From Chile, Hungary and the Gulf of Mexico: these disasters will not be the last

From Chile, Hungary and the Gulf of Mexico: these disasters will not be the last

By Guadalupe Rodríguez

The same development logic, which has led to a shortage of raw materials, leads to the realization of increasingly technically complex projects, in more remote places, and with the consequent increased danger. And incomprehensibly, the policies support them.

From Chile, Hungary and the Gulf of Mexico: these disasters will not be the last

Socio-ecological disasters and political and corporate responsibility

After contemplating with relief how Pachamama liked to miraculously give birth again to the 33 Chilean miners, and having shed tears and sighs of relief in front of the silly box, it is time to cool down and return to reflection.

The mass media focus on the human drama, and the anecdotal, giving less space to the social, economic and political conditions that created this and other recent disasters. Due to the seriousness of the consequences, companies and governments should face criminal responsibility, for being the ones who cause destruction and contamination of these dimensions with their activities and policies. Due to the imposition of an economy based on unlimited growth, it can be easily foreseen that this type of catastrophes will increase in the future.

The following are hard facts that exemplify the situation.

Chile is the most important copper producer in the world

The San José mine is a very old copper and gold mine, located near the city of Copiapó, in the Atacama desert. It belongs to the Compañía Minera San Esteban, which practices medium-sized mining. In operation since the 19th century, it has been linked to several fatal accidents in the past that led to its closure a few years ago for a brief period. After its reopening, there have been three fatal accidents in the last four years. The company accumulates complaints for its insecurity, which was once again tragically confirmed by the accident that left the very famous 33 miners buried more than 700 meters away. deep for more than 70 days. Just a month before the collapse, there was an accident at the mine with a victim who suffered a leg amputation. According to the complaints, the irregularities of the San Esteban company include, among many others, the delay in announcing the accident, violation of security measures and the non-payment of the miners' social security. But nothing happened to the company.

The San José mine is part of a mining complex that produces around 1,200 tons of copper per year. Copper is the country's main export and one of the largest sources of income. Despite this, the security measures and the control in this sense of the sector leaves much to be desired. I don't know why, but when the president of Chile declares with satisfaction how and how much they are going to improve, I can't quite believe it.

The toxic sludge that was “dumped” in Hungary

Occurring on October 4, 2010 and still very topical, the accident at the alumina plant (aluminum oxide Al2O3) in the city of Ajkai in western Hungary is another "symptom" of an irrational political-economic system. Alumina is a by-product that results from refining bauxite (, and that is used for the production of aluminum and other products.

The mass media speak of "spill" or "leak", suggesting to the listener or reader the feeling of a small problem under control. But it was a flood, a spill, a torrent of toxic red-orange mud with radioactivity and full of heavy metals, which spread throughout the environment, the fields, the waters, the vegetation, the streets. At least nine people have been killed, and more than 150 injured. Hundreds of people were forced to leave their homes. It is the biggest ecological catastrophe in the history of Hungary and its consequences on health have not yet been revealed. Several towns have been affected, such as Kolontar or Devecser. A tributary of the Danube has been affected. Cleaning costs will amount to millions of euros. The damage will remain in the environment for decades, and that, there is no money to compensate.

BP oil watered the Gulf of Mexico

The BP case passed by. They no longer talk about him. A whopping 4.9 million barrels of crude flowed from the seabed uninterruptedly since April 20, 2010 and during the 85 days it took to control the spill.

In Europe, the North Sea and the Mediterranean there are hundreds of oil platforms (*). But the European Commission, after examining the existing regulations on this matter, has just softened its announced intention to strictly control offshore oil extraction platforms in order to avoid environmental catastrophes such as BP's in the Gulf of Mexico. Instead of a moratorium, it would establish a mere option to be taken by the different member states. The decrease in the demands would be due to the interests of the sector, very well represented in Brussels.

In addition, according to the logic of global growth set by the European Union and which creates the need to open new oil platforms, companies must have an emergency plan and prove that they have the necessary financial means available to pay for environmental damage, to protected marine species and natural habitats that an accident may cause. This indicates certain good intentions, but they do not consider that many of these damages are irreparable.

Rationalizing and reducing gas and oil consumption and reducing energy markets at the same time is not considered by the officials as an option or as a path to take.

What will we have?

Well at this rate, nothing. The same development logic, which has led to a shortage of raw materials, leads to the realization of increasingly technically complex projects, in more remote places, and with the consequent increased danger.

Closing eyes and ears is the order of the day for the governments of the North and the South. And civil society has less and less room to complain, as it begins to dangerously restrict freedom of expression and opinion, as well as to criminalize social movements. And the economy is still on the ground.

If the majority of large companies are allocating a large amount of resources to shaping their corporate social responsibility, which in most cases consists of bubbles of appearances and good intentions, although empty, that pay what they owe to society and nature . The most current case of the three that we have dealt with clearly shows this: the "leaders" of the Chilean mining company knew perfectly well that in the San José deposit there were no escape routes or adequate ventilation, or the necessary fortification. And the authorities too, because complaints were made to the authorities on various occasions.

While ministers and presidents walk through the places where these catastrophes have occurred, environmentalists wonder who will be the first authority, high-ranking official or owner of a transnational company to pay criminal responsibility for the different personal and socio-environmental tragedies, the trauma, the contamination, the destruction. Each country and its context will face its accidents and tragedies in a different way. What the outcomes will certainly have in common is that the real culprits will not be those who pay the consequences, but the workers in the mines or production plants, the surrounding population and the environment. And impunity will continue its relentless advance in the global society whose global economy is dedicated to producing global goods that it moves around the globe, devastating everything in its path.

The answer lies in not accepting these types of projects, as is already the case in thousands of places throughout the South and the global North. The population is reacting. Nobody wants the industrial plants in their suburb, the open-pit mines in their primary forest reserve, the hydroelectric plants in their river, or the nuclear spills in their backyard. A minimum percentage of all this is really necessary. One of the keys is to reduce the consumption of energy and goods.

In living a life more in accordance with nature, closer to the earth, more friendly with the environment and with the other. In rethinking our society and the ethical bases on which it is based. Now or never.

14.10.2010 Guadalupe Rodriguez - Save the Jungle -


(*) There are almost 900 offshore installations in operation in the EU: 486 in the UK, 181 in the Netherlands, 61 in Denmark, 2 in Germany, 2 in Ireland, 123 in Italy, 4 in Spain, 2 in Greece , 7 in Romania, 1 in Bulgaria, and 3 in Poland. Cyprus and Malta in the near future.

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