It’s time to go ‘Beyond Extractivism’

New UN research has revealed that resource extraction is responsible for 80% of biodiversity loss and 50% of the world’s carbon emissions.

Here, in a short article written for Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland, Gaia’s Hannibal Rhoades begins to lay out the case for moving ‘beyond extractivism’ to regenerative ways of living, and the importance of taking our lead from communities who never left this path.

See original piece in FoE Northern Ireland’s ‘To Mine or To Mind’ newsletter.


The extractive industries have framed their activities as essential for the progress of societies around the world, especially in the Global South. Mining = development, because mining = economic growth, is the basic equation.

Operations at the Yanacocha Mine, Peru. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

But this kind of ‘development’, founded on extractivism, is unsustainable, unjust and inevitably bound for failure. Ours is a finite planet, and to go on extracting to fuel the overconsumption of the few at the expense of the many is neither desirable nor possible.

We need alternatives to this kind of development, and these alternatives need to take us beyond extractivism. That means asking not ‘how can mining be done better?’ but ‘how can we minimise all extractive activities, understanding that they are predicated on harm?’

Post-extractivism, rooted inthe Latin American experience of mining destruction, is a set of ideas, proposals, and living practices that explore how we can bring this change about and liberate communities and ecosystems from mining destruction.

The change must start deep, in our values. Extractivism is enabled by a worldview in which all non-human nature, and even humans ‘other’ from ‘us’, are seen as raw materials or labour to be exploited. So, a post-extractive world, and our efforts to get there, must recognise the interconnectedness and inherent value of all life.

The change must involve radical political and economic changes that shift our societal priorities, measures of development and decision-making about our common natural wealth away from economic growth. This demand for endless growth is pursued by extracting increasingly large volumes of minerals, metals, and other natural wealth to meet growing and unevenly, unjustly demand. It is the root cause of extractivist policies and economic reforms that make this extraction possible at our expense.

The change must provide a platform to communities whose livelihoods, worldviews and connection to place show us how to live well on Earth, in non-extractive ways. Far from being the impoverished communities mining companies present them as, these communities are on the pathwayto post-extractivism, if indeed theyever left it. Their commitment to care of the land, community, direct democracy and truly sustainable livelihoods shows the way.

Farmers from Cajamarca, Colombia, led a successful resistance process to stop a mega-gold mine to protect their rich agricultural livelihoods. Photo: Federico Pardo for We Feed the World

Looking to the future, Uruguayan activist-academic Eduardo Gudynas describes how and why such post-extractive alternatives to development would serve us and the Earth for the better:

“[It] seeks to ensure people’s quality of life, in a broad sense that goes beyond material well-being (to include spiritual wellbeing) and the individual (to include a sense of community), as well as beyond anthropocentrism (to include Nature).”