I recently attended an latin-american expo-conference for the mining industry and its providers. I was there because one of the company’s I am consulting with has been contracted by an important nickel and gold mining company to manage a few of its environmental restoration projects; Most countries have laws that stipulate environmental mitigation for damage caused by mining operations. The quality of compensation varies wildly of course and is too often conducted so as to reach the minimum requirement and with little long-term environmental or social fore-sight.
I took a taxi to the event and when I told the driver where I was going, he chuckled a bit and said verbatim “Oh you’re against the Indians”. Wow, what a sad perception the mining (& hydroelectric) industry has set for itself. Not that I was surprised, by simply perusing the web for mining news, there always seems to be an indigenous resistance going on, particularly in the Americas. As someone with a lifelong affinity for the forest and the people that live in the forest, I am almost unequivocally opposed to mining operations that cross a certain threshold of environmental, and of course social, damage. However, I understand the need. I drive a car, I have a mobile phone, those minerals are useful and an essential part of my daily life. Socially responsible mining, with universally accepted standards, must become the norm. Since it is difficult to imagine an end to all mining activities I would like to see is a better mechanism for protecting mitigation forests. Simply plantings a few trees is not enough, there must be a critical discussion made about the cause of deforestation and what we can do to create real, perpetual, environmental compensation. The problem with reforestation is that if it is done in an area that was once deforested (which is normally the case), it tends to be threatened for the same reasons that it was originally deforested.
In the tropics, reforested areas need value to be conserved, whether through tourism, carbon sequestration, or for timber, (yes timber); Planted conservation forests (with the exception of National Parks) need to managed and designed by both environmentalists and economists. My theory is that it is possible to manage and protect a forest through either low-impact harvesting or by allocating a small percentage of that forest to intensive commercial reforestation and logging. The revenue from either of these can be used to conserve and protect the greater forest, possibly through a foundation. Ideally, the forest could be even expanded through the acquisition of adjoining lands. Additionally a system like this could/would create a sustainable source of jobs and income for local communities.
If the mining industry and other environmental offenders can create real mitigation programs that are perpetual and realistic perhaps they can reduce some of the stigma that they have been given.