By ARTURO BOQUIREN
Recently, the Earth Council Asia-Pacific and the International Environment Agency for Local Government conducted a focused group discussion on the approaches and methods used to integrate environment and development. One of the things taken up was the concept of sustainable development.
I pointed out that we must go beyond the typical notion of sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present without jeopardizing the needs of future generations to meet its own needs.” I pointed out that the concept of sustainable development today has been reduced to a byword rather than as a good framework for assessing the correctness of a development strategy.
Sustainable development, for instance, has been used to justify the assaults on the environment. Even activities that harm or destroy the environment are labeled as “sustainable development.” These include paradigms like “sustainable mining” and “responsible mining.” Yet, given the threat of climate change, sustainable development must mean the development of livelihood systems that enhance rather than harm the environment.
We are in the era of global warming. A number of experts believe that the earth’s mean temperature would shoot up by 5.8 degrees centigrade this century when mankind can only afford a mean temperature increase of 2 degrees centigrade without serious risks on poverty rates and man’s survival. One version of the doomsday scenario says that sea level can be 25 meters higher (really, it would be nice to have a more official estimate but the exact nature and impact of climate change are still being debated although a United Nations inter-government panel has a consensus that the consequences of a climate change will not be good and a high percentage of the world population will be at risk of great exposure to poverty with climate change and global warming).
Thus, livelihood systems that threaten or put the environment at greater risks should not be encouraged at all. If there are good returns from mining, we have a good basis to be sure that the same investment could yield better returns if invested elsewhere. I have seen the books of the country’s leading mining companies and the profit they reflect in their official books do not justify the risks they create and pose on the environment.
Land features, vistas, agricultural and residential potential of land are destroyed with mining. For instance, if Securities and Exchange Commission data are used (the data may be faulty but they remain good tools for comparing profitability across industries), what is suggested is that manufacturing firms in the top 5,000 corporations of the country earn a return on equity of 214.23% while mining and quarrying earned a return on equity of only 0.98%.
Even the leading mining firm generated an average return on investments of only 14% for 2002-2006 versus manufacture’s return on equity of over 200%. Yet, government claims that mining is an engine for growth and poverty alleviation? Baloney! Other livelihood systems can earn better returns and this fact is well supported by government data.
For instance, what if the investments on mining are invested instead for agriculture, industries, semi-conductor, greenhouses, or other livelihood alternatives to mining? Return on investments would be higher and poverty would be addressed better as can easily be shown by Securities and Exchange Commission data.
Do we see any mining area in the Philippines that eliminated poverty? No. By destroying land features and vistas, the flexibility of land for other investments is constrained. Land for mining become over-specialized and deprived of flexibility for multiple land uses despite the show tilapia fishponds and show ricefarms.
Of course, there are other issues in mining. Equity is one. Local control over resources is another. Control by indigenous peoples over their lives is also a valid concern. Nationalism is yet another dimension.
I am taking things easy for a while especially because I just quarreled with the Baguio Water District this morning for incorrectly assuming (and overcharging) that I am consuming 22 cubic meters monthly when I have consciously reduced my water consumption to below 7 even if I know that the minimum is 10 (I will not save money but I will be contributing something to society). Anyway, other writers can develop some of the angles I have pointed out above in developing their own pieces on mining.
Meanwhile, what is happening to that free and prior informed consent that Philex was trying to get from the community? I thought Philex was inviting Nordis to visit their company? I will be happy to visit Philex and I have informed Philex my interest to conduct interviews related to their progress on getting a free and prior informed consent from community to operate. #