Editor’s Note; It is important to understand the difference between a reform and a revolution in any political movement. A reform aims to tweak some aspects of the system to make it more equitable, fair and just. A revolution, on the other hand, changes the overall structure of the system. DGR, as a radical environmental and a radical feminist organization, believes that reforms are not enough in a system that is inherently rooted in oppression and injustice. We believe that a revolution is necessary to remove that deep rooted structural violence. However, we also understand that a revolution requires political organizing at a much larger scale. While we are working on building that political movement, the natural world is being destroyed. Till then, something needs to be done to protect the pieces of natural world that we have left, no matter how small. That is where reforms contribute. We understand the perseverance and diligence it takes to bring about any reform and appreciate those who are working on it. Below is the story of such a movement. Though originally designed to be much more protective of nature and indigenous people, the mining laws in Mexico were modified to be much less than that by the time they were passed. The US is still ruled by the Mining Law of 1872.
Reforms to Mexico’s mining law limit harmful practices by extractive industries and improve protections for the environment and Indigenous peoples. But they’re also a far cry from the change activists had been hoping for.
Under the new reform, Indigenous communities will receive 5% of a mining operation’s profits. The maximum lifespan of mining concessions is also reduced from 100 years to 80.
Concessions will no longer be granted in areas with water shortages or in protected areas. Currently, there are 1,671 mining concessions in 70 protected areas in Mexico, spreading across 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) of preserved land.
MEXICO CITY — A major reform approved by congress last week is supposed to limit harmful practices by the mining industry and improve protections for the environment and Indigenous peoples. But some parts of the reform faced strong resistance from pro-business interests, resulting in a watered-down version that some environmentalists said doesn’t go far enough.
The reform, originally introduced by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at the end of March, was designed to make it harder for private companies to obtain mining concessions without accounting for impacts on surrounding ecosystems and local communities.
It establishes free and prior consent as a requirement for mining concessions, meaning that companies must meet with residents to discuss the impacts of their projects before receiving permits. It also requires companies to restore the land once a mine closes.
But some of the most impactful components of the proposal were negotiated down. Payment to Indigenous communities living near mining operations was originally supposed to be 10% of mining profits but lawmakers reduced it to 5%.
There was also debate about the length of mining concessions, which the previous version of the law set at up to 100 years. Although the original reform proposal wanted to limit it to just 30 years, effectively preventing the companies from shaping entire regions for the long term, lawmakers ultimately settled on 80 years.
“These topics were suppressed or modified without justification and under pressure from the business interests that are responsible for social and environmental devastation,” Colectiva Cambiémosla Ya and Alliance for Free Determination and Autonomy, two mining activist groups, said in a statement ahead of the senate vote.
Deputy Ignacio Mier Velazco, from the state of Puebla — who explained that the reforms were changed to avoid risking investment and economic development — said he was confident the version that was passed would still improve oversight of the industry. Many activists in the region agreed, telling Mongabay the reforms were a victory that allowed for some positive change and a way forward for the continued fight against mining.
Mexico’s mining industry has experienced rapid growth since 1992, when the original mining law was passed. The country has become a top exporter of silver, zinc and other important minerals. In the 1980s, less than 1% of Mexican territory was under a mining concession. Now, it’s a little more than 8%, according to the president’s reform proposal.
Editor’s Note: Civilization is destructive. It endangers everyone in its quest for development, including vulnerable human communities. We stand in solidarity with all efforts by communities to protect themselves and the natural communities they live in. The following is a press release by Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network International (WECAN). You can find the original statement here.
USA, May 25, 2023 — Today, Indigenous women leaders from the Indigenous Women’s Treaty Alliance, joined by over 150 organizations, representing millions nationwide, submitted a letter to the Biden Administration with an emergency request to decommission Enbridge Line 5 pipeline due to imminent threats of oil spills impacting the Bad River Watershed and the Great Lakes.
Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline was originally built in 1953, and continues to operate nearly 20 years past its engineered lifespan, transporting crude oil through northern Wisconsin, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and under the Straits of Mackinac. The letter to President Biden and representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency follows the advocacy of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa who submitted a court filing in May calling for the shutdown of Line 5 after showing evidence that record snowfalls, and heavy rains and winds have further compromised the integrity of the pipeline.
Due to recent flooding, erosion of a local riverbank has led to Line 5’s centerline to be within 11 feet or less of the river waters, creating an immediate threat. The letter notes that erosion from receding waters or the next rainfall could cause a “guillotine rupture” – a vertical break causing oil to gush from both sides, poisoning the Bad River watershed and Lake Superior, impacting the Great Lakes region which holds one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water, and provides drinking water for 40 million people in North America.
The letter points to the significant harms an oil spill would have on waterways, ecosystems, wild rice beds, and clarifies how it directly undermines Indigenous rights and Indigenous Sovereignty:
“Imminent pipeline ruptures at the Bad River in Wisconsin and into the Straits of Mackinac threaten our drinking water, fisheries, manoomin and cultural survival…Our sovereignty and treaty-protected rights to hunt, fish, and gather food and medicine are all at risk.”
The signatories urge President Biden to revoke the Presidential Permit and force Enbridge to cease Line 5’s operations, pointing to the Administration’s climate directives and goals.
The letter comes from Indigenous women who are advocating to stop Line 5, and is endorsed by local and national groups representing Indigenous groups, environmental organizations, faith groups, and more. Please see quotes from the initiating signatories of the letter below:
Aurora Conley, Bad River Ojibwe, Anishinaabe Environmental Protection Alliance:
“As a Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe member, I am calling on the Biden Administration to shut down Line 5 immediately. Our territories and water are in imminent danger, and we do not want to see irreversible damage to our land, water, and wild rice. We do not want our lifeways destroyed. The Ojibwe people are here in Bad River because of the wild rice. A rupture from this oil spill will irreversibly harm the Great Lakes and wild rice beds. This is unacceptable. We will not stand for this. Shut down Line 5 now.”
Jannan J. Cornstalk, Citizen of Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, and Director of the Water is Life Festival:
“Our very lifeways and cultures hang in the balance as Line 5 continues to operate illegally in Indigenous territories and water. These are our lifeways– when that water is healthy enough that rice is growing– that not only benefits our communities, but that benefits everybody up and down stream. Allowing Line 5 to continue to operate is cultural genocide, and the Biden Administration must listen and shut down Line 5. That water is our relative, and we will do whatever it takes to protect our water, our sacred relative.”
Jaime Arsenault, White Earth Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer:
“We are urging the Biden Administration to revoke its Presidential Permit and shut down Line 5. We saw a multitude of preventable environmental tragedies occur in Minnesota with the destruction brought by Line 3. As a result – wild rice, watersheds, traditional lifeways and the wellbeing of Indigenous communities are still under constant threat. Right now, the Biden Administration has the opportunity to protect waterways, rice watersheds and lands threatened by a rupture of Line 5. Honor the treaties and the leadership of Tribes, and shut down Line 5.”
