being cultivated there. At the same time, Zoque migrants to different states across the country are re-constituting their collective organization.

 

The Amuzgo people of Guerrero are facing the theft of water from the San Pedro River to supply residential areas in the city of Ometepec. Their community radio has also been subject to constant persecution and harassment.

 

The Rarámuri people of Chihuahua are losing their farmland to highway construction, to the Creel airport, and to the gas pipeline that runs from the United States to Chihuahua. They are also threatened by Japanese mining companies, dam projects, and tourism.

 

The Wixárika people of Jalisco, Nayarit, and Durango are facing the destruction and privatization of the sacred places they depend on to maintain their familial, social, and political fabric, and also the dispossession of their communal land in favor of large landowners who take advantage of the blurry boundaries between states of the Republic and campaigns orchestrated by the bad government to divide people.

 

The Kumiai People of Baja California continue struggling for the reconstitution of their ancestral territories, against invasion by private interests, the privatization of their sacred sites, and the invasion of their territories by gas pipelines and highways.

 

The Purépecha people of Michoacán are experiencing deforestation, which occurs through complicity between the bad government and the narcoparamilitary groups who plunder the forests and woods. Community organization from below poses an obstacle to that theft.

 

For the Triqui people of Oaxaca, the presence of the political parties, the mining industry, paramilitaries, and the bad government foment the disintegration of the community fabric in the interest of plundering natural resources.

 

The Chinanteco people of Oaxaca are suffering the destruction of their forms of community organization through land reforms, the imposition of environmental services costs, carbon capture plans, and ecotourism. There are plans for a four-lane highway to cross and divide their territory. In the Cajono and Usila Rivers the bad governments are planning to build three dams that will affect the Chinanteco and Zapoteca people, and there are also mining concessions and oil well explorations.

 

The Náyeri People of Nayarit face the invasion and destruction of their sacred territories by the Las Cruces hydroelectric project in the site called Muxa Tena on the San Pedro River.

 

The Yaqui people of Sonora continue their sacred struggle against the gas pipeline that would cross their territory, and in defense of the water of the Yaqui River, which the bad governments want to use to supply the city of Hermosillo, Sonora. This goes against judicial orders and international appeals which have made clear the Yaqui peoples’ legal and legitimate rights. The bad government has criminalized and harassed the authorities and spokespeople of the Yaqui tribe.

 

The Binizzá and Ikoot people organize to stop the advance of the mining, wind, hydroelectric, dam, and gas pipeline projects. This includes in particular the Special Economic Zone on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and the infrastructure that threatens the territory and the autonomy of the people on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec who are classified as the “environmental Taliban” and the “indigenous rights Taliban,” the precise words used by the Mexican Association of Energy to refer to the Popular Assembly of the Juchiteco People.

 

The Mixteco people of Oaxaca suffer the plunder of their agrarian territory, which also affects their traditional practices given the threats, deaths, and imprisonment that seek to quiet the dissident voices, with the bad government supporting armed paramilitary groups as in the case of San Juan Mixtepec, Oaxaca.

 

The Mixteco, Tlapaneco, and Nahua peoples from the mountains and coast of Guerrero face the imposition of mining megaprojects supported by narcotraffickers, their paramilitaries, and the bad governments, who fight over the territories of the originary peoples.

 

The Mexican bad government continues to lie, trying hide its decomposition and total responsibility for the forced disappearance of the 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers College in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero.

 

The state continues to hold hostage: compañerosPedro Sánchez Berriozábal, Rómulo Arias Míreles, Teófilo Pérez González, Dominga González Martínez, Lorenzo Sánchez Berriozábal, and Marco Antonio Pérez González from the Nahua community of San Pedro Tlanixco in Mexico State; Zapotec compañero Álvaro Sebastián from the Loxicha region; compañeros Emilio Jiménez Gómez and Esteban Gómez Jiménez, prisoners from the community of Bachajón, Chiapas; compañeros Pablo López Álvarez and the exiled Raul Gatica García and Juan Nicolás López from the Indigenous and Popular Council of Oaxaca Ricardo Flores Magón. Recently a judge handed down a 33-year prison sentence to compañero Luis Fernando Sotelo for demanding that the 43 disappeared students from Ayotzinapa be returned alive, and to the compañeros Samuel Ramírez Gálvez, Gonzalo Molina González and Arturo Campos Herrera from the Regional Coordination of Community Authorities – PC. They also hold hundreds of indigenous and non-indigenous people across the country prisoner for defending their territories and demanding justice.

