The illusive nature of a responsible mine

Children playing in tailings downstream from the Ok Tedi Mine in Papua New Guinea, 2009. (Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

Children playing in tailings downstream from the Ok Tedi Mine in Papua New Guinea, 2009. (Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

Stuart Kirsch* describes the elusive nature of a Responsible Mine:

“I was at a conference in Manilla a few years ago, a mining conference, and there was someone from the Asia Development Bank there talking to us about the future of the mining industry.

And somebody from the audience said “but can you name a single mine in the Philippines that does a good job environmentally, socially and giving revenue back to the state and has a good closure plan?”

And our guest from the Asia Development Bank said “well from Philippines, no. I don’t think so, but in the future maybe.”

And somebody else from the audience said “well what about Asia? From all of Asia can you name a mine?”

He thought about it again and he said, “well not in Asia, but I’ve heard about a mine in South Africa that does a good job.”

And my response was “a responsible mine is kind of like a mythological creature that we hear about. We’ve all heard about a unicorn, but no one’s ever seen it. And I think responsible mines are like that.”

Cultural Anthropologist Stuart Kirsch spent decades working with native peoples living along the Ok Tedi River, in Papua New Guinea, trying to oppose the social and environmental threats posed by the enormous Ok Tedi open-pit copper mine situated near the river’s source.

The mine is at the centre of one of the worst environmental disasters in the world. Tailings from the mine have polluted the Ok Tedi River, and devastated a huge area of previously pristine and virgin jungle. People in the tribes who live along that river will never be the same. Their home was once a rich a verdant paradise. It now looks more like the surface of the moon.

In a recent radio interview Kirsch spoke about what they learned in the process of taking on a multi-national mining giant; how mining companies strategically exploit science and what the people of PNG taught him.

Listen to the full interview on CBC Radio – 

* Stuart Kirsh is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbour.  His book, Mining Capitalism: The Relationship Between Corporations and Their Critics, is published by the University of California Press. 

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Filed under Environmental impact, Human rights, Papua New Guinea

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