Mining corporations sweeping globe in search of profits, devastating landbases and communities

By John Vidal / The Guardian

The global mining, oil and gas industries have expanded so fast in the last decade they are now leading to large-scale “landgrabbing” and threatening farming and water supplies, according to a report by environment and development groups in Europe, Africa and India.

“The catalogue of devastation is growing. We are no longer talking about isolated pockets of destruction and pollution. In just 10 years, iron ore production has more than doubled, coal has risen 45% and metals like lithium by 125%. Across Africa, Latin America and Asia, more and more lands, rivers and aquifers are being devoured by mining activities.

“Industrial wastelands are being formed by vast open-pit mines and mountain top removal, and the poisoning of water systems, deforestation, and the contamination of topsoil,” says the report by the Gaia foundation and groups including Friends of the Earth International, Grain, Oilwatch and Navdanya in India.

The dramatic increase in large-scale mining, clearly seen in places such as the Amazon for gold and oil, India’s tribal forest lands for bauxite, South Africa for coal and Ghana for gold, is being fuelled by the rising price of metals and oil. These have acted as an incentive to exploit new areas and less pure deposits, says the report.

“Technologies are becoming more sophisticated to extract materials from areas which were previously inaccessible, uneconomic or designated of ‘lower’ quality,” it says. “That means more removal of soil, sand and rock and the gouging out of much larger areas of land, as seen with the Alberta tar sands in Canada.”

Economies are getting better at reducing the intensity of the use of raw materials but the sheer increase in their absolute consumption is now staggering, say the authors. According to the US Mineral Information Institute, the average American will use close to 1,300 tonnes of minerals in a lifetime. Global energy demand, which is based largely on fossil fuels, is expected to increase 35% by 2030, according to oil firm Exxon.

Africa is the epicentre of the mining industry’s search for minerals. Of the 10 biggest mining deals to be completed last year, seven were in Africa, according to Ernst & Young. Mining group Anglo American has earmarked $8bn (£5bn) for new platinum, diamond, iron ore and coal projects on the continent, and Brazil’s Vale has said it plans to spend more than $12bn over the next five years in Africa.

According to the Economist magazine, Ernst & Young recently suggested that southern African countries such as Botswana, Mozambique and Namibia were becoming increasingly attractive mining destinations.

China, which has invested heavily in African mines, now sucks up much of the world’s mineral resources. According to the report, it uses 53% of the world’s cement, 47% of its iron ore, 46% of its coal and more than 40% of the world’s steel, lead, zinc and aluminium. However, it re-exports much of this in the form of finished products for world markets.

The loss of enormous quantities of soil, and the eviction of people to make way for large-scale extraction now threaten to make millions of people landless and hungry, a recipe for social problems, says the report.

Water could well be a factor in limiting the extraction of minerals in future. Most mining companies have said they are already experiencing shortages. If demand continues to grow at the same rate that it has in the last decade, industry demands for fresh water are expected to grow from 4,500bn cubic metres today to 6,900bn cubic metres in 2030.

“Humans have almost cleared the surface of the earth. Now all efforts are geared towards going beneath the surface. Large-scale mining is now targeting all parts of the planet,” said Gathuri Mburu, co-ordinator of the African Biodiversity Network.

From The Guardian:

3 thoughts on “Mining corporations sweeping globe in search of profits, devastating landbases and communities”

  1. To my way of thinking mining products are everywhere and represent 90/95 percent of the things we use every day. Pretending to stop mining is not an option, unless we want to go back directly to the caves, including this blog
    But just as we have lately seen the outcome of clean energies in contradistinction to the old “dirty” fossil energies, mining should follow a similar process. To think that this is not possible today is a mistake.
    There are indeed some (not many yet) mining companies who give up part of their benefits for the environment and the host societies protection. They employ techniques that do not waste water (closed systems in which only evaporation affects), do not use any chemicals and replenish the areas of operation in its original state, leaving them eligible, after the temporary interference of the mining works, for other uses as agriculture and livestock.
    Also this “new” mining is sustainable because it does not exhaust the ores (precisely because they do not use chemicals) leaving the door open to the exploitation of the left resources by future societies, with more advanced technologies and technically capable of developing mining projects even more environmentally friendly than the current are.
    What I mean is that you can’t put in the same box everyone.
    Ecology is no longer exclusive patrimony of a few (NGO’s or Environment Ministries), but begins to flourish within companies whose members at all levels have been taught to respect the environment since childhood.
    So instead “NO MINING”, let’s say “YES TO CLEAN MINING”
    Supporting this type of new companies will be setting an example to others that are really causing irreversible damage to the environment, and the message will be less hypocritical and will get through sooner and farther…

  2. Obviously the way we are living requires huge amounts of mining. But I would say that what isn’t an option is to allow it, and the dominant way of life in general, to continue. The planet cannot take the abuse it is taking right now, and will wither and die if we continue on that course. And we will die with her. What you are saying is in effect, “Our material standard of living is non-negotiable”. But of course it is, and if we don’t start those negotiations soon, if we continue to make war on the planet, it’s Mother Earth that will win it, not the dominant culture.

    As for clean energies, they are a myth. Solar power requires troves of rare earth minerals that just don’t exist. Wind power requires oil-based lubricants, and has been said to be as polluting as gas-power due to intermittency. Hydro power, beyond killing rivers, produces carbon emissions and methane. Then there is hydrogen, that popular buzzword among technotopians. According to Technology Review, in the US it would require 230,000 tons of hydrogen per day to replace the current systems. Even if all the necessary infrastructure was replaced, which is impossible at this point, because governments are insolvent and will soon be unable to merely maintain roads, and because oil prices are increasing, it would take twice the total level of energy production simply to cut the water to produce it. And then of course there are “biofuels”, some of which are worse than the tar sands, and even you ignore the emissions entirely burn energy that needs to be recycled into the earth to keep the soil from dying.

    I don’t know enough about mining to say what standards are technically feasible. Frankly, I don’t care, because the overwhelming majority of mining that is being done is clogging rivers with tailings, polluting aquifers, and waging war against the poor and indigenous peoples whose land is being coveted by mining companies and their greed for profit. Those of us in the rich parts of the world take the benefits, and those in the poor parts of the world take the abuse. And frankly whatever gains we take from mining are far more trivial than the losses the global poor are taking, and that we are taking as a secondary consequence. And even if you believe that “clean mining” isn’t a contradiction in terms, you should at least accept that most of what mining is being done is being done in a colonial and environmentally devastating fashion. If you do believe that it is technically possible to mine more cleanly, then you should be doubly angry at the way it is being done for the most part, because what that means is these corporations are deliberately selecting more destructive methods because it maximizes their profit margins.

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