 

The Mayo people’s ancestral territory is threatened by highway projects meant to connect Topolobampo with the state of Texas in the United States. Ambitious tourism projects are also being created in Barranca del Cobre.

 

The Dakota Nation’s sacred territory is being invaded and destroyed by gas and oil pipelines, which is why they are maintaining a permanent occupation to protect what is theirs.

For all of these reasons, we reiterate that it our obligation to protect life and dignity, that is, resistance and rebellion, from below and to the left, a task that can only be carried out collectively. We build rebellion from our small local assemblies that combine to form large communal assemblies, ejidal assemblies, Juntas de Buen Gobierno [Good Government Councils], and coalesce as agreements as peoples that unite us under one identity. In the process of sharing, learning, and constructing ourselves as the National Indigenous Congress, we see and feel our collective pain, discontent, and ancestral roots. In order to defend what we are, our path and learning process have been consolidated by strengthening our collective decision-making spaces, employing national and international juridical law as well as peaceful and civil resistance, and casting aside the political parties that have only brought death, corruption, and the buying off of dignity. We have made alliances with various sectors of civil society, creating our own resources in communication, community police and self-defense forces, assemblies and popular councils, and cooperatives; in the exercise and defense of traditional medicine; in the exercise and defense of traditional and ecological agriculture; in our own rituals and ceremonies to pay respect to mother earth and continue walking with and upon her, in the cultivation and defense of native seeds, and in political-cultural activities, forums, and information campaigns.

This is the power from below that has kept us alive. This is why commemorating resistance and rebellion also means ratifying our decision to continue to live, constructing hope for a future that is only possible upon the ruins of capitalism.

Given that the offensive against the people will not cease, but rather grow until it finishes off every last one of us who make up the peoples of the countryside and the city, who carry profound discontent that emerges in new, diverse, and creative forms of resistance and rebellion, this Fifth National Indigenous Congress has decided to launch a consultation in each of our communities to dismantle from below the power that is imposed on us from above and offers us nothing but death, violence, dispossession, and destruction. Given all of the above, we declare ourselves in permanent assembly as we carry out this consultation, in each of our geographies, territories, and paths, on the accord of the Fifth CNI to name an Indigenous Governing Council whose will would be manifest by an indigenous woman, a CNI delegate, as an independent candidate to the presidency of the country under the name of the National Indigenous Congress and the Zapatista Army for National Liberation in the electoral process of 2018. We confirm that our struggle is not for power, which we do not seek. Rather, we call on all of the originary peoples and civil society to organize to put a stop to this destruction and strengthen our resistances and rebellions, that is, the defense of the life of every person, family, collective, community, or barrio. We make a call to construct peace and justice by reweaving ourselves from below, from where we are what we are.

This is the time of dignified rebellion, the time to construct a new nation by and for everyone, to strengthen power below and to the anticapitalist left, to make those who are responsible for all of the pain of the peoples of this multi-colored Mexico pay.

Finally, we announce the creation of the official webpage of the CNI: www.congresonacionalindigena.org

From CIDECI-UNITIERRA,

Chiapas, October 2016

For the Full Reconstitution of Our Peoples

Never Again a Mexico Without Us

National Indigenous Congress

Zapatista Army for National Liberation

Translation source: Enlace Zapatista

 

Water is More Valuable than Gold

Nacla

April 25, 2016

by Ellie Happel

 

The destructive impact of metal mining in the Dominican Republic has lessons for neighboring Haiti, where activists are seeking a moratorium on all mining projects.

KJM Delegation Looking at Tailings Pond, Pueblo Viejo, Dominican Republic (Photo by Ellie Happel)

KJM Delegation Looking at Tailings Pond, Pueblo Viejo, Dominican Republic (Photo by Ellie Happel)

The hill overlooking the tailings pond—a vast, dammed tub of liquid residue—was littered with bones.  Residents from the area said the goats and cattle that once grazed the land had died since mining operations began a few years ago.  They held our hands as we crossed a river, directing us to jump from rock to rock to avoid plunging a foot into the polluted current.  The human settlements tucked in the valley beneath the white smoke snaking into the sky appeared to be the only life remaining in the area.  We were at Pueblo Viejo in the Dominican Republic, one of the largest gold mines in the world.

