Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sustainable mining? Minnesota?

This morning I headed in to St. Paul. While there, I learned they still havn't caught on to using sand and salt to keep their streets, and particularly their intersections, from icing. Icy intersections where vehicles and pedestrians share space are bad news. All things considered, I prefer my snow-packed township roads, at least until March when the snow pack turns to ice pack and then mud pack.

snow packed country road
snow packed country road    © harrington

While poking about the internet today, trying to learn about mining and sustainability, I came across this piece on MinnPost, about the "1913 Massacre," published last summer. The author, Louis V. Galdieri, raises points similar to many previously noted in My Minnesota. I also found, a couple of days ago, a fascinating paper by Abbi Buxton, International Institute for Environment and Development, titled "MMSD [Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development] + 10, Reflecting on a decade of mining and sustainable development." I'm glad that there's evidence at least some folks don't think mining and sustainability are completely incompatible. One of the key findings in the report is that:
A set of global rules for best practice on sustainable development and minerals has emerged, although difficulties in translating these at the ground level (both in terms of reporting and implementation) and ensuring consequences for non-compliance (or compliance) remain.
This seems to me to be pretty consistent with the gist of the debate going on between the "We support mining" and the "We protect the environment" folks. The PolyMet project, and other mining projects in the Lake Superior basin and elsewhere, are generating increasingly intense conversations about the risk / reward ratio of such projects and how those risks and rewards are distributed. Does the PolyMet project contribute to any sort of a transition to a more sustainable economy on the Iron Range? Is there any talk about a "Community Benefits Agreement" (or equivalent). What is the legacy, other than pollution and broken rocks, that PolyMet promises? I've been unable to find any PolyMet Corporate Social Responsibility report. Glencore, now (May 2013) Glencore Xstrata, has the following on Xstrata's web site "We recognise that we have a responsibility to maximise returns to shareholders. However, this must be achieved in tandem with an understanding of the role we play in society. What matters is that we continue to invest in the communities in which we operate to create shared value for everyone." [emphasis added] One way I might be convinced that PolyMet and NorthMet aren't "shucking and jiving" us would be if the project were being developed by a Minnesota based "B corp." Here's another quote from MMSD + 10 that helps support my cynicism.
"Community development remains a complicated field in both rhetoric and implementation, although there is evidence of progress and more sophisticated approaches to tackling these issues."

Evidence of progress, to me, is far from equivalent to documented progress. The mining industry, like so many other extractive industries, appears to be more interested in "maximum returns to shareholders." All else is largely window dressing as far as I can tell, based on the record I've seen so far. I truly wish it were otherwise. Are there any exemplary leaders in the mining industry? Is PolyMet one of them? Howard Nemerov's poem seems relevant to today's posting in more ways than one.


By Howard Nemerov 
    an introductory lecture 
This morning we shall spend a few minutes   
Upon the study of symbolism, which is basic   
To the nature of money. I show you this nickel.   
Icons and cryptograms are written all over
The nickel: one side shows a hunchbacked bison   
Bending his head and curling his tail to accommodate   
The circular nature of money. Over him arches
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, and, squinched in   
Between that and his rump, E PLURIBUS UNUM,
A Roman reminiscence that appears to mean   
An indeterminately large number of things   
All of which are the same. Under the bison
A straight line giving him a ground to stand on   
Reads FIVE CENTS. And on the other side of our nickel   
There is the profile of a man with long hair   
And a couple of feathers in the hair; we know   
Somehow that he is an American Indian, and   
He wears the number nineteen-thirty-six.
Right in front of his eyes the word LIBERTY, bent   
To conform with the curve of the rim, appears   
To be falling out of the sky Y first; the Indian   
Keeps his eyes downcast and does not notice this;   
To notice it, indeed, would be shortsighted of him.   
So much for the iconography of one of our nickels,   
Which is now becoming a rarity and something of   
A collectors’ item: for as a matter of fact
There is almost nothing you can buy with a nickel,   
The representative American Indian was destroyed   
A hundred years or so ago, and his descendants’   
Relations with liberty are maintained with reservations,   
Or primitive concentration camps; while the bison,   
Except for a few examples kept in cages,
Is now extinct. Something like that, I think,
Is what Keats must have meant in his celebrated   
Ode on a Grecian Urn.
                               Notice, in conclusion,
A number of circumstances sometimes overlooked   
Even by experts: (a) Indian and bison,
Confined to obverse and reverse of the coin,   
Can never see each other; (b) they are looking   
In opposite directions, the bison past
The Indian’s feathers, the Indian past
The bison’s tail; (c) they are upside down
To one another; (d) the bison has a human face   
Somewhat resembling that of Jupiter Ammon.
I hope that our studies today will have shown you   
Something of the import of symbolism
With respect to the understanding of what is symbolized.

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