Towards a just, post-extractive transition

Hannibal Rhoades| Ecologist | 23 September 2019

Frontline communities are showing the way to a ‘post-extractive’ renewable energy transition that is socially just and ecologically viable.

Large-scale mining is the deadliest industry in the world for those who oppose it. It is a contributor to systematic human rights violations, devastating losses of climate critical ecosystems and over 20 percent of global carbon emissions.

And yet, at a time of ecological and climate breakdown, the mineral and metal mining industry is in rude health. Mining companies are taking advantage of new demand created by the energy transition and the digitalisation of war and industry. They’re scouring the globe for new sources of ‘critical minerals’, like lithium, copper and cobalt, and expanding into new territories, including the deep sea.

This is disaster capitalism at its finest, say the authors of a new report that was launched just ahead of the Global Climate Strike. This disaster capitalism is jeopardising urgent climate action.

Dirty mining 

A Just(ice) Transition is a Post-Extractive Transition reveals how the mining industry is greenwashing its operations, positioning itself as a deliverer of the minerals and metals critical to the renewable energy transition, whilst expanding destruction globally.

Benjamin Hitchcock Auciello, researcher and report author, said: “Mining corporations are aggressively and cynically marketing their destructive activity as a solution to the climate emergency.

“It’s critical that we stop extractive industries from greenwashing their crimes and capturing the narrative around the transition to renewable technologies.”

Launched by the London Mining Network and War on Want, and supported by the global Yes to Life, No to Mining Network, the report de-bunks the mining industry’s false claims.

It reveals that the majority of projected future demand for ‘critical’ minerals and metals does not come from the renewable energy sector at all, but rather from heavy industry, consumer electronics and military and other sources.

De-growth

The report delves deeper still to reveal how governments, International Financial Institutions and even progressive movements are clinging to economic growth and material expansion as primary societal and developmental goals. This is creating the space for extractive industries to reinvent themselves as friendly change agents.

Technical fixes and the ‘de-coupling’ of climate and ecological impacts from economic growth will not be sufficient to avoid catastrophic warming above 1.5 degrees centigrade, says the report.

To curb climate breakdown and achieve a just and ecologically viable transition, the Global North must embrace de-growth and help redistribute global demand for energy and resources, not expand their extraction. 

In other words, a just transition must be post-extractive. The first steps for achieving this shift in transition logic is to listen to communities on the frontline of extractivism and centre their voices in the transition.

Hitchcock Auciello continued: “The climate movement must listen to and learn from frontline communities pushing back the expansion of the extractive economy: communities who are simultaneously advancing solutions that embody social, ecological and climate justice.”

Emblematic cases

series of interactive case studies from the Yes to Life, No to Mining Network have been launched in tandem with the new report. They explore the work of communities resisting mining, restoring damaged ecosystems and protecting and developing climate-just alternatives to extractivism around the planet. 

The case studies reveal the violence of extractivism for community leaders harassed, beaten and killed, for ecosystems torn apart, and for the climate. They hint at the immense costs and injustices that are inherent in expanding mining for whatever purpose, and the mass resistance that can be expected.

The case studies also reveal how communities are stopping mining projects, protecting old and innovating new ways of living that are regenerative, life-sustaining and compatible with a climate-safe future. 

In Myanmar, the indigenous Karen People have declared the Salween Peace Park as a space to practice their Earth-centred culture and as a strategy to block the intertwined threats of mega-hydro and mining.

In Galicia, the villagers of Froxán are re-planting forests and asserting their commons-based forms of land and water care in response to the threat of tungsten mining.

In Colombia the community of Cajamarca stopped a gold mine through popular democracy, triggering a national movement and new initiatives to strengthen their regenerative local economy.

In Finland the people of Selkie closed down a peat mine after pollution events poisoned the Jukajoki River and have re-wilded their water systems using a blend of traditional knowledge and science.

In Papua New Guinea, the Alliance of Solwara Warriors and their allies are fighting and winning their battle against the world’s flagship deep sea mining project in the sacred waters of the Bismarck Sea.

Living examples

Authors of Pluriverse: A post-development dictionary, said: “We are exploring and innovating towards a future where all the worlds (human and non-human) can co-exist and thrive in mutual dignity and respect, without a single so called ‘developed’ world living at the expense of others”.

The struggles and ‘alternatives’ shared in YLNM’s case studies are living examples of this future emerging now.

The climate emergency is our clear and present reality, but we will not solve our problems with the same universalised, de-politicised, corporate-dominated approaches that caused them.

Communities, not extractive corporations or captured states, have the answers to the climate and ecological crises. They are living these solutions every day and it is time to listen to them.

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