I am an attorney with the Global Justice Clinic (GJC) of NYU School of Law. Since 2013, GJC has provided technical support to the Kolektif Jistis Min (Justice in Mining Collective or KJM), a group of Haitian social movement organizations formed to support communities in Haiti’s mineral belt and to encourage a national dialogue about the industry.  In March, I traveled with members of KJM to the Dominican Republic to meet with organizations and academics studying the mining sector and with residents from communities directly affected by mining.

The message from residents of communities near Pueblo Viejo to Haitian activist was simple: Do not let a company build a gold mine in Haiti.  Farmers said that their coffee plants failed every year since operations began. The situation has become so dire that they no longer even bother to plant coffee and other crops that previously sustained them.  Parents spoke of rains that fall with such a peculiar stench that they pull their kids out of school and remain indoors with their families, windows closed, for a full twenty-four hours.

During our visit, a man lifted up his pant leg to reveal his calves, pock-marked like a burn.  He explained that the acidic river water had eaten away at his skin.

“We did not know that mining would lead to this,” said a woman, pointing to the wall of the tailings dam in the distance.

Residents showed us shelves of five-gallon jugs of water.  They explained that “the company”— Pueblo Viejo is operated by the Pueblo Viejo Dominicana Corporation (PVDC), a joint venture between the Canadian companies Barrick and Goldcorp— provides four jugs of water to local residents a few times a week, but complained that the water was insufficient to meet their most basic needs.  The sealed, treated water, they explained, is not just the only water safe to drink; it is the only water safe to use for any purpose, be it washing, bathing, or giving to animals.

Unfortunately, few scientific studies that document the contamination and its impacts have been made public.  PVDC claims to regularly test the water and the air quality, but residents told The Economist that they were unaware of such monitoring.  Meanwhile, the Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (Dominican Ministry of the Environment) conducted water quality sampling that confirmed that the river downstream from Pueblo Viejo was found to be “highly acidic, with copper and other pollutants above legal limits.”  The test results were available only through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request.  There are numerous reported incidents of mine workers falling illalong with local residents.  PVDC claims that pollution in the area was caused decades ago by the previous operators of the mine.

Refinery in Pueblo Viejo, Cotuí, Dominican Republic (Photo by Ellie Happel)

Refinery in Pueblo Viejo, Cotuí, Dominican Republic (Photo by Ellie Happel)

The refrain water is more valuable than gold has rallied Dominicans to declare Loma Miranda, the site of a potential nickel mine and also home to the headwaters of some of the Dominican Republic’s most important rivers, a national park.  Community members and allies maintain a permanent camp near the base of Loma Miranda.  They told the KJM that the water contamination at Pueblo Viejo and the mining industry’s mixed economic impacts to have led a diverse and broad cross-section of Dominicans to oppose the nickel mine.  As in El Salvador, Peru, and Guatemala, the experience of living in the shadow of an open pit mine has created determined resistance to future projects.

KJM is building a national network with the ultimate goal of preventing metal mining in Haiti for the foreseeable future.  “We must learn from these stories,” said a KJM leader who traveled to the Dominican Republic.  “We have an opportunity in Haiti to avoid a disaster.”

+++

There are no active metal mines in Haiti yet.  But the Haitian government has declared the mineral sector key to the country’s economic growth and has encouraged foreign investment.  Between 2006 and early 2013, two Canadian and two U.S. companies reportedly spent more than $30 million on exploration for gold, copper, silver, and other metals.  For the past five years, company activity has been on hold as the industry awaits the adoption of a new mining law, a draft of which was written with World Bank technical support in 2014.  Because the political situation remains uncertain, however, legal changes are in limbo— and so too is the future of metal mining in Haiti.

Byen Konte, Mal Kalkile?  Human Rights and Environmental Risks of Gold Mining in Haiti, a report released in December by the Global Justice Clinic of NYU School of Law and the Haiti Justice Initiative at the University of California, Hastings College of Law, recommends a moratorium on metal mining in Haiti.   As the report concludes, mining projects often perpetuate global inequalities, with companies from the “Global North” extracting resources from the “Global South.”  It has become evident that communities near mining sites often lack the information and resources necessary to demand participation in decisions that affect their well-being, both in the immediate future and for generations to come.  Meanwhile, host governments often fail to equip these communities to assert their rights, leaving them to fend for themselves in the face of encroachment on their land and serious risks to the environment and human rights.  And Haiti is uniquely vulnerable to the consequences of mining.