Rene Ann Goodrich, Bad River Tribal Elder, Native Lives Matter Coalition and Wisconsin Department of Justice MMIW Task Force Member:
“Line 5 crosses over tribal treaty territory and one of those ceded territories is my own reservation of Bad River. So the age of the pipeline, the danger that it brings to the environment is our biggest concern here. We have that need, we have that responsibility, we have that duty to protect our life givers. Our life givers are the earth, the aquifers underneath the earth, the women that are sacred water carriers, and water itself that brings life. As sacred water carriers we stand with the water, and urge the Biden Administration to take action and shut down Line 5 immediately.”
Carrie Chesnik, Oneida Nation Wisconsin, Founder of the Treaty Land Trust:
“We have an opportunity here to shut down the Line 5 pipeline, and protect what we all hold dear. We all have the responsibility and agency to act in a good way, to care for the land and waters. What our communities have known for a long time is that the water is hurting, Mother Earth is hurting, and pretty soon we won’t have clean water for our kids, for future generations. As a Haudenosunee woman, an auntie, daughter, and sister, I have an inherent responsibility to the water and our children. Every single one of us has agency and a responsibility to take action, honor the treaties, and protect Mother Earth. It is the time to be brave and courageous.”
Gaagigeyaashiik – Dawn Goodwin, Gaawaabaabiganigaag, White Earth-Ojibwe, Co-founder of R.I.S.E. Coalition, Representative of Indigenous Environmental Network:
“As a member of the Wolf Clan I have an inherent responsibility to protect the environment and the people. I want us to imagine a world where we are working as one team as we should be working together. The government has failed to protect the water in the past, yet there is an opportunity now to protect the water before irreparable damage occurs. Our treaties are being ignored and yet, treaties are the SUPREME LAW of the land. It is time to honor and respect the treaties as the supreme law of the land, as they were written and intended, and to listen to Tribes and Indigenous leaders calling for an immediate shut down to the Line 5 pipeline. We are the women of the Indigenous Women’s Treaty Alliance calling upon you to rise and to protect all that is sacred – shut down Line 5!”
Nookomis Debra Topping, Nagajiiwanong, 1854 Treaty Fond du Lac, Co-founder of R.I.S.E. Coalition:
“Nibi (water) is sacred, Manoomin is sacred, that is our life blood, that is us, that is why we are here. We will not allow any further destruction to our sacred ecosystems and water. Everyday the threat increases, allowing Canadian Corporation Enbridge’s Line 5 to continue operating is genocide! We’ve followed every process, Tribes and the Governor of Michigan have called for a shut down of Line 5. The science is there, the evidence is there. Deny Enbridge any further allowance to destroy Mama Aki (Earth), and shut down Line 5.”
Since 2022, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) has been honored to facilitate the Indigenous Women’s Treaty Alliance. In response to the call for action, Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) stated: “The Bad River Band continues to sound the alarm, and the Biden administration must listen and immediately shut down Line 5. The imminent danger of a rupture to Line 5 due to increased erosion on the Bad River threatens Indigenous Peoples existence and rights, biodiverse ecosystems, and the Great Lakes, which holds one-fifth of the world’s freshwater. The Administration has the necessary tools to cease operations, and must take action before it’s too late. The Great Lakes and local communities cannot be the next sacrifice zone.”
A criminal slips a police officer a handful of bills and walks free. A businessman buys a politician with a briefcase full of cash. We often think of bribery and corruption in these blatant terms, and as something that happens in poor countries, elsewhere.
But corruption often looks different.
In the United States, where I live, corruption is common. It’s also mostly legal.
In fact, dirty money has become part of the political fabric of our nation. It has become normalized, institutionalized, and even regulated. And yet, the effects of this corruption are just as insidious and destructive as blatant payoffs. Corruption is a rot in our political system, and it is spreading.
This article is about American corruption, but the story will be told by looking at one particular Canadian mining company called Lithium Americas, which is working in the United States through a wholly-owned U.S.-based subsidiary, Lithium Nevada Corporation.
For two and a half years, I’ve been fighting Lithium Nevada to stop them from destroying Thacker Pass — a biodiversity hotspot and Native American sacred site known Peehee Mu’huh in the Paiute language that is in northern Nevada, just shy of the Oregon border. Lithium Nevada, as you have probably guessed, wants to turn this place into an open-pit lithium mine.
This is a special place. Thacker Pass is home to dwindling sage-grouse, Pronghorn, mule deer, and golden eagles. It’s a migratory corridor and climate change refuge. It’s the watershed for local communities, and the site of two massacres of Paiute people, including one on September 12, 1865 in which US Army soldiers killed between 30 and 50 men, women, children, and elders in a surprise attack at dawn. It’s been recognized by the Federal Government as a “Traditional Cultural District,” a landscape of outstanding importance to Native American history and cultural identity.
And right now, as you read this, it is being destroyed by a corrupt corporation and a corrupt government. Bulldozers are rolling and centuries-old sagebrush, millennia-old artifacts, and the lives of precious desert creatures are being crushed under metal treads.
How is this possible? How, in a democracy where people have the right to protest, to speak out, to comment, to petition, to file lawsuits, how is it possible to have such a miscarriage of justice? And more broadly, how is it possible that our governmental system is failing to address the ecological catastrophe we are facing: the 6th mass extinction of life on Earth?
Part of the answer is corruption, which we can break down into five categories: lobbying, writing laws, the revolving door, campaign contributions, and community bribery. Let’s look at each in turn, using Lithium Americas and Thacker Pass as an example.
Lobbying: How Corporations Gain Disproportionate Access
Lobbying is based on a simple principle: that government officials should listen to their constituents.
Transparency International defines lobbying as “Any activity carried out to influence a government or institution’s policies and decisions in favor of a specific cause or outcome.”
“Even when allowed by law,” they say, “these acts can become distortive [harmful to democracy and justice] if disproportionate levels of influence exist — by companies, associations, organizations and individuals.”
Today’s lobbying is not the simple practice of people talking to their elected officials. Instead, it’s a tightly regulated $3.73 billion industry dominated by political insiders and major corporations, rife with corrupt “revolving doors,” and matched by at least $3-4 billion in “shadow lobbying” that isn’t regulated or disclosed to the public in any way.
The regulation of lobbying is essential to its proper functioning as a method of corruption. As Ben Price, National Organizing Director at the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, puts it, “regulation is not so much a way to curb corruption, but more to the point, regulations legalize the corruption by defining the limits to it that will be disallowed.”
“In doing so,” he continues, “the principle effect of regulations is to shield bribery from legal liability by legalizing enough of it to serve the purpose of the corporate legislative influencers.”
Like advertising, corporations use lobbying because it works.
Studies have found that spending more money on lobbying and campaign contributions results in direct reductions in federal taxes, state taxes, and more federal contracts. One analysis looking at only the nation’s 200 most “politically active” corporations found they spent $58 billion on lobbying the federal government and “campaign contributions”[i] between 2007 and 2012, but received $4.4 trillion in federal subsidies, contracts, and other support during the same time period. That’s a 7,580% return on investment.
