I support responsible mining if…

The much-invoked argument that “because we all use products from mining, we must allow it in the Philippines” is a complete non sequitur.

 

Singapore, Hong Kong, Netherlands, Belgium—none of these countries have any mining industry, but they still use smartphones, just as we do. The idea that we must engage in mining because we use products out of it is as logically flawed as saying that, because we are using products from China, we must support its policies.

 

Yes, we need mining—but does it have to be in the Philippines?

 

And this brings me to my first condition: I support responsible mining if it is done in places where there is little environmental and social impact.

 

The environmental impact of mining includes soil erosion, water contamination and the cutting of trees to give way to facilities and roads, among many others. In large countries like Australia, Russia and the United States, I have seen vast tracts of desert and barren lands where mines are located—far from biodiverse and fragile ecosystems. In the Philippines—home to the “center of the center of marine biodiversity” and some of the world’s densest forests—one will be hard-pressed to find a place where mines can have “little” impact.

 

The social impact, for its part, includes—as an Oxfam report puts it—“forcing [people] from their homes and land, preventing them from accessing clean land and water, impacting on their health and livelihoods, causing divisions in communities over who benefits from the mine and who doesn’t, changing the social dynamics of a community, and exposing them to harassment by mine or government security.”

 

Again, there are vast stretches of land in other countries with little or no people, but this is not the case in the Philippines, where there are over 100 million people living in 300,000 square kilometers. Compare that with Australia, which has four times less people and 25 times more land area!

 

Secondly, I support responsible mining if it can be demonstrated to be truly responsible. At face value, “responsible mining” sounds really good: We benefit from our mineral wealth without harming the environment.

 

In the Philippines, however, what stands out are examples of irresponsible mining—from Marcopper to Mindoro, from Semirara to Surigao—to say nothing of the “small-scale” unregulated mining that’s actually a huge chunk of the problem. Can we afford to risk what little we have left? While there may be well-intentioned CSR projects that truly benefit communities (e.g., schools, hospitals), they can also detract attention from more far-reaching ecological consequences.

 

Finally, I support responsible mining if it is in accordance with the people’s wishes. The

sentiments of towns and communities, however, are often muddled by vested interests; those who are opposed are often intimidated into silence. Worse, some mining operations have not just ignored the wishes of indigenous communities, they have even displaced them, as in the case of the lumad in Mindanao.

 

Mining may create jobs (often minimum wage notwithstanding the occupational hazards), but it also destroys livelihoods—by driving away the fish in the coastal vicinity, for instance. Moreover, the idea that people will support mining simply because they are poor is to deny them their capacity to be concerned for things like the sanctity of their place, the beauty of their environment, and the perpetuation of their old ways of life.

 

The much-invoked argument that “because we all use products from mining, we must allow it in the Philippines” is a complete non sequitur.

 

Singapore, Hong Kong, Netherlands, Belgium—none of these countries have any mining industry, but they still use smartphones, just as we do. The idea that we must engage in mining because we use products out of it is as logically flawed as saying that, because we are using products from China, we must support its policies.

 

Yes, we need mining—but does it have to be in the Philippines?

 

And this brings me to my first condition: I support responsible mining if it is done in places where there is little environmental and social impact.

 

I think we can all agree that dramatically reducing our consumerism in this age of materialism and planned obsolescence is the ultimate corrective to our unsustainable lifestyles, but this consensus does not offer guidance as to how we should respond to the seduction of mining and its promise of economic benefits to our country. When our invaluable and irreplaceable natural resources are at stake, we must err on the side of caution.

 

To be fair, I don’t think we should close our doors to technologies that will make mining truly safe and sustainable—nor to companies who are genuinely moving toward this direction. Given what’s at stake in our environment, however, the burden lies on them to prove that ‘responsible mining’ is more than a myth.

 

(c) Philippine Daily Inquirer / 05:18 AM August 23, 2018

Follow @gideonlasco on Twitter. Send feedback to mail@gideonlasco.com

Link: http://opinion.inquirer.net/115571/support-responsible-mining

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