Water is already scarce in Haiti— less than half of rural households have access to safe drinking water—and too often, its consumption causes illness.  More than half the annual death toll in Haiti is caused by waterborne illnesses, such as typhoid, cholera, and chronic diarrhea.  At least 10,000 Haitians have died of cholera, introduced to Haiti by United Nations’ troops ten months after the 2010 earthquake.  A recent study suggests that the official count of those sickened and killed by cholera far underestimates the actual total.  Cholera could have been avoided if the United Nations had taken simple, affordable precautions.  The environmental devastation that an open pit mine could cause in Haiti is also foreseeable and preventable.

As if Haiti’s pre-existing vulnerabilities did not present enough of a risk, the legal and institutional framework regulating mining in Haiti fails to adequately safeguard human rights and the environment.  As Byen Konte, Mal Kalkile shows, the draft new mining law co-written with the World Bank falls short of protecting rights guaranteed in the Haitian Constitution, including the right to a healthy environment, the right to property, and the rights to information and participation.  One proposed article— dangerously out of step with recent trends toward greater industry transparency— would require all mining-related information to be kept confidential for a period of ten years, effectively foreclosing meaningful public oversight of mining activities and regulatory compliance. As the Haitian proverb goes, Konstitisyon se papye, bayonet se fe— the Constitution is made of paper, the bayonet is made of steel.

Even in countries with more robust governance and oversight than Haiti, industrial-scale mining has contaminated water resources, destroyed livelihoods, increased security threats, forcibly displaced thousands of people, and damaged entire ecosystems for generations. Recent mining disasters in Brazil and the United States provide sobering reminders of the tremendous risks that Haiti faces and the enormous challenge of preventing mining-related harm.

On top of all this, Haiti is one of the countries most vulnerable to natural disasters.  Earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and drought regularly ravage the nation, and the government demonstrates a lack of capacity to anticipate or mitigate these disasters.  Haiti is densely populated and mountainous—nearly two-thirds of the land is too steep to till.  In February, the World Food Program declared a food crisis, reporting that over 3.6 million Haitians face food insecurity and more than 1.5 million live with severe food insecurity.

“Maybe, for once, the state of our environment can work in our favor—can help us resist,” explained a resident from the north of Haiti, where a transnational company has explored for gold.  “We understand, maybe more than others, that water is life.  When we hear what has happened in other countries, when we see the videos and see the photos, we understand that our land cannot take one more blow.”

In early May, activists from communities affected by metal mining in Peru, El Salvador, Colombia, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic will converge in Haiti to participate in Kale Je Nou pou Defann Lavi Nou (Open our Eyes Wide to Defend Our Lives), ten days of action and dialogue about the mining sector.  KJM hopes that little by little they can build an alliance to resist metal mining without having to suffer through it first.

 

 

[Ellie Happel is the Haiti Program Attorney with the Global Justice Clinic of New York University School of Law.  She is based in Port-au-Prince, where she has lived for the past four years.  Ellie is also co-author of Byen Konte, Mal Kalkile?  Human Rights and Environmental Risks of Gold Mining.]

WKOG Op-Ed: Mining for Blood

Wrong Kind of Green

November 12, 2015

by Forrest Palmer and Cory Morningstar

 

ademov-iphone2-1

If Apple’s gold-tinted iPhone 6 isn’t enough for you, now you can upgrade to the real thing. For $7,300, luxury electronics store Ademov will sell you an iPhone 6 plated in 24-carat gold. Even the Apple logo is given special treatment, plated with 18-carat gold and encrusted with VS1 white diamonds. [Source]

As I sit here at my computer, I realize the cost in human lives that came from the production of this outlet from which I am writing this presently. When people look at the electronics equipment and luxury items that are a staple of the Western world and our lifestyles, they rarely ever look at these objects within the context of what it takes to bring them to market in regards to the human life and environmental cost that is sacrificed to do so. As Western consumers, we have been indoctrinated into believing that the birthplace of our goods is the item residing in the packaging and the plastic that surrounds it as we throw it on the cashier conveyor belt to purchase it. The most costly dependence on bringing our smartphones, computers, gaming systems, car circuitry and innumerous other equipment to market is the outlay of human lives through manipulation of labor in the Third World or Global South. For however much importance we put on the Amerikkkan loss of life in mining (which is minimal at best), we feel as if it is simply “the price of doing business” for any life residing outside of its borders and progressively less ambivalent the darker the hue of the people providing us these resources through mining practices.

