Thursday, June 22, 2006

The other week you probably got a couple of "stop Pascua Lama mine" petition emails in your inbox. The mining operation requires that an area of "glacier" be disturbed in Valle de San Felix, Chile. According to the email watercourses, land, and locals will be plundered. Not overly surprising, because mining is generally bad. But gold is widely recognised as good. Therein lies the problem.

The Chilean Government has approved the mine. Grist Magazine had an article last week about the campaign to stop it. It covers the impact of email campaigning (read "viral marketing") - but not to the extent that a raft of hoax campaign commentators do. A key point made by hoax-slayer is that email petitions can be counter-productive: people sign then consider that they've done enough (much the same as a criticism of recycling that I've written about before). As the Grist article points out: "...this is a local fight".

So the challenge then becomes finding more meaningful ways of lending support. Finding and supporting individuals and organisations who have a local presence. Or at least whose voice is more likely to be heard - in this category are Mining Watch of Canada. "Supporting local solutions" has been increasingly vocalised in the aid and development sector since the neo-colonialism argument erupted during the cold war. It applies here too.

It's an interesting twist on the "think global act local" mantra. At the core of the issue is consumer demand for products that use mined material. So lets be honest and realistic. Is it possible to stop using mined material? Not soon. Is it reasonable to stop the mine? Maybe, but probably not from NZ. Is it important to ensure mining companies mine responsibly? Hell yes!

My reasoning may illustrated by way of example. Here in NZ the high impacts of one looming coal mine are being highlighted by Save Happy Valley. Anyone with half an eye on local media knows about it. And there it is on their website - you can do something direct about it. Pascua Lama is not a valid individual concern if you (as a Kiwi) are not informed about Happy Valley.

If Mining Watch are as successful as the International Rivers Network were in supporting local efforts to lower the social and environmental impact of large dam construction, you should get behind them. If they're worth their salt they'll be active in Valle de San Felix. If not then get your bones to Chile. Regardless, you'll be more informed if you consider Happy Valley.

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