19 mins read

Sustainable Development, Policy Issues & Global Governance

Sustainable Development, Policy Issues & Global Governance


Vishakapatnam A.P. India

March 21-22 2002

Sustainable Mining a Contradiction in terms

Xavier Dias

Regional Coordinator

mines minerals & People.

“Poverty is therefore a most necessary and indispensable ingredient in society, without which nations and communities could not exist in a state of civilisation. It is the lot of man. It is the source of wealth, since without poverty, there could be no labour, there could be no riches, no refinement, no comfort, and no benefit to those who may be possessed of wealth”

Patrick Colquhoun

( London Police Magistrate)

Treatise on the Wealth Power and Resources of

the British Empire, 1815[i]

Minerals Metals in History

Historically, the discovery of minerals and the ownership or access to them, has been the major reason for conflicts and wars. Covertly today, access and monopoly over natural resources, and minerals in particular, continue to be the booty or trophies of wars and conflicts, be it Iraq or Afghanistan, Africa or Asia.

According to D.D. Koshambi, the introduction of metals into pre-industrial cultures not only triggered the gender divide and subordination of women in this Indian Peninsular, but metals minerals were as important for the Aryan conquest, and reason for subordination of Indigenous homelands.

Nomenclature – Class & Caste

Euro-centric historians have classified the different post Ice Ages according to the discovery and utility of metals. Iron Age, Copper Age, Bronze Age. Some have in anticipation coined our present Age as the ‘Uranium Age’. This classification served and suited the interest of the ruling class, as minerals and metals are their powerful and strategic resources.

The Ancient Aryan-Brahmanic classification of different ‘yugs’ or ages is another example of caste bias.

Ø The Traiteyug or the age of the Gods and Sages;

Ø The Satyug or the age of Truth, and

Ø Kaliyug, the age of evil. (our present age).

This definition served the interest of the upper caste, who through assimilation of the religious beliefs and rituals of the lower caste and the indigenous peoples, used morals religion and deification to subjugate the First People of the lands of what is today the Indian Peninsular.

If the Indigenous cultures and people of the Asian Continent were to write their history, I am sure it would be a totally different coinage. The plough, the bamboo, and the invention of ‘soma’, ‘illi’ or what is commonly called rice beer, would be central. As it was the plough that transformed them from food gatherers to cultivators (agri-culture); the bamboo and its versatile use that could do almost any thing that the metals did at that age; and rice-beer made from surplus grain, brought them happiness, a prerequisite for any definition of any development paradigm.

The above four paragraphs are essential deviations from this paper. The reason being that the debate today and the agendas of some of our NGO[1] responses to the mining situation is largely from within the mindset imposed on us by the Industry or the Corporate world of Euro centric decent.

Within the mindset & propaganda of the Industry

The setup of this mindset in substance reduces the whole understanding to a ‘financial’ and ‘pollution’ question or problem. In contrast to an ecological political-economical understanding that is holistic and analytical. This mindset contributes to perpetuate domination and in effect negates the possibility of sustainability. If not addressed and seen from the viewpoint of those in the third world who are in possession and have rights to these natural resources, it can only lead to further alienation and hazards. My plea is emphasizing and bringing in the ‘social relations’ of production into the arena of the debate on Climate Change and Sustainable Development.

I would like to explore my limited understanding of the Ecological, Pol-Economical, and ‘sustainable development’ debate

Sustainable Mining?

Today the environmental (read pollution) question is one of the biggest dilemmas of capitalism. As the very word capitalism marketed to be seen as something ‘clean’ ‘good for all’ and ‘healthy’ and, after ‘individualistic freedom’ is what the free world prides itself on. Within this logic the question of ‘sustainability’ in mining is addressed. Visually, the effects of mining are striking. Large creators contrasted with dense tropical forest, festering wounds on a green earth. Therefore accepting the fact that the Mining Industry (including the oil gas and thermal energy sector) is ugly, an embarrassment, and tarnishing this given image and therefore it has to be ‘corrected’. Thus answer is seen in reform.

Therefore ‘clean’ and ‘sustainable’ are seen as interchangeable words for two different concepts, well placed to confuse an audience dependent on the sustained propaganda of the civilized world.

Environmental reform the Corporate quickfix:

The first premise i.e. that mining is ‘sustainable’ is a contradiction. And the solution of reform is not a cure. The solutions as perceived are two types of Environmental reforms:


better energy efficient production, replacement of fossil fuels with solar power and recycling of resources.

And the more ‘radical’ reforms are

-reduction in population growth a fancy Western agenda, and consumption cuts.

The technological solution in environmental reforms are seen in two ways:

1st. Reduce the material and energy used per unit of out put, and

2nd Substitute less harmful technology; the ideal being the ecologically benign solar energy. This essentially plays with the supply demand ratio.