child_in_mines

AFRICA | Half of gold miners in Africa could be children: According to the UN International Labour Organisation (ILO) up to one million children aged as young as five work for small-scale mining and quarrying operations around the world. The statistics are particularly stark in Africa where more than a quarter of the world’s child labourers live. [Source]

Regarding the loss of life in the Global South, which is more pronounced as many of the mining activities in the Western world have become mechanized in comparison to their counterparts in the aforementioned region, manual human labor is needed in the most impoverished nations to provide us with the precious and rare Earth metals that power Western lifestyles, with much of it being child labor. And in a nod to how exploitation of labor is at the foundation of the capitalist system, although the countries and workers that provide us with these elements should be rich, the fact of the matter is that they are the most impoverished regions in the world. Now, the narrative expressed by the leaders, media pundits and talking heads in the West is that in the Global South, comprised of continents like Africa and Asia, the problems reside in corrupt and/or inept leadership .

Cell Phones and Western Children

UNITED STATES | And where approximately half of of gold miners in Africa are children, in the U.S. a new survey finds most children get their first cell phone when they are just 6 years old. The study also found that 96% of children have a cell phone, 83% have a TV or sound system, 75% have a tablet, 71% have a handheld gaming console, 65% have an eBook reader and 51% have an Xbox or Playstation. [Source

However, as even Western labor is starting to lose the gains that it was able to garnish over the past 70 or 80 years due to globalization and the need to extract labor at as minimal amount of cost as possible, it must now be recognized that any leaders in the Global South will be acceptable to the Western world as long as they can control the labor market to hold down wages to as low level as feasible and provide regional stability, a component which is rarely discussed as far as importance to the production of Western consumer goods that needs global commodities. As inanimate objects don’t have the ability to be controlled regarding the amount of money invested in them (for example, the cost to mine, to transport, to turn into manufactured goods), the only variable that can be manipulated by the corporate state is how much capital is expended on labor (to clothe, to feed, to house and provide MINIMAL resources to workers). Therefore, any entity that can control the cost of labor is seen as an ally of Western corporate interests, be it a despotic regime or the president by way of a “democratic” coup. As a capitalist state, the United States is more than willing to support anyone and everyone who can provide labor at the cheapest cost possible as well as keep stability in place that will never impede the daily transportation of resources from the Global South to its necessary destination in the Global North. Although the United States is most guilty since it has about 6% of the world’s population, but uses over 30% of its resources, the Western world is built upon cheap consumer goods with electrical devices being at the foundation of the present industrial age (which is rapidly declining).

Ultimately, the Western world must exploit the Global South for its resources to power this energy intensive lifestyle. Since corporations will not eat the cost of a rise in production of goods and services and the consumer can only be expected to absorb the rise in prices of consumer goods to a certain extent, the producers of these goods can only depend upon labor providing the resources for manufactured goods at a lesser and lesser expense. As raw materials have always been provided by the ones who are seen as inferior, the Western world learned to view the physical conduits that provide us with these materials as useless adjuncts of resource procurement in regards to their humanity, be it the Western slaves of yesteryear that provided sugar or cotton or rice to the modern version today that provides coltan and cobalt in the mines of the Congo. With the caveat being that Western labor has been able to procure some concession from business, the story of all labor itself has been one of being perpetually viewed as living, breathing machinery that is nameless, faceless and always replaceable. Yet, it has been these few rights provided by the corporate state to Westerners that has disabled the totality of labor to ever be in solidarity, as there is the Global North and the rest that resides in the Global South, with the division being a seemingly insurmountable barrier of culture, ethnicity and nationalism.

ISweat-660x440

So, as we are presently, the link between affordable consumer goods and labor exploitation in the Global South are both inextricably intertwined with one another. Hence, there can be none of the trappings of the Western economic system without some type of exploitation of someone or something, no matter how people want to frame it as far as trying to find a “humane” way of living our current lifestyles and not blatantly taking advantage of those at the lowest rung of society that provide our toys and goodies.

