Global mining boom causes global problems
From oil to gold to iron, the mining industry is taking off, causing divided opinions and concerns about wide-scale environmental and human health problems.
A small-scale gold mining boom in Indonesia is causing a massive influx in illegally imported mercury. Mercury contamination has already contaminated waterways, soil, fishponds and rice fields. Inhalation or ingestion of mercury can result in kidney problems, developmental delays and digestive ailments.
From the New York Times:
According to the Indonesian Ministry of Trade, the country imported slightly less than one metric ton of mercury in 2012 through two local companies, primarily for commercial manufacturing, including the production of light bulbs and batteries, and for use in hospital equipment. According to United Nations trade statistics, however, 368 metric tons of mercury, about 810,000 pounds, were legally exported to Indonesia in 2012 from countries that included Singapore, the United States, Japan and Thailand.
Ghana is experiencing similar problems from illegal artisanal gold mining, known locally as “galamsey”. A surge in the international gold markets has brought foreigners to the West African nation in search of quick profits, including thousands of Chinese, according to an article in Ghana Business News. A short-term boost in illegal employment is leading to a poisoned environment and more workers being exposed to health risks.
Meanwhile the largest iron mine in the world is putting northern Sweden’s reindeer herds at risk, thereby threatening the traditional livelihood of herders. Locals fear that plans by an Australian mining firm for a series of open pit iron, copper and gold mines in the region would destroy reindeer pastures. Read more on that story in the Guardian.
The government of Greenland’s plans to open up the country to mineral and fossil fuel mining is also proving to be particularly divisive. Another Australian firm is planning to turn Qaaqarsuaq, one of Greenland’s most picturesque mountains, into a rare earth mine. The economic appeal of large-scale mining is easy to see as is evidenced by the government’s overturning a ban on uranium mining, but opposition is strong and Greenland is still home to one of the planet’s last “unspoiled” environments.
From BBC News:
There’s still a question whether that industrial revolution will ever happen. Despite years of government promotion, there are no mines currently operating in Greenland. But this year has seen the strongest signs yet that mining will become a reality.
Similarly in New Zealand, a recent poll found that plans for coal, gas or oil extraction to be extremely controversial among the general population. Nevertheless, the New Zealand government granted 10 new licenses last year for on and offshore fossil fuel exploration.