The Jevons Paradox. William Stanley Jevons a classical British economist in his book The Coal Question (1865) argued that British industrial growth had relied on cheap coal and that the increasing cost of coal, as deeper seams were mined, would generate economic stagnation. While Jevons was proved totally wrong as he had not anticipated the substitution of coal with petroleum and hydroelectric power. However, in chapter seven entitled “Of the Economy of Fuel” of the same book he argued that “the increase efficiency in using a natural resource, such as coal, only resulted in increased demand for that resource and not a reduction in demand. This is because such improvement in efficiency led to a rise in the scale of production. “to suppose that the economic use of fuel is equivalent to a diminished consumption, is contrary to the truth.”.

In fact it is for this precise logic that the World Bank in India as well as in Bolivia (Water Rights Movement April 2001) or other countries is pushing for privatization of water so that consumption will fall (making resources scarcer so those who can pay that high a price will get it). The other contemporary significance is in the US, and the use of the automobile. The introduction of more energy efficient automobiles in the 70’s (post OPEC price rise) doubled the number of cars there.

Mainstream economists after Adam Smith have claimed that capitalism is a system “devoted directly to the creation of wealth but indirectly to the pursuit of human needs”. In reality the first goal entirely overrides and transforms the second. Profit is the essence of capitalism and the production of more and more profit becomes an end in itself, the type of goods produced and their usefulness becomes completely immaterial. In economic terms this means –the use value of commodities is more and more subordinated to their exchange value. Marketing and product development today manipulate consumption to the advantage of capital accumulation.

Thus such a system of production for profit and not necessary for the ‘pursuit of human needs’, has placed an increasing consumption of raw materials and energy and thus a rapidly compounding environmental problem. The WORLDWATCH Institute in its State of the World 1999 Report called it “the acceleration of history“. And since history has been a bloody struggle of domination and dispossession by the rich over the poor, it would be an acceleration of this process.

Since the Earth’s capacity to supply this accelerated demand is limited the problem has to have a solution of reduction of this demand. Foster indicates three options:

  1. Stabilisation / reduction of world population.
  2. Improvement in technology, and
  3. More far-reaching socio-economic transformation.

The debate on population shifts the onus on the third world, while there are studies to indicate that fall in population does not necessary lead to drop in consumption. The Kerala model is apt here. Besides population growth is directly related to unequal patterns of development and quality of development.

The search for the solution has invariable focused on the second alternative –Improvement in technology. Here comes the Kyoto Protocol. Despite the fact that its implementation would not solve the problem, the Protocol itself is now in the refuse bin. One of the chief reasons for being dumped is ‘profitability’. Capital accumulation process has placed barriers in front of the main international diplomatic effort –the Kyoto Protocol.

The technological solution to carbon emissions, are carbon capture and sequestration technologies, which will allow the carbon based economy to continue as before unchanged. Constructing giant carbon dioxide absorbent strip coated with any of the many chemicals that react with carbon dioxide that could pull the gas from the air as it passes by, coupled with fleets of ships pulling two mile long pipes that will pump chilled pressured carbon dioxide deep into the oceans. The scale of operation for geoengineering would dwarf Star Wars defense system both in magnitude and sheer folly.

The third option socio-economic transformation is not even considered. Can we build up a system that takes into consideration intergenerational environmental equity?

The Miracle of Capitalism:

Patrick Colquhoun at the beginning of this paper has brilliantly put it. Accumulation of wealth or creation of riches breathes poverty.

We are at a difficult stage in history at a crossroad where the beacon light is dim. The hegemony of US Imperialism hangs large over all of us. On the one side we see that the tenacity of our people to resist this onslaught is growing each day. On the other side we see the propaganda of the free world, ‘there is no alternative’ TINA, gaining currency. Governments and countries who fought colonialism and stood by liberation struggles are now part of the market propaganda (ANC). What is the alternative before us? Here I would like to quote Daniel Singer in his book Whose Millennium? Theirs or Ours? In the chapter “A Society of Equals” “Our aim” he writes “ is to create the material and social conditions that not only give meaning to people’s work, but which enable them, by the same token, to seek the fulfillment of their desires and their dreams. There is only one thing that we want to eliminate, social injustice, the possibility of oppression or domination based on class, race or gender. This we want to do thoroughly: not to diminish, reduce or alleviate oppression, but to uproot it in the literal sense of the term (222-223)

1. Mining v/s quality of life

2. Mining v/s land rights/displacement

3. Mining v/s service conditions and salary structures.

Apparently all three categories are different and it also appears that 1 and 3 are in conflict and 2 and 3 are at loggerheads. Bring the three on a single platform may appear contradictory or self-defeating. While all three are powerful mobilisations, in dispute with the mining industry, it is a job and task for mmp to provide the rational for the organic linkages between the three. A task that not only can be done but has got to be done for mmp to evolve as a strong alliance to take on the Mining Industry and realise our affirmations and aspirations.

