They announce the European Minerals Day (EMD for its acronym in English) to be celebrated from September 20 to 22. It is an instrument to create confidence and acceptance of the mining sector, according to the call itself.
Under slogans like"Essentials. Smart. Beneficial. Your world is made of them " and also“You use them. We provide them " The mining sector wants to signal with the opening of mines and quarries for a day and other activities the importance of minerals in the economy and the value chain.
So far so good. If it weren't for the current mining reality in Europe and the world, what is behind this “celebration”. It is due to the serious impacts of mining that new projects often do not have the necessary social license to operate (what the miners themselves abbreviate as LSO). That is why the industry organizes all kinds of initiatives to wash its image. Promoting the usefulness of minerals is fine, but not if it is used to hide the reality of their extraction.
Who exalt mining
The EMD is an initiative of various mining industry associations such as IMA, Eurometaux and Eurmines, the federation of IndustriALL industry unions with powerful lobbies present in Brussels. The objective they describe aims to show a positive link between mining and society. But an in-depth analysis of the intentions of its lobbyists shows the pursuit of privileged access to primary raw materials, energy negotiations at low prices, legislation adapted to their needs, investments in the raw materials sector and in infrastructure at the service of your needs and a long list of benefits.
Another of the convening actors is the EIT Materias Primas, part of an independent research body of the European Union created to ensure the supply of raw materials for Europe and turn the European raw materials industry into one of the main strengths within the continent. It has a community of more than 120 partners from more than 20 EU countries. They are from industries, universities and research institutes active throughout the value chain of raw materials, from the exploration phase, through mining and mineral processing, recycling and the circular economy.
I will now comment on some points of the EMD approach.
What is really behind the mines
The EMD gives a vision of mining as “integrated in local economies”. But the truth is that it could hardly be otherwise: mining is a destructive extractive activity.
In the places where it is carried out, contamination and depletion of surface waters and aquifers occurs. It leaves behind toxic waste, acid drains and heavy metals. Mining operations produce toxic dust, fumes and fumes, and sometimes radioactive compounds. All this means the modification of the landscape without remedy, with the consequent loss of ecosystems, the threat to animal and plant species and the desertification of the soil.
For all these reasons, serious damages are infringed on pre-existing activities, be they agricultural, tourist or other. An increase in respiratory, intestinal, dermatological, renal and reproductive pathologies in the local population is also frequently reported; and a higher incidence of cancer, leukemia, and congenital malformations.
The issue of employment in the mining sector vs. risks and accidents
The EMD presents mining as an activity that provides employment opportunities within the framework of Industry 4.0 in attractive and modern workplaces. But mining is one of the sectors with the highest accident rate and occupational risks and Spain is not far behind. In 2010, more than 6,100 work accidents were registered in the country. There are examples all over the world, but some were especially engraved on the retina of public opinion, as was the case in 2010 of the 33 miners who were trapped more than 720 meters deep in Copiapó, Chile, for 69 days and were finally protagonists of a rescue can be said to be miraculous since there was no death to mourn. The ending was very different in the case of the rupture of the mining pond of the Corregao do Feixao mine in Brumadinho, in Minas Gerais, Brazil. It happened at the beginning of this 2019 causing the death of 249 people, 21 are still missing, the victims are in good number employees of the Vale mining company and also residents of the place. The cause of the accident is still under investigation, but everything points to serious negligence by a chain of responsible parties that go from the company itself to the certifying company TÜV Süd (to be precise, European, specifically from Germany) of the mine safety and responsible authorities . In Spain, the Aznalcóllar catastrophe was heard, with consequences for the Doñana National Park due to the avalanche of toxic sludge with arsenic, lead and mercury spilled after the dam of the settling basin of the Boliden company mine broke. And so year after year.
Carbon neutral mining?
According to its own call, the EMD supports the European Union's Raw Materials initiative and also aims to highlight its role for "a carbon-neutral European society and for the circular economy." They do not hesitate to classify mineral raw materials in this context as "essential for reducing carbon emissions in all sectors of the economy", and to classify metals and minerals that are in demand in the context of the energy transition as "low emission". But the exploration, extraction, processing and transportation of all these raw materials around the globe from mining projects to consumption centers means vast amounts of energy not accounted for in this misleading narrative. The same happens with the circular economy, of which recycling is a part, which is still very far from being a really significant part of consumption and in which, despite all that is mentioned as a solution to the climate crisis, there is no investing enough effort or money.
Why the need to criticize this initiative?
As I explained above, those mentioned above are powerful players in the extractive industry, who have a lot of money of their own, in addition to subsidies and incentives to promote their activities. On the contrary, communities affected by mining projects in the world and in Europe do not have either the resources or, for the moment, an audible and sufficiently amplified voice from which to claim rights and carry out the defense of their interests.
It does not meet then really dedicate itself to celebrate a day of minerals, but rather to change the narrative of green washing of destructive and polluting industries such as mining, and work for a truly sustainable world, reducing consumption, strict environmental policies, economies premises, defense of territories.
By Guadalupe Rodríguez (@ecologistadelno)
Coordinator of the global network Yes To Life No to Mining for southern Europe and Latin America