Pebble Bay in Alaska

The challenge of what to ‘farm’ from our planet.

Last Sunday, after the mid-morning service, one of the congregation passed me a letter she had received from the Natural Resources Defense Council.  It was all about the proposed mine in Alaska known as the Pebble Mine.  She asked if I might write about it on Learning from Dogs.  WikiPedia introduces the project thus,

Pebble Mine is the common name of an advanced mineral exploration project investigating a very large porphyry copper, gold, and molybdenum mineral deposit in the Bristol Bay region of Southwest Alaska, near Lake Iliamna and Lake Clark. The proposal to mine the ore deposit, using large-scale operations and infrastructure, is controversial. Proponents argue that the mine will create jobs, provide tax revenue to the state of Alaska, and reduce American dependence on foreign sources of raw materials. Opponents argue that the mine would adversely affect the entire Bristol Bay watershed; and that the possible consequences to fish populations, when mining effluents escape planned containments, are simply too great to risk. Much of this debate concerns the tentative plan to impound large amounts of water, waste rock, and mine tailings behind several earthen dams at the mine site.

Proposed mine location

My instinct is to join the side of those protesting because, once again, it seems like another example of mankind working hard to exhaust every natural jewel in the planet’s crown.

Yet, I was also conscious that I’m sitting in front of a computer that will have it’s fair share of copper inside it and that we, as in Jean and me, use a whole range of sophisticated materials in our daily lives, ergo leading a life that genuinely reduces our footprint on Planet Earth is easier said than done.

Here’s one ‘protest’ website that sets out the reasons for not proceeding with this mine,

1. Bristol Bay is home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon run.
2. Pebble mine would generate toxic waste in a seismically active region.
3. A majority of the people of Bristol Bay do not want the mine.
4. Native people live in Bristol Bay, and they subsist off the land.
5. Bristol Bay is home to an abundance of animals that need pristine habitat.
6. Bristol Bay has thousands of rivers and streams that would be degraded.
7. Commercial and sport fishing jobs would be jeopardized.
8. Wild salmon provide us with omega-3 fatty acids.
9. The Pebble Limited Partnership is untrustworthy.
10. Future generations depend on us to protect their most important and lasting legacy–the land.

There is a website that supports the project, where you will read their ‘core value’ expressed as, “Responsible mining technologies that actively support a healthy, respectful and sustainable co-existence with the environment and Southwest Alaska culture.

Ultimately, it all comes down to there being too many people competing for too few resources.  Nay, worse than that.  It comes down to too many people living on this small planet, over-consuming what the planet can deliver and running out of time.  There are millions who instinctively feel very uncomfortable about the future but, as yet, no global movement with real political power to make a difference.

That, I regret, is the core issue for humanity.

10 thoughts on “Pebble Bay in Alaska

  1. A brilliant article on a very important issue close to my heart, Paul. Well done.

    Warning: Geological rant now follows…

    This is an important issue to me because as much as I enjoyed my experience working at the Mt Whaleback iron ore mine in Newman WA (1986-89), it left me feeling deeply conflicted about the way we humans are raping and pillaging the planet. However, it was not until last year that I read E.F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful: A study of economics as if people mattered (1973) and was literally bowled over by this quote: “we have mistaken nature’s capital for a source of income”

    Former mining consultant, Jared Diamond (Collapse: How Societies choose to fail or succeed), is similarly conflicted and, although he has done a great deal to encourage mining companies to embrace environmental responsibility, he ultimately concedes that mining companies are not charities and, in many cases began working sites decades ago when legal requirements for site reclamation and/or restoration did not exist. Therefore they did not plan for it; and now subsequently will do just about anything to abdicate responsibility for it.

    Clearly then, it would be best if all mining were to stop (especially highly polluting practices such as the cyanide heap leaching process used to extract minute amounts of gold from very poor quality ores. Not only is this highly polluting of the environment, the ore grade is so low that enormous volumes of material have to be dug up to extract even an ounce of gold.

    Unfortunately, all mining is not going to stop today, tomorrow, or ever. One good thing though, the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) should prevent it being raped for the mineral resources that undoubtedly lie beneath the ice cap. I say “undoubtedly” because Antarctica was once geologically contiguous with Australia, South Africa and South America. Therefore it will have all the same mineral deposits. This is one of the many revelations of my MA about which I have not yet written on my blog but I hope to soon. However, in a nutshell, the ATS was a product of the Cold War and suspended all sovereignty claims to the continent. After 20 years of negotiation they very nearly ratified the Convention on the Regulation of Antarctica Mineral Resources (CRAMRA) but fortunately did not. It was torn-up and replaced a few years later with the Madrid Protocol on the Environmental Protection of the Antarctic was ratified instead. However, even this only guarantees Antarctica will not be touched for about 35 more years.

    Given Hillary Clinton’s willingness to indulge in deeply disingenuous stunts as she did in Greenland last summer – trying to dress-up raping and pillaging the Arctic as conservation (hypocrisy almost as bad as Richard Lindzen’s), the time for America to agree not trash its own backyard wilderness is now. All mining in the Arctic and/or wilderness areas should be banned; and failing to recycle metals should be made a criminal offence! I know this sounds extreme – and plays into the hands of those who claim environmentalists just want to oppress people but – what is the alternative?

    Fossil fuels should be expensive – so as to encourage people to find alternatives.

    If carrot must be replaced with stick, so be it – metals must also not be wasted.

    Here endeth the rant.

      1. I am not anti progress; but I am anti-mining in pristine wilderness and/or in a reckless fashion unless all necessary safeguards are placed on operators (i.e. Bonds designed to provide funding for clean-up if mining company goes bankrupt)… However, with regard to existing mines, some way must be found to stop companies filing for bankruptcy protection in order to walk away and let the Superfund pick up the bill…

  2. Yes Paul we are ALL living within the Modern world and using modern day appliances, the thing is that we are aware of conservation and I hope most who are Aware understand the need to conserve our Tree’s and use less fossil fuels etc etc.. as they do their own bit to recycle and conserve energy. We keep scaring our Earth Mother with Greed as Cutting Tools.. She is a living organism with conscious light, she lives and breathes.. What have we become if we can let our very Earth be destroyed and ruined and sit back and do nothing.. What have we become if we sit back and do nothing as we see our grandchildren’s future planet die? I wrote a poem a while back called WHAT have we become…

    http://suedreamwalker.wordpress.com/2011/02/05/what-have-we-become/

    ~Sue

      1. Just really starting for us, despite it being 9.30am. We took in a dog yesterday on behalf of some people in real personal strife. Lovely sweet dog called Socks but she cried the whole night long so our sleep was badly interrupted. 19 degrees is warm for early March! It’s 5 deg C here just now, more or less normal for Payson up at 5,000ft.

      2. arrgh to Socks! and hope she settles and you both get to catch up on your sleep! and let me just say how I admire what Jean and yourself do in helping our Four-legged! Great work!

      3. I know it probably sounds trite to many readers but Jean and I get much more back from the dogs than they get from us. One of these days, I’ll post a little story about Loopy … P.

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