Another study found even bigger returns: “on average, for every dollar spent on influencing politics, the nation’s most politically active corporations received $760 from the government” — a 76,000% payout.
Corporations are Writing Our Laws
Corporations use lobbyists because their wealth allows them disproportionate access to the government, meaning that they can build relationships with politicians and staffers, influence policy, share ideas, and even draft legislation. They can also bribe judges, as the recent Clarence Thomas corruption scandal shows. But it goes further. As one report in NPR notes, “It’s taken for granted that lobbyists influence legislation. But perhaps less obvious is that they often write the actual bills — even word for word.”
Our laws are being written by corporations.
And this isn’t just a federal problem. A 2019 USA Today investigation found more than 10,000 bills introduced to legislatures in all 50 states over an 8-year period were “almost entirely copied from bills written by special interests.” The report also notes that their investigation detected these bills using automated techniques, and “the real number is probably far higher.”
Our politicians rarely write laws. Instead, corporations and lobbyists write laws; congress sells the laws to the public; then lobbyists pay their congresspeople in campaign contributions, Super PAC funding, and revolving-door job opportunities – topics we will look at next.
The Revolving Door
Another way that corruption has become endemic inside the government of the United States is through what’s known as the “revolving door.”
The revolving door refers to the common practice of corporate employees quitting their jobs and going to work in the government, and vice versa. It’s quite common for government employees and elected officials to quit or end their terms and immediately get jobs in the industries they were supposedly regulating.
This is a sort of “retroactive bribery” where government officials do what corporations want, then get paid off afterwards. And it’s completely legal.
Occasionally there will be stories of lobbyists who stray into outright bribery — Jack Abramoff, notably — but these stories are rare, not because corruption is uncommon, but becauseyou don’t really need to break the law as a corporation: you wrote the laws. And you did it deliberately to make your bribery and influence campaigns legal.
As of 2016, about half of retiring senators and a third of retiring House Representatives register as lobbyists to collect their checks. This is equally common among Democrats and Republicans.
Lithium Nevada Corporation’s Lobbying Activities (the ones we know about)
Harbinger is “a leading federal government and political affairs firm” that was founded by and employs former high-level Republican congressional aides and political operatives. They have been listed as among the top lobbyists in Washington D.C. and made a total of $10.9 million in 2021 from a client list which includes the airline industry, major banks and investment firms, mining companies, biotech, the military-industrial complex, Facebook, electric utilities, General Electric, and the oil and gas industry.
“We leverage our experience as former senior staff to the Congressional Leadership and the Executive Branch to position clients for a seat at the decision-making table,” they write on their website. They continue: “[Harbinger is] founded on the belief that every client deserves partner-level legislative expertise” — a “boutique model” — that they use “for one simple reason: it gets results.”
In the state of Nevada, Lithium Nevada Corporation has hired at least 4 lobbyists since 2017 from two businesses: Argentum Partners, “a full-service strategic communications firm… with a hungry, energetic, and experienced team of lobbyists,” and Ferrato Corporation, “a full service bi-partisan public affairs firm.”
Notably, Lithium Nevada’s Argentum lobbyists included Mike Draper, who “helmed the media relations and public affairs for the planning, permitting, construction and opening of the Ruby Pipeline, the largest natural gas pipeline in North America.” The Ruby Pipeline was fought vehemently by environmentalists and Tribes in 2009 and 2010.
Another technique of legalized corruption is “campaign contributions,” also known as donations to politicians.
Many countries in the world place strict limits on the amount of money that people can donate to political candidates, or even have political campaigns funded by the government, removing the influence of money almost entirely. The United States is not one of those countries.
Elected officials in the United States are desperate for money. The average U.S. senator has to rase $14,000 a day just to stay in office — and that’s once they’re already elected. This is true for both Democrats and Republicans, which is why corporations, both directly and through their lobbyists and employees, tend to play both sides by donating to both political parties.
For example, Jonathan Evans, CEO of Lithium Americas Corporation, donated at least $10,250 to political candidates between 2021 and 2022 including Catherine Cortez Mastow (Democratic Senator from Nevada) and Mark Amodei (Nevada’s Republican Governor). George Ireland, Board President of Lithium Americas, has donated at least $19,800 to candidates since 2011, including $500 to the Trump campaign and $6,600 to John Hickenlooper. Data from OpenSecrets.org shows that 7 other Lithium Americas employees, Board members, and associated parties gave at least another $10,819 to political candidates between 2018 and 2022.
These amounts don’t include the MUCH larger political contributions given by employees and family members of Harbinger Strategies, who gave $392,842 to political candidates in the 2020 election cycle alone.
Many of these people donated up to the legal limit, implying that if the limit were higher, they would give more money — and perhaps that they would seek ways to circumvent contribution limits via so-called “Super PACs” and other dark money techniques.
Keep in mind that less than 1.5% of Americans donate more than $200 to political candidates or parties in any given year. This is the domain of the wealthy.
Lithium Americas money is well-spent.
In what appears to be a quid pro quo for their lobbying and campaign contributions, Lithium Americas Corporation has been granted a total of $8,637,357 in tax abatements from the State of Nevada, including a partial sales tax abatement worth $5 million, a $3.3 million property tax abatement and about $225,000 in payroll tax abatements. That money is unavailable for schools, healthcare, social services, small business assistance, environmental programs, etc.
From the Federal Government, Lithium Americas has received a loan from the Department of Energy’s “Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program” (ATVM) which is likely to cover “up to 75% of the Thacker Pass’ total capital costs for construction.”
This loan program offers highly favorable terms that amount to a significant subsidy of as much as $3 billion USD.
Based on a very conservative estimate for Lithium Americas Corporation lobbying and employee campaign contribution of, say, $400,000, they’re looking at a return on investment of 2,100% — and that’s before including the massive financial value of the ATVM loan.
Corruption in politics is often matched with corruption at a local level.
Lithium Americas’ plans to destroy Thacker Pass have created serious community opposition among farmers and ranchers from the rural areas closest to Thacker Pass, among local citizens in the nearby town of Winnemucca, among environmental groups concerned about impacts to wildlife, plants, air, and water, and among Native American tribes concerned about their sacred and culturally important sites, animals, and medicines.
The response has been predictable. Anti-mining activist Joan Kuyek’s book Unearthing Justice: How to Protect Your Community From The Mining Industry describes the myths repeated incessantly by Lithium Americas and almost every mining company:
“The mine will create hundreds of jobs and enrich governments.”
The mine can make community members rich and solve all of their social and economic problems.”
“Modern engineering will ensure that the mine doesn’t damage the water, air, or the wildlife.”
When these myths are exposedasfalse, they resort to legalized bribery. At Thacker Pass, that takes the form of Lithium Americas Corporation paying for a new school for the community of Orovada, and signing an agreement with one local Tribal Councilwoman for construction of a cultural center. One tribal member, my friend Shelley Harjo, wrote in response: “A few promised buildings and a cultural center do not supersede the responsibility we have to our ancestors before us nor our obligation to our unborn after.” Another Tribal leader in the region says of the mining companies, “They take advantage of our poverty.”