Although mining has been a part of man’s existence since ancient times, it is now turned from one of mere extravagance to a necessity to keep us alive since the everyday processes of all our existences is dependent on technology to some degree, with the basis being mining. However, the question now is how much longer can this continue?

Time will tell, but until that day comes, the one externality that can’t be accounted for in any economic system in regards to this issue of mining: the present blood on our hands in the Western world.

 

How Human Rights Watch Covers for Companies in Colombia

Down Where the Death Squads Live

Counterpunch

October 29, 2013

by Daniel Kovalik

ColumbiaHuman-Rights-Watch

On the CounterPunch masthead are these words proudly written, “Tells the Facts, Names the Names.” It’s because CounterPunch lives up to these words that I happily write for it and proudly donate to it.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), on the other hand, fails to name the names in its recent report on Colombia entitled, “The Risk of Returning Home, Violence and Threats against Displaced People Reclaiming Land in Colombia.” [1] And, this is much to HRW’s discredit.

Before diving into the report and its grave shortcomings, some general comments about HRW are in order. For years, I have been concerned about what appears to be HRW’s penchant for helping lay the groundwork for U.S. and NATO strikes against claimed enemies of the West. Most recently, HRW’s Executive Director, Kenneth Roth, has been fulminating on his Twitter account against anyone, including the EU, who refuses to acknowledge what has yet to be proven as fact – that the Syrian government was allegedly responsible for the chemical attack of August 21, 2013.

WATCH: Canadian Aid to Haiti Tied to Mining Interests

 

January 13, 2013

Real News

 

Yves Engler: Strategic objectives of Canadian aid are to strengthen a pro-elite police and advance Canadian commercial interests.

Watch full multipart The Ugly Canadian

FLASHBACK: WWF’s Eco Imperialism

Corporate Power and Mining in Mongolia

November 03, 2008

Some of parts of the environmental movement have long presented a serious obstacle to the destruction wrought on life by the corporate powers that be and their imperial overseers. On the contrary, other influential and well publicized parts of the movement have also played a critical role in undermining the emancipatory potential of environmentalism in order to satisfy imperial interests. Environmental groups that fit comfortably within this latter category of “environmentalists” include those collectively referred to as the Big Green, or the Group of Ten, although only the work of one member of this elite group, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), will be examined in this article. (For a comprehensive overview of WWF’s capitalist-friendly agenda, see my recent article “The Philanthropic Roots of Corporate Environmentalism,” Swans, November 3, 2008.)

Recognition of the imperialist nature of many so-called green nongovernmental organizations has, paradoxically, been widely promoted by conservative commentators. Thus resident scholar at the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, Paul Driessen, recently published a controversial book titled Eco-Imperialism: Green Power Black Death (Merril Press, 2003). The introduction to Driessen’s book was penned by Niger Innis, the national spokesperson of the once progressive civil rights group Congress of Racial Equality – an organization which has now warped into a “fraudulent” corporate front group. In his introduction, Innis noted how:

“The ideological environmental movement is a powerful $4 billion-a-year US industry, an $8 billion-a-year international gorilla. Many of its members are intensely eco-centric, and place much higher value on wildlife and ecological values than on human progress or even human life. They have a deep fear and loathing of big business, technology, chemicals, plastics, fossil fuels and biotechnology – and they insist that the rest of world should acknowledge and live according to their fears and ideologies. They are masters at using junk science, scare tactics, intimidation, and bogus economic and health claims to gain even greater power.” (pdf)

Innis is correct in observing that the environmental movement is a multi-billion dollar industry, but like Driessen, he deliberately fails to highlight how the most powerful and well-funded environmental groups driving this industry work hand-in-hand with big business and imperial governments. On the other hand, those environmental organizations that seriously challenge corporate prerogatives receive little funding from the public or even for that matter from ostensibly progressive liberal foundations. Consequently I agree with Innis and Driessen that the best-funded parts of the environmental movement that are regularly talked-up in the mass media promote eco-imperialism, but this is not because they challenge powerful elite interests, but rather because they serve them so effectively. For instance, in 2007 WWF’s Global Networks income was US$0.8 billion; therefore, it should be no surprise that such groups that were founded by powerful corporate and political elites, and are presently funded by those same elites, should first and foremost promote capitalist interests under the cloak of environmentalism. For more on this see Elaine Dewar’s groundbreaking book Cloak of Green: The Links between Key Environmental Groups, Government and Big Business (Lorimer, 1995).