The three movements are a product of the penetration of advanced capitalism in areas of totally different economies and socioloigies. Some areas of barter economies that have not only no place for ‘cultures of accumulation’ but where accumulation is considered a social crime. In some or same areas where the sale of labour was never thought about. All three categories are in a sense struggling against the exploitative tendency of capitalism. Therefore the objective conditions exist for an alliance.

The links between Capitalism and the Mining Industry are at a highly formal level and the links are not that apparent. These links have to be made visiable to the three categories. It is very ironical despite all the contradictions within capitalism and even between the different Corporations, they still stand before the three categories as one homogenous and solid structure. On the other hand while the difference between the three categories of our alliance are more apparent than real, we stay divided. Even the debate on the issue of ‘development v/s indigenousism’ or the one that we are ‘against development’ gets moored in arguments that rarely include the whole case of accumulation, surplus or modes of production that govern our lives.

If we can be able to in the idiom and experiences of our people establish the link between capitalism tendency of labour exploitation, over production and wastage and environmental degradation, then in their consciousness the links between the three categories will not only be understood but illuminated.

Exploitation, injustice, subordination, discrimination are serious felt issues of our people and notions that technology as a panacea for exploitation cannot work here. It is how technology is used and towards which end.

Within the capitalist framework no amount of technological improvement is going to resolve the issues mentioned in the three categories of groups within mmP. Even as far as labour rights are concerned the more sophistication of technology the more exploitation of the labour. Therefore it is not a question of just technology but of social relations

Analogically speaking there is truth in what marxist argue. Unfortunately the drawback of the Marxist historiography related to mining has remained confined to the econocmic parameters of mining and not gone into specific locations of mining and impact and the specificity of labour relations within mining. As a social relation of production it has not been touched. One agenda that mmp has is to take up is this task. Strikingly most mines in are in Tribal areas. Extensive investment of capital on tribal economy has far reaching impact on tribal life. Wast populations of tribal communities and even nations have converted into cheap unskilled labour and do not necessarily have a happy coexistence with skilled labour or the labour in the heavy industries that spring up in mining areas. This phenomenon should both be explained and studied. And for this we have tons of information in the minds and experiences of our sturggles. It will be a pioneering study in this field and have far reaching impacts on building up the strength of our community based groups as well as our alliance. This will give us the basis to prove the logic that the cause for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd categories is one and the same which is the logic of production within the capitalist sector.

In specific locations when mines in India are set up we will be able to provide a theoretical and logical background for a long term alliance between Trade Unions People’s rights movements, and the movement of the Indigenous Peoples. It is this steep climb that we will all have to go through to rise up to the horizons of a just society. It is this that will provide a political platform for these movements.

To friends of the TINA syndrome and those who have called for a retreat from class I can only quote Daniel Singer’s Whose Millenium? Theirs or Ours Pg 8 :

“We are not tied to the system and nothing can prevent us from looking beyond the capitalist horizon. We cannot just wash our hands and pretend. We are not doomed to impotence by fate”. At the time before Socialism was experimented with, then too there was this fear and vacuum that we face today. Beautifully explained by Rosa Luxembourg the choice lies between barbarianism or socialism

Today the way we are eating into our resources, at the cost of the lives of people living in areas where fiber optic cables pass through their villages carrying billion of bytes of information that leads to their dispossession, but not their well being, the choice is between cannibalism or what ever we want to call it……..but the fault dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves” I now live in the steel city of Jamshedpur. One of the world’s only cities that is Corporate owned and managed. Considered as the Ruhr of India, Jamshedpur is admired as a best kept city in India. Wide tree-lined roads, well demarcated green areas, etc. However a vital connection is not made, that this city has been built after slaughtering a thick miscellaneous rainforest, the homeland of the Santhal and Ho Indigenous Peoples’

In Jane Roberts ‘From Massacre to Mining’ she reports an interesting story. An Indigenous father and son were walking along the beach, and the son with his stick started ploughing the shore. The father asked him a question ‘Is there a reason for your digging’ when the son could not give an answer the father told him ‘If you do not need to do it, then you should not disturb your ancestors’. Contrast this to a historical fact that the followers of Captain Cook in Australia would each day come back to their camp and boast of the number of ‘aboriginals’ they would hunt.

[1] By NGO I include all Civil Society bodies.

[i] . Quoted in Michael Perelman, The Invention of Capitalism