That poverty gives the mining companies serious leverage. Among community members at Fort McDermitt, rumors of bribery are common.
Lithium Americas’ Involvement in Human Rights Abuses Overseas
Lithium Americas has deep business links and personnel overlaps with Chinese state-owned mining corporation Ganfeng Lithium (the largest lithium company in the world). In fact, Ganfeng and Lithium Americas are co-owners of an Argentinian lithium mining company known as Minera Exar.
The Minera Exar mining project is located in the Andean highlands in the so-called “lithium triangle,” an arid region near the borders of Chile and Bolivia. Over the years that Minera Exar has been active in the region, they — like other lithium mining companies in the area — have come under criticism for serious environmental and human rights abuses.
“Mining companies have for years been extracting billions of dollars of lithium from the Atacama region… But the impoverished Atacamas have seen little of the riches… one lithium company, a joint Canadian-Chilean venture named Minera Exar, struck deals with six aboriginal communities for a new mine here. The operation is expected to generate about $250 million a year in sales while each community will receive an annual payment — ranging from $9,000 to about $60,000 — for extensive surface and water rights.
The exposé continues:
“Yolanda Cruz, one of the leaders of the village in Argentina, said she signed the [community benefits agreement with Minera Exar] but now regrets it. At the time she valued the opportunity to create jobs for her village. But she now worries, ‘we are going to be left with nothing.’ she said. ‘The thing is the companies are lying to us —that’s the reality. And we sometimes just keep our mouths shut,’ she said. ‘We don’t say anything and then we are the affected ones when the time goes by.’”
Meanwhile, Ganfeng Lithium recently announced plans to mine for battery metals in the Xinjiang region of China, where the Chinese Government has detained and imprisoned Uyghyrs and other Muslim groups in forced labor and indoctrination camps.
Waste of Government Funds
We are being told the main goal of lithium mining at Thacker Pass is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is another lie, a new type of corporate greenwashing which is becoming increasingly common. In fact, many analyses actually find that the emissions reductions from switching to electric vehicles are relatively minor.
Producing a single electric car releases greenhouse gas emissions—about 9 tons on average. This average is rising as the size of electric cars is going up substantially. The more electric cars are produced, the more greenhouse gases are released. And so while EVs reduce emissions compared to gasoline vehicles, bigger EVs don’t reduce them much. Analysis from the Center For Interdisciplinary Environmental Justice says that electrification of cars in the United States will reduce national emissions by only 6 percent.
Further, producing lithium at Thacker Pass would require 700,000 tons per year of oil refining byproducts — sulfur, perhaps largely sourced from the Alberta Tar sands. While Thacker Pass receives billions in subsidies from the government, carbon emissions are continuing to rise.
Environmental activist Paul Hawken, as another example, doesn’t put electric cars in his top 10 climate solutions. In fact, it’s number 24 on his list, with almost ten times less impact than reducing food waste, nearly six times less impact than eliminating the use of refrigerants which are powerful greenhouse gases, and behind solutions like tropical rainforest restoration (about 5 times as effective at reducing emissions as is switching to EVs) and peatland protection (more than twice as effective).
Corruption and waste go hand-in-hand. The data makes it clear that if reducing greenhouse gases is your goal, subsidizing the Thacker Pass lithium mine is not a good use of government funds. It’s wasteful.
If you actually want to allocate government funds to effectively halt global warming, giving money to extractive industries is the exact wrong thing to do.
Instead, start with women’s rights, educating girls, and making contraception and family planning widely available. Start with economic relocalization initiatives. Start with insulating homes properly, which may have the biggest immediate carbon impact per dollar spent. Start with demand-reduction initiatives.
Stop wasting taxpayer money on subsidies to Earth-destroying corporations, and start taking actions that really matter.
The Banality of Evil
Lithium Americas’ corruption reminds me of what political philosopher Hannah Arendt called “The Banality of Evil.” Writing of Otto Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi officer who was one of the major organizers of the Holocaust, Arendt explains that Eichmann felt no guilt; indeed, he never even considered that what he was doing might be wrong: “He did his ‘duty’…; he not only obeyed ‘orders’, he also obeyed the ‘law’.”
As one article states, “[Eichmann] performed evil deeds without evil intentions, a fact connected to his ‘thoughtlessness’, a disengagement from the reality of his evil acts. Eichmann ‘never realised what he was doing’ due to an ‘inability… to think from the standpoint of somebody else’. Lacking this particular cognitive ability, he ‘commit crimes under circumstances that made it well-nigh impossible for him to know or to feel that he [was] doing wrong’.”
Lithium Americas is not killing people en masse, nor are they even among the “worst” mining companies. They may even be acting completely within the boundaries of the law. And yet they are complicit in cultural genocide, in ecological destruction for personal gain, and in what may be an even bigger crime against the future: greenwashing their destruction as positive and thus creating more financial and political incentives for more of this madness.
They believe that what they are doing is right and they are “following the rules.”
The corruption at Thacker Pass is not unique. Lobbying, campaign contributions, greenwashing, and community bribery is common in the United States and across much of the world. I believe there is likely much more corruption that we are not aware of. Perhaps there really are briefcases full of cash being exchanged. We can only speculate. And, this article has not even begun to discuss the government complicity in lawbreaking, corruption, and ethical violations at Thacker Pass — a story that is, in some ways, even more sordid.
All of which is part of why academic analyses of the United States tend to show “economic-elite domination” rather than true electoral democracy or pluralism. The wealthy are running our country (and indeed, the world) Our government is corrupt, corporations are running rampant, and our world is being destroyed.
For many, the situation we find ourselves in is paralyzing. What can do in the face of this?
When I first came out to begin protecting Thacker Pass and setup a protest camp on the planned mine site in the depths of winter 2021, I had no illusions. I knew that the courts weren’t likely to save us. Remember, the laws were written by corporations. I knew that public commenting wasn’t going to work; the regulations are written to favor corporate interests. I knew that the government wasn’t going to help, since the politicians are mostly bought and paid for. I even knew that standard methods of protest would likely be ineffective, given the repression tactics and divide-and-conquer strategies that have been honed over centuries by corporations and colonizers.
As a society, we find ourselves in the midst of the 6th mass extinction event, a global climate catastrophe, and seemingly terminal overshoot. And as an environmental movement, despite our brave and inspired action, it has not been enough.
Whether you agree that this is needed or not, we can all agree that what we are doing isn’t working. I don’t have all the answers. But what I do know is that it’s time to go further.
This article was originally published on Earth Day 2023. Since then, there have been developments in Thacker Pass. Direct action has been able to halt mine construction for the moment. Read more about it here.
Featured image: Resistance in Thacker Pass by Max Wilbert
Editor’s Note: For a long time, natural landscapes have been destroyed in the name of development. “Development” – a vague concept in itself – is the primary driver of destruction and ecocide across the world. Same thing is happening in the beautiful Gozo island of Malta. But it’s not happening without resistance. Some local groups are fighting for their land. This piece is written by a member of resistance against the development. In addition to the brief overview of the “developmental” project, this piece is also a fundraising appeal from the group.
