What’s Yours is Mined: How the extractive industries are leading a new wave of land grabbing
The issue of land grabbing has itself grabbed headlines recently. Biofuels, so-called agricultural investors, and commodity speculators buying up land have all been criticised for driving a wave of land grabbing and ecosystem destruction in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The resulting rise in food prices, and the reduced access to land, livelihood and home, means that the world's poorest are hardest hit.
But in addition to these recognised trends, the Gaia Foundation is calling the alert on another major cause of global land grabbing: Mining. Our recent report "Opening Pandora's Box" signals a wake-up call that the scale, expansion and acceleration of the mining industry today are far greater than most of us realise. We are no longer talking about isolated pockets of destruction and pollution. New lands and communities, new ecosystems and virgin territories, new depths of earth and sea: all are now fair game for the expanding mining industry.
The extractive industries have grown significantly in the last 10 years, due to changes in consumption patterns, and a throwaway culture where regular technology upgrades are considered the norm. In the last 10 years, exploration budgets have increased nine-fold, from 2 billion to 18 billion dollars. The period between 2005-2010 saw China's mining sector grow by nearly a third[i], while Peru's mining exports grew by one third in 2011 alone[ii]. Meanwhile, the region of Puno in the South of the country has seen mineral concessions almost triple between 2002 and 2010[iii].
But it is in the last 3 years, in particular since the economic crisis began, that we have seen the most dramatic acceleration and expansion of mining into new land and territories. A number of factors have combined to dramatically increase the reach, ambition and devastation. The 2008 collapse of financial markets has led hedge and pension funds to increasingly target "tangible" commodities such as metals, minerals, oil and gas, driving up prices in the process. This has further incentivised extraction, even as deposits with the highest purity or concentration have already been used up. Lower quality and less accessible deposits require more removal of soil, sand and rock, and the gouging out of increasingly large areas of land and water - as seen with the vast Alberta Tar Sands in Canada.
Today, copper extraction requires the removal of 10 times as much earth as 100 years ago. A single gold wedding ring requires 20 tonnes of earth. Technological developments have enabled extraction from hard-to-reach deposits, as seen with the development of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" for shale gas deposits. In South Africa, a consortium of international investors has applied for the rights to drill for shale gas for a section covering around 10% of the country's surface.
This report aims to draw attention to the mining and extractive industries as a whole, and to give an idea of the alarming scale of this overall trend.
In response to this new wave of land grabbing, affected communities and civil society organisations are calling for 3 main demands:
- A global moratorium on new large-scale mining and prospecting;
- Respect for "no-go zones"; and
- The right for communities to say No to mining.
We live on a beautiful and wondrous planet - but it suddenly feels very small. If we continue in our current direction, we may end up by digging the Earth out from under our feet.
By Teresa Anderson
[ii] Ministry of Mining and Energy, Peru, December 2011, http://www.peruthisweek.com/news-1211-Perus-mining-exports-increase-during-2011/
[iii]New Internationalist article "Peruvians rise up against the mines" October 2011.