|Art by the Taring Padi Artist Collective, Indonesia|
I don't think that it is an exaggeration to say that all mining is dangerous and with harmful outcomes. The recent Mount Polley gold and copper mine tailings pond breach in British Columbia is only one on a long list of examples of what we have done to our fair sister in our pursuit of the consumer lifestyle that mining brings.
With consumerism, and the extractive industries that make it possible firmly entrenched already by the 1960s, poet Jim Morrison could see what we were doing to the Earth:
ravaged and plundered
and ripped her and bit her.
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn,
and tied her with fences
and dragged, her, down.
What are the consequences of all this ravaging and plundering for profit? Imperial Metals, the owners of the 5 billion liters of waste water and 3 million cubic feet of toxic sludge that released into surrounding forests, waterways and lakes in northern BC, might be fined one million dollars.
Or the company could take the course that is common in the mining world - go bankrupt and walk away from all responsibility for their catastrophic failure of engineering and common sense. That means the taxpayer becomes responsible for the damages and cleanup (if cleaning up is possible).
The Canadian government has a $3.5-billion Federal Contaminated Site fund to clean up the 21,000 sites, some of which are abandoned toxic mining messes. That is a $3.5 billion dollar subsidy to the industry for which we all pay. Our grandkids grandkids will still be paying for mitigating the effects of the mining and consumption of the past 50 years.
In northern Canada there resides yet another mining tragedy. The Faro project in the Yukon Territory was the world's largest lead/zinc mine until it closed in 1998.
"It will take 45 years to seal Faro’s toxic tailings off from the rest of the world, making it one of the most expensive mine remediation projects in Canadian history.
Closing Faro’s tomb will cost over $450 million and require constant maintenance for at least 500 years.
Not a cent will come from the companies that operated the Faro mine for over 30 years. The mine went through several closures throughout its lifetime. The last one was in 1998, when the Anvil Range Mining Corporation went bankrupt."
If the public did not pay for messes like at Mount Polley, or the Faro mine, or the multi-billion dollar Lapindo Mudflow Disaster in Indonesia that resulted from "blatant human errors", the companies would cease to be profitable. Therefore cease to be.
"A 2009 UN report found that a third of the profits of the world’s biggest 3,000 companies would be wiped out if firms were forced to pay for the use, loss and damage to the environment they cause. In other words, truly effective environmental regulation would render capitalism impossible."
- author David Cromwell