By Corrine Zahra
Malta is an archipelago country made up of five islands in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. This country is rich in culture and history, with a native language and multiple dialects. Being such a small country with an area of about 316 km², overdevelopment is on the rise.
Residents from a small town called Nadur in Gozo are fighting against a development called PA/00085/21. Located in a one-way countryside road called Qortin Street, this major development was a big deal in the Maltese news since it consisted of 40 apartments and 11 penthouses – over four floors, as well as 61 parking spaces.
Gozo is a beautiful island that forms part of the Maltese Islands which is under threat. Unsustainable overdevelopment is taking place! The residents had created a video two years ago which helped them to collect objections from the public.
This proposal got approved a few months ago anyways, in which the residents as well as the NGOs Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar (Together for Better Environment) and Moviment Graffitti are now trying to take the Maltese Planning Authority to court to reverse this decision.
This development will eat away at precious farmland, causing sewage to run into farmers’ crops and the water table as well as causing massive parking issues, along with posing safety issues.
This development will completely change the landscape of the area. The street consists of small houses with a maximum of three stories each. Next door to the development, there currently exists a block of apartments yet only has 15 apartments in total – very few compared to the amount proposed by the applicant. Once the virgin land is destroyed, the view of Nadur and Qala will be destroyed too.
In the early mornings, while walking in my street, I can smell the freshness and feel the water droplets in the air. This countryside street full of vegetation and raw soil will be destroyed to build apartments which do not belong there. The number is out of proportion to the rest of the developments in the street. Qortin Street is a quiet street with few residents, yet with this new building, there will be a parking problem and a cultural shift as the buyers will not be people from Gozo but mainland Maltesers.
If this development does get built, I do plan to move away from Gozo. I do not want to see the development – I do not want my image of Qortin Street to change. It’s a shame that this development will change Gozitan culture – this is happening all over Gozo. I will gain nothing out of fighting for this land; I do not own any of the land which is going to be destroyed and I will not get any money out of this too. I simply want my street to remain calm and quiet and relaxing – I want to preserve the land and the peace of mind that it gives me.
The residents and NGOs had managed to get 1300+ objections, yet in spite of this, PA/00085/21 was still approved. However, they are still fighting and now they need YOUR help!
The residents created another video to help get local donations yet are now trying to reach out to international organizations to help their cause. Kindly find their crowdfunding video here.
They hope that you can help their cause to stop this monstrosity of a development from being built. Help save Malta and Gozo from overdevelopment. No one wants Malta to turn into a concrete jungle – this has already started and they want to prevent that.
It is imperative that citizens enjoy their right to a good quality of life, preserving the countryside and iconic views for future generations.
Please help the residents appeal through the EPRT and if necessary through the Courts of Appeal, by donating here.
All donations will cover the costs of their legal team who have already done incredible work in fighting this case at the Planning Authority, but now they need your help to continue to fight this case in court.
Editor’s note: In order to fill the void of fossil fuel supplies caused by the Russia-Ukraine War, countries are opening their land for coal extraction. We recently covered the resistance in Lützerath, Germany. A similar story seems to be unraveling in Australia. The following piece, originally published in Public Eye, follows the tragic Aboriginal land grabbing by corporations spanning two continents. Despite local resistance and vigil for over 400 days, the mines have not yet been stopped.
With the war in Ukraine forcing Europe to seek alternatives to Russian fossil fuels, Australia is opening dozens of coal mines – and sacrificing its natural and cultural heritage in the process. Local authorities are invoking the consequences of the European war to get projects approved, despite the fact that behind the scenes it is the interests of Glencore and Adani – both based in Switzerland – that are ultimately at play.
In remote areas of Queensland, Aboriginal people and environmentalists are organising resistance to the shovel-and-dynamite lobby, but are coming under increasing pressure from mining groups.
Ochre earth gets everywhere, as gritty as those who walk on it, omnipresent in the semi-desert landscape. A pale-yellow column of smoke – up to 50 metres high – stands out against the horizon. With no high ground to cause an echo, the blast from the deep scar of the Carmichael mine rings out with a sharp bang. The mine is located in the geological basin of Galilee, in the heart of Queensland in north-eastern Australia.
Coedie MacAvoy has witnessed this scene often. Born and raised in the region, the son of an Elder of the Wangan and Jagalingou people (a guardian of wisdom), the 30-year-old introduces himself with pride. He relates the number of days he has spent occupying the small plot of land situated just in front of the Adani Group’s concession, which the company wants to transform into one of the largest coal mines in the world. On this October afternoon, the count is at 406 days – the same number of days as the camp of the Waddananggu (meaning “discussion” in the Wirdi language) has existed.
This vigil was not enough to prevent the start of production last December, but it’s a big thorn in the side of the ambitious multinational. The company is controlled by the Indian billionaire Gautam Adani, who became the third richest man in the world (net worth USD 142.4 billion) thanks to booming coal prices (see below). In April 2020, he set up a commercial branch in Geneva with the aim of offloading its coal, and registered with a local fiduciary. According to Public Eye’s sources, Adani benefitted from the support of Credit Suisse, which enabled it to raise USD 27 million in bonds in 2020. After Coal India, Adani has the largest number of planned new coal mines (60) according to the specialist platform Global Coal Mine Tracker. Glencore occupies sixth position in this ranking with 37 planned.
Gautam Adani controls one third of India’s coal imports. As reported by The New Yorker in November 2022, the billionaire is well known in his own country too – for bulldozing villages and forests to dig gigantic coal mines.
In Waddananggu, the ceremonial flames of those known here as “traditional owners” have been burning since 26 August 2021. They are accompanied by various people who come and go; young climate and pro-Aboriginal activists, sometimes together with their children – around 15 people in total. Those who emerge from the tents and barricades to observe the thick column of smoke that is dispersing into the distance are told: “Don’t breathe that shit in!”.
The Austral protestors, the war and the billionaire
With sunburned shoulders, a feather in her felt hat covering her blond hair, Sunny films the cloud of dust moving away to the north-west, towards the surrounding crops and scattered cattle. Sunny denounces the destruction of Aboriginal artefacts that are as old as the hills, and is documenting all the blasts from this mine which – after around 15 years of legal wrangling – is expanding at top speed.
After two years of pandemic, coal mines are producing at full throttle to capitalise on historically high prices. Following the invasion of Ukraine on 24th February last year, Australian coal (the most suitable substitute for Russian coal in terms of quality) is selling at three times the average price of the past decade. Countries highly dependent on Russian fossil fuels, like Poland, have been begging Australia to increase its exports of thermal coal. In Queensland, the authorities even took advantage of the situation to support particularly unpopular projects, such as Adani’s.
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, 3.3 million tonnes of Australian coal have been exported to Europe, according to data provided to Public Eye by the specialist agency Argus Media. Close to half of these exports (1.4 million tonnes) was dispatched on 11 bulk carriers from the Abbot Point terminal, which opens onto the Coral Sea in the north-east of the country, and is also controlled by Adani.
