Thursday, July 10, 2014

Stuart Kirsch's "Mining Capitalism"

Stuart Kirsch is an anthropologist who works in the Pacific and the Amazon on indigenous politics and environmental issues. He is professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan.

Kirsch is the author of Reverse Anthropology: Indigenous Analysis of Social and Environmental Relations in New Guinea (2006), and the newly released Mining Capitalism: The Relationship between Corporations and their Critics.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Mining Capitalism and reported the following:
Mining Capitalism examines the relationship between corporations and their critics. It reveals the strategies corporations use to counter criticism and evade regulation, allowing them to continue externalizing the social and environmental costs of production.

The first half of the book follows the international campaign against the environmental impact of the Ok Tedi copper and gold mine in Papua New Guinea, including litigation against the mining company in the Australian courts. Page 99 describes how lawyers working for the mining company convinced the Papua New Guinea government to criminalize participation in the lawsuit, actions resulting in a judgment of contempt of court.

Before the bill was passed, it was the subject of debate in the media and in Parliament. On Page 99, I write about a mining company advertisement published in a local newspaper that encouraged people to accept modest monetary compensation in lieu of participating in the lawsuit. The 1995 newspaper ad:
indicated that the plaintiffs could continue to pursue compensation in the Australian courts even “though it may take years before there are any results, and the result may not be what people want.” However, the claim that their access to the courts in Australia was protected turned out to be inaccurate when the Parliament subsequently passed a second bill criminalizing participation in foreign legal proceedings. The ad also claimed that the mining company “supported a government proposal for an independent inquiry into disposal of tailings from the mine” and that “the company has also made a commitment to reduce the environmental impact of sediment on the river,” but offered no concrete guarantees that anything would be done.
In hindsight, the deception of the mining company ad is even more stark as more than 2,500 square kilometers of rain forest have been lost to pollution from the mine. Some parts of the river are affected by acid mine drainage, in which the production of sulfuric acid renders the environment inhospitable for organic life, often for centuries.

I also discuss the debate about the bill in the Parliament of Papua New Guinea on Page 99:
Several MPs were concerned that the agreement did not address tailings containment, although the sponsor of the bill indicated that [the mining company] had expressed its willingness to address the issue separately. Other MPs made reference to mining projects in their own districts and wanted the Parliament to devise a general solution to the question of compensation. They also expressed concerns about the environmental impacts of mining, oil, and gas projects in Papua New Guinea given the country’s dependence on resource extraction. But there was general support for separating the provision of compensation to the people living downstream from the Ok Tedi mine, which was seen to be urgent and desirable, from the larger and more complex question of reducing environmental impacts. Several of the MPs raised concerns about the relatively low value of the compensation payments, which, after being divided up among the number of people affected by the mine, amounted to annual payments of only K125 ($95) per person. But other MPs pointed out that the total value of the compensation package was larger than any other group in Papua New Guinea had received.
The bill passed, mandating monetary compensation to the people who opted out of the lawsuit. However, it failed to address the environmental problems caused by the mine, which continues to pollute one of the largest river systems in New Guinea.

The second half of Mining Capitalism examines how the mining industry has responded to its indigenous and NGO critics, including its appropriation of the language of critique, which has resulted in claims about corporate social responsibility and sustainable mining. It also examines new political strategies that offer more hopeful outcomes than the environmental devastation caused by the Ok Tedi mine.
Visit Stuart Kirsch's webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue