Fighting back against those raping the Earth

It’s encouraging that growing numbers of communities globally are challenging the right of unaccountable corporate raiders to pillage the natural resources of the world. This is the definition of the resource curse and it’s vital that indigenous peoples challenge the outrage.

This recent piece in the UK Guardian by Melody Kemp highlights the trend:

Have you noticed that mining is increasingly getting up people’s noses? Globally, more communities are fighting it. Gaggles of poor villagers are taking on well-connected, cashed-up companies representing the brutish but powerful foundation of the globalised free market system. You have to admire their style.

Take Sumba, eastern Indonesia, which is currently pocked with the telltale signs of gold exploration. Its seams, Australian Hillgrove Resources says, are rich and promising. The local people’s response? Consistent riots and outrage. As they see it, gold mining threatens their land, water, culture – their very being. It usually takes about 691,000 litres (almost 700 cubic meters) of water to produce one kilo of glitter. In the necklace of dry eastern Indonesian islands that hang delicately above Australia, water is more precious than gold. Australian behemoth BHP, which recently posted a A$22.5bn (…£15bn) profit, ceded the licence after local protests showed no sign of abating. Hillgrove cannot say it wasn’t warned.

On Palawan, a glistening gem of an island in the Philippines, a story all too familiar in Asia is also unfolding. A rich and powerful Forbes-listed airline magnate, Lucio Tan, in partnership with a UK mining giant Toledo Nickel, wants to mine one of Asia’s last significant old growth forests (thus reducing significant carbon sequestration potential) to take advantage of record prices for the nickel needed to run hybrid cars and satisfy our addiction to gadgets. But the tech-savvy indigenous people would rather have trees. On the Philippine island of Luzon, mining companies with names like health resorts, Oceana and Oxiana, are both facing opposition from the locals.

The environment is one of the last of the global commons, and the sociocultural consequences and environmental costs of mining are increasingly unacceptable. This is especially so on small islands where water and arable land are limited. Papua New Guinea’s minister for mines Byron Chan recently announced that he was changing the law to “hand ownership from the government to land owners”. Greg Anderson, of the Australian chamber of mines and petroleum, choked on his tie when asked to respond. Obstacles and community shareholders are clearly not his thing.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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