Sunny is indignant: “They shouldn’t detonate when the wind is like this”, she says. “They shouldn’t do it at all – but even less so today!”
For Adani, the objective is to reach 10 million tonnes’ production until the end of 2022. If the group seems to be in a tearing hurry, it’s because its project was initially aiming to produce 60 million tonnes per year, transported 300 kilometres via a dual railway line to Abbot Point. This port is only a few dozen kilometres from the Great Barrier Reef: designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981, it is considered to be “endangered”, according to a report by UN experts published at the end of November 2022. From here, coal is loaded onto bulk carriers to be burned – primarily in Indian, Chinese and Korean power-plants – nearly 10,000 kilometres from there.
For Grant Howard, a former miner from the region of Mackay who spent 30 years working in the industry, the mine is an environmental and logistical aberration: “Carmichael only makes commercial sense because Adani owns all the infrastructure and makes the Indian population pay too much for energy”.
Grant became an environmentalist and withdrew to the “bush” to be closer to nature. He denounces this “anachronistic” project that is threatening to act as a Trojan Horse for other mega mining projects in the Galilee Basin, which had not been exploited until Gautam Adani’s teams arrived.
“People who continue to extract thermal coal don’t have a moral compass”, he laments.
Australia has the third-largest coal reserves in the world, enough to continue production for four centuries.
When contacted, Credit Suisse claims to be fulfilling its responsibilities in relation to climate change. “We recognise that financial flows should also be aligned with the objectives set by the Paris Agreement”, its media service states, providing assurances that, in 2021, the bank reduced its financial exposure to coal by 39 percent.
On the other hand, the spokesperson did not specify whether a client like Adani, which makes most of its revenues from coal and is planning to open new thermal coal mines, would be excluded from financing in the future. “The position of Credit Suisse in terms of sustainability is based on supporting our clients through the transition towards low-carbon business models that are resilient to climate change”, they explain.
The country’s bloody history
For Coedie MacAvoy, this is very much a personal affair. In support of the fight of his “old man” – his father Adrian Burragubba went bankrupt in legal proceedings against the multinational – he occupied the Carmichael site on his own in 2019 in order to “reclaim pieces of property” on his ancestral lands. In doing so he created a blockade against Adani’s construction teams. He survived two weeks of siege before the private security services completely cut off his supply lines.
The same man has led the rebellion since August 2021, but he is no longer alone. “I am contesting the basic right of the government to undertake a compulsory acquisition of a mining lease”, declares Coedie. With piercing green eyes, a rapper’s flow, and his totem tattooed on his torso, the rebel-looking, young man – who has an air of fight the power – is happy to continue the lineage of activists occupying the trees. “I’m not a greenie from inner Melbourne”, asserts the Aborigine.
The local Queensland government finally abolished native people’s land rights in 2019 in order to give them to the mining company, which has treated them like intruders ever since. However, following harsh opposition from Coedie and his father, they were vindicated by the courts, who gave them the right to occupy their land “to enjoy, maintain, control, protect and develop their identity and cultural heritage” provided that they don’t interfere with mining activity.
It’s a loophole in the law linked to this region’s bloody history, and to the conditions under which the land was acquired from the Aborigines. Coedie MacAvoy explains: “You know, the whites arrived in Clermont in 1860 at the time of my great-grand father. They basically shot all fighting-age males.” Aboriginal people were only included in the Australian population census in 1967. The Australian (federal) Constitution still doesn’t afford them specific rights. “We learned to wield the sword and use it to the best of our abilities. We opened Pandora’s Box”, Coedie MacAvoy maintains proudly. He kept the Irish name “borrowed” by his grandfather. Very much at ease like a tribal leader, he teaches the youngest generation Wirdi and dreams of creating an Esperanto of Aboriginal dialects, because “everything I say or do is recognised as a cultural act”. This enrages the Adani Group, which is determined to hold on to its mining concession, and frequently calls the police, though based nearly 180 kilometres away.
Public Eye witnessed how aggressive the multinational can be towards people who take an interest in its activities. During our investigation in the field, a private security services’ SUV followed us along the public road that leads to the mine, and filmed us getting out of the vehicle in front of the Waddananggu camp. Several hours later, a letter arrived by mail at Public Eye’s headquarters with an order to leave the area – “leave immediately and do not return” – and banning us from broadcasting the images filmed on site. The letter concluded by citing that a complaint had been filed with the local police and leaving no doubt as to the threat of legal proceedings.
Public Eye sent a detailed list of questions to Adani. The company did not wish to divulge any plans for its branch in Geneva or its ambitions for the development of the Carmichael mine, nor did it wish to discuss its attitude towards its critics. On the other hand, the multinational “completely” rejected our questions implying that its activities or businesses have acted in an irresponsible manner or contrary to applicable laws and regulations. “It is disappointing that Public Eye is using its privileged position as an organisation based in an extremely wealthy and developed country to seek to deprive the poorest people in the world from accessing the same reliable and affordable energy that advanced economies have been benefitting from for decades” concludes their response, sent by a spokesperson from the Australian branch of the company.
Yet, the data available to Public Eye shows that a substantial part of Adani’s coal production has been redirected towards ports in the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and the UK. Thus, not really the “poorest people in the world”.
The fight led by the Coedie family against the multinational may seem unbalanced. Both the federal and Queensland governments have rolled out the red carpet for mining companies, who given the historically high prices of coal must be bringing in AUD 120 billion (CHF 76 billion) in export revenues for 400 million tonnes of thermal coal (destined for electricity production) and metallurgical coal (for industrial use).
The Zug-based multinational Glencore is the largest mining company in the country with 15 mines (representing two-thirds of its production). With its Australian, Chinese and Japanese competitors, and the aforementioned Adani, it forms a powerful network of influence that has its own friends in the media and political circles. In Queensland, the coal lobby claims to contribute AUD 58.8 billion (over CHF 37 billion) to the local economy, along with 292,000 jobs, of which 35,000 are direct.
In June 2015, the former conservative Australian prime minister Tony Abbott described the Adani project as a “poverty-busting miracle that would put Australia on the path to becoming an energy superpower”. The Indian group obtained a tax break and an opaque years-long moratorium on its royalties. Under pressure, the authorities finally refrained from awarding a loan to the multinational to enable it to develop its railway line. In 2019, areport by the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis – a think tank examining questions linked to energy markets and policies – estimated the value of these “gifts” at over CHF 2.7 billion, a sum large enough to actually make the project viable.
In 2017, the journalist and tour operator Lindsay Simpson went to the homeland of Gautam Adani in the Indian state of Gujarat with a group of Australian activists. Their mission was to disrupt the company’s General Assembly and to intercept the Prime Minister of Queensland, Annastacia Palaszczuk, who was there on an official visit. Simpson told her:
The first meeting between Lindsay Simpson and the Adani Group dates back to 2013. Having acquired the Abbot Point terminal two years earlier, the Indian company wanted to increase its capacity through spectacular works undertaken directly in the Coral Sea. To do this, it sought to persuade the tourism sector to back a plan to dump three million cubic metres of dredged sediments directly in the sea. At the time, the former crime journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald had already switched to offering sailing cruises and refused to approve a related document, produced by Adani and endorsed by the Central Tourism Association, as she held the document to be made “against compensation”.
