Mining and development vs. environmental sustainability
By Digoy Fernandez AT the risk of offending some of my colleagues who are in the mining industry, I guess I will have to just state the obvious: There will almost always be a severe conflict between the needs and/or operations of the mining industry and the need to protect the environment, especially in relatively pristine areas where the Web of Life is already at a fragile state. Unfortunately, very few mining concerns bother with the niceties of keeping their operations sustainable while at the same time taking steps to avoid degrading the environment they work in. Among the more serious problems that environmental activists accuse some miners of are: the clear-cutting of new and old growth trees to provide a venue for their facilities; the violation of the rights of settlers in the lands to which they have mining claims; the disposal of mine tailings directly into adjoining rivers or land; the lack of proper safety mechanisms to protect the lives of those working the mines; etc. Most good mines, by their nature, are located in mid or highland areas. Clear-cutting results in the loss of precious topsoil and the many flash-floods that the lowlands are subject to precisely because there is no longer any soil to absorb the water from strong rainfalls. Clear-cutting also destroys animal and floral habitats, rendering many a precious site useless to future generations of Filipinos. Worse yet, is the combination of clear-cutting and strip mining, especially if the place is left as is by a predatory mining concern. Fortunately, there seems to be a solution to the problem caused by the degradation of the mining areas. I read somewhere -- but canât seem to locate the article I set aside -- about a microbe that manages to break downs the degraded areas over time and converts them into places that can once again sustain life. Much like the way wet garbage and other waste can be converted into useful natural fertilizer and topsoil. Mine tailings that find their way into streams and rivers end up poisoning everything they touch along the way until they are finally deposited along the shorelines where rivers empty. The poisons used in mining operations and other residues end up killing many forms of life in the lowland and marine foreshore areas. If we follow closely the theory about life having started at the waterâs edge, we probably can fathom why the destruction of these marine and brackish water habitats will mean not only the loss of a lot of marine life, but also the livelihoods of many people. Every now and then we hear of a corporation setting up its operations in a remote area, and then proceeding to stake its claim and dominance over the area by kicking out the people who may have already settled in said area. This inevitable conflict between residential and human rights versus the right given to an entity to extract mineral resources is one that is played over and over again, usually to the detriment of the settlers. It is not surprising, therefore, to see Church elements take the cudgels for the aggrieved parties in consonance with the teaching regarding the Preferential Option for the Poor. That is why those few mine operations that adhere to environmental standards and maintain a decent human rights regime deserve not just our applause but also our gratitude for their concern for the long term welfare of the planet and the people who live in it. Thus, mining operations and economic development CAN exist side by side with environmental sustainability, but it takes a lot of doing. And will most likely cost more, but will be more rewarding both for a mining corporation and its various publics over time.
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