Today, Lindsay Simpson describes herself as an author of fiction and of 11 detective novels based on real crimes, “including that of Adani”:Adani, Following Its Dirty Footsteps (2018). In the book, she relates the kowtowing of local politicians to the Australian mining industry. Drawing a parallel between the colonialisation of Australia and its history of mining, she attacks the ongoing and hypocritical “tributes” paid to these “male working-class heroes in hard hats”.
Queensland’s first coal deposits were discovered in 1825, to the west of Brisbane, at a time when the region served as a penal colony for the British Crown. The large-scale exploitation of sedimentary rock that resulted, when the region became a free territory two decades later, fuelled the steamboats despatching the first colonisers.
In the “countries”, those rural areas located in the interior of Australia, the population continues to depend on these jobs, which constitute an almost exclusive source of income, along with agriculture. In the villages of Collinsville, Clermont or Emerald – where several of Glencore’s mines are located – the obstructionism of environmentalists and of defenders of Aboriginal rights is more readily criticised than the impact of extractivism. The arrival of journalists is rarely viewed positively and few agree to speak with a media outlet “whose agenda they don’t share”.
Making a living for the kids
Luke Holmes is an exception. However, bumping into him while he was watching his herd on his quadbike, he insists on the need to create jobs: “The kids need to be able to continue to work. You won’t become a doctor here.” He spits out his chewing tobacco; his two dogs panting in the background. Luke himself spent some 15 years working for a mining company, which enabled him to put aside the funds needed to purchase enough land to live off. Entry-level salaries are easily as much as AUD 45 an hour (CHF 29), nearly double that for highly qualified workers. Food and accommodation are also provided. Even though he remains grateful to Big Coal, the farmer admits that “regulation is far more flexible for coal mines than for farmers.”
It’s indeed the Coal King who reigns in this region, barely tolerating cohabitation. According to official figures, in Australia there are currently 68 projects in the pipeline to expand or open new mines, half of which are in Queensland. Faced with the rise of coal mining, some farming families have become resigned to experiencing their second expropriation with stifled sobs. To compensate, the mining companies negotiate case-by-case compensation arrangement that are accompanied by sensational announcements highlighting the benefits for local communities and the number of jobs created. Adani had promised 1,500 jobs during the construction phase and 6,750 indirect jobs. These figures have since been revised significantly downwards.
Associate Professor in environmental engineering, Matthew Currell is concerned about the impact of the coal mines over the water resources in these semi-arid regions: “The government of Queensland awarded Adani a license to pump as much subterranean water as its wants”. Impact studies were not properly conducted, denounces the author of the column: “Australia listened to the science on coronavirus. Imagine if we did the same for coal mining”. For this researcher at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), there is a clear risk of contamination or drying out of the ecosystem of water sources of Doongmabulla, which is home to communities of rare vegetation that are sacred for the Aborigines. This danger has been ignored in the face of economic and electoral interests.
The dealer and his metaphors
There is a more worrying problem at the global level – that of fossil-fuel emissions. For a long time, the debate was focused on carbon dioxide (CO2) generated by the combustion of coal. A criticism to which lobbyists have often responded by shifting the problem to the countries where the coal is consumed.
“It’s the defence of the dealer – I’m simply selling heroine, I’m not responsible for the consumers”, maintains Peter MacCallum.
In late September, the local government also announced in a fanfare that it wanted to phase out thermal coal from domestic energy consumption by 2035. No mention was made of exporting it, however. An announcement that moved Peter MacCallum to comment ironically: “This will bring us in line with Switzerland – our hands will be clean!”
Logically, environmental opposition focuses increasingly on the problem of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is released at the point of extraction of fossil fuels. Eighty-two times more powerful than CO2, for a century it has been responsible for the increase of 0.5 degrees in global temperatures, according to one of the IPCC’s latest reports. In Australia – the industrialised country most vulnerable to climate disasters, as evidenced by the rise in sea levels or forest fires – the heart of environmental concern is shifting from burning coal to its extraction and processing. In this scenario, the “dealer-as-producer-country” metaphor evoked above ceases to apply.
New satellite imaging from NASA enabled the research agency Ember to produce a report in June 2022 analysing the methane leaks from all the coal mines in Australia. This was made possible by images produced by a satellite belonging to the US space agency Nasa. They found that these mines produce nearly double the amount of pollution caused by motorised traffic. This situation is set to worsen with the mining projects in the Galilee Basin, such as that of Adani, which have a life of several decades.
Among the most polluting open-cast mines is Hail Creek: in 2018, Glencore bought a majority shareholding and its approximately 7 million tonnes of production. Satellite images show that the mine leaks over 10 times the quantity of methane declared by Glencore to the regulatory authorities. Contacted several weeks in advance, the Zug-based group refused to let us visit the mine, citing “annual budget reviews” as the reason. Nonetheless, at the site entrance from the public road that leads solely to the mine and its checkpoint there is a sign that cites openness and responsibility as among Glencore’s values. When questioned, the company sent us an information sheet on the question of methane emissions. It describes the phenomenon as being linked to open-cast mines, vaunts their efforts to reduce leaks (by burning the gas or capturing it to convert it into electricity) and raises doubts as to the use of satellite imagery “of a discontinuous nature” when compared against their annual emissions declarations.
In Queensland, it’s nevertheless becoming hard to ignore climate change. The Great Barrier Reef, which is the region’s pride and joy and extends over 2000 kilometres, is being ravaged by increasingly violent cyclones and an acceleration of the phenomenon of coral-bleaching. According to a government report, in May 2022 a prolonged heatwave affected 91 percent of the reef. This was the fourth heatwave since 2016. The tourism industry is usually tight lipped on the subject, to avoid discouraging budding divers and sailors. However, tongues are starting to wag.
Born in California, Tony Fontes arrived on the shores of Airlie Beach in 1979 “to live his dream of diving on the reef”. He has never left. However, the Great Barrier Reef has suffered so much that today the experience is not the same as it used to be. “It’s an omerta. Instead of uniting to counter the interests of mining companies that harm tourism, operators prefer to deny the consequences of climate change out of fear that the tourists won’t come back anymore”, he denounces. For her part, Lindsay Simpson has observed the arrival of a new phenomenon that she calls disaster tourism; namely, visitors rushing to see the Great Barrier Reef before it’s too late.
Yet the coal industry still has a big future. In April 2020, between the areas of Capella and Emerald, Glencore submitted permit applications for the construction of what could become the largest mine in Australia – six coal shafts producing 20 million tonnes a year. Codename: Valeria Project. Start of work in 2024, with a duration of 30 months – with the accompanying rail and electricity infrastructure. The contract is valid for 37 years, or until well after 2050, the date at which the Zug-based group committed to becoming “net zero” in terms of its greenhouse-gas emissions.
In February 2019, under pressure from its investors, the multinational – then managed by Ivan Glasenberg – committed to limiting its coal production to 150 million tonnes per year. In 2021, a year still impacted by the pandemic, it produced 103.3 million tonnes. Since then, Glencore has not hesitated to acquire its competitors’ shares in the Colombian Cerrejón mine, which will add 14 million tonnes to its own production.
Within the approximately 10,000 hectares that Valeria will occupy in the area, Glencore has already largely marked out its territory. Nine families have already been evicted and the site, on which there are two state forests, has been almost entirely fenced off. The only remaining inhabitant is a helicopter pilot living in a small house, who is waiting for his lease to expire in January 2023.
In the newsagent in Capella, which also serves as an information centre, the shop assistant hands visitors a brochure produced by Glencore, dated May 2022. It summarises the timetable of operations. “It has been going for many years. It does not come as a surprise”, she relates with an air of resignation. “We have many mines around. We know what this is about.”
One farmer, who did not wish to be named, is not pleased to be sitting “in the dust of Glencore”. In Australia, mines are emptying the countryside. Largely because the group does not have a terrific record in terms of relations with its neighbours, according to the farmer. His property shares a border of many kilometres with the future Valeria mine. Even though he has no desire to leave “this land that gave us so much and is part of us”, the inconvenience resulting from the extraction of coal will force him to.”
“People in Switzerland should realise just how invasive the mining industry is”, he says gravely.
On Aboriginal land
Scott Franks is in total agreement with this. When he opposed Glencore’s expansion project at its Glendell mine, located on the lands of his Wonnarua ancestors, the Aborigine found himself named and targeted (along with another activist) in a full page published in a local media outlet. It presented him as “seeking to stop the project” and any industrial activity over a surface area of 156km2 in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, putting 3000 jobs at stake. “The strategy is to turn the mining community against Aboriginal people – the ‘black folk’. We supported all the mines up to now, but we only have 3 percent of our land left”, says Scott bitterly.
The Glendell expansion project would impact the historic site of a massacre at an Aboriginal camp (36 deaths) perpetrated in 1826 by the Mounted Police. In its announcement, Glencore – who wanted to relocate a farm – asserts that in reality the massacre took place 20 kilometres away from the site in question, and contests the land rights of the two opponents, as well as their legitimacy in representing the Wonnarua people. In late October, the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) refused to grant Glencore a permit to expand its Glendell mine. When contacted, the mining company said that it was considering appealing against the decision given that “the 1826 massacre occurred on properties outside of the Ravensworth estate” and “the current homestead was built after the 1826 massacre”. In its response, the multinational also cited its programmes to rehabilitate mine sites and its support for young Aborigines. “We recognise the unique relationship of Indigenous peoples with the environment”, states Glencore. “We engage in good faith negotiation, seeking relationships based on respect, meaningful engagement, trust and mutual benefit.” Scott Franks’ critical response is:
“Glencore only deals with the communities it can buy off”.
In fact, Glencore appears to be increasingly concerned about its image, following the wave of court proceedings brought against it in recent years in the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Switzerland. In Switzerland, as in Australia, the coal giant seeks to position itself as a major actor in energy transition, highlighting its role in mining copper and cobalt, which are essential for the production of electric batteries. In Australia, its campaign entitled Advancing Everyday Life earned it a complaint for “misleading or deceptive conduct” from the consumer protection body and investors. The Swiss Coalition for responsible multinationals, of which Public Eye is a member, also attacked Glencore for “greenwashing” due to its campaign of posters in public transport and train stations in Switzerland. However, this will not easily undermine the multinational, which asserts that the three accusations were rejected. Nor will it prevent Glencore from opening new mines, just as its competitor Adani is doing.
Humour and a torch
However, at Waddananggu, Coedie MacAvoy doubtlessly has skin as thick as his father’s. He also has humour as gritty as the earth when it gets into the engines of 4x4s. At the camp entrance, he has placed numerous signs warning against non-authorised entry, at the risk of standing trial before tribal justice: “Have you seen my sign? It looks just like any other sign, and in a world full of signs nobody can tell the difference any more”. Last year, he organized his own “Carmichael Tour”, the longest leg of a ride that brought together over a hundred cyclists within the perimeter of Adani’s concession. “We have the moral ground: we are living, so we are winning.” assures the thirty-year-old.
Coedie MacAvoy was living in the regional capital, Brisbane, when the mining project was launched. He openly admits: “I don’t think that my family would have come back to this region, the place that my grandfather left at gunpoint, if it had not been for Adani”. Does Coedie, who grew up listening to his father’s words, not want to rebel against his familial destiny to do something else? Does he not feel that he has inherited a never-ending conflict? “I don’t think that my father’s generation could have been the deciding factor. They still harbour too much trauma and anger.”
On the horizon, the sun is setting over Carmichael. The cloud of dust has dissipated, and the mine is now shrouded in silence. Coedie MacAvoy takes advantage of these peaceful moments to plant a palm tree that he hopes will bear fruit in a few years’ time.
Gautam Adani – a fortune on steroids
Billionaires often evoke their modest beginnings. The son of a textile trader from Gujarat (in western India), one of eight siblings, Gautam Adaniis no exception to the rule. After humble beginnings as a trader, the Adani Group, founded in 1988, swiftly diversified into port and airport infrastructure, power plants, coal mines, real estate and – more recently – media.
The rapid rise of the Adani empire was achieved thanks to a perfusion of finance and the largesse of numerous international banks. The most heavily indebted group in India has some USD 8 billion in bonds denominated in other currencies in circulation, according to Bloomberg data. The conglomerate is divided into a network of multiple companies, of which seven are publicly listed.
The energy market crisis that followed the war in Ukraine was a boon for this auto-proclaimed “self-made man”. Backed by high coal and gas prices, both his companies and personal fortune made him the world’s third richest man. In May 2022, the Swiss cement company Holcim sold him its assets in India for USD 10.5 billion.
However, in India, the close relations between Gautam Adani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been criticized. Modi also comes from Gujarat, and was Chief Minister for the state when the businessman benefitted from new laws setting up free trade zones (which benefit from tax benefits to attract investors) where he was planning to set up some of his infrastructure. When campaigning to become Prime Minister in 2014, Narendra Modi had the use of a plane made available by the Adani Group to take him home every evening.
Gautam Adani has little appreciation for the interest in his links to the Prime Minister. This is the interpretation of his offensive in the Indian media landscape last August to take control of NDTV, one of the channels that remains critical of the Indian government. He is nevertheless well known for not appreciating questions. “Adani has a long history of intimidation of journalists and activists that he won’t hesitate to bring charges against”, states Stephen Lang, an investigative journalist for the Australian public channel ABC. In Gujarat in 2017, the local police forced his team of reporters to leave the region. His journalists were investigating the group’s tax evasion activities and attempting to speak to fishermen displaced by one of Adani’s port terminals.