Rethinking the use of metals against the extractivist model

Rethinking the use of metals against the extractivist model

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A few weeks ago we attended a technical workshop on the impacts of metal mining on health and the environment. Among some of those data that we will share there was one, which without figures and without much need for an exhaustive investigation, is obvious: there are almost no modern activities that do not use metals and minerals directly or indirectly.

The current extractivist model, in all its facets, threatens common goods. The case of metal mining, that "engine of development" in the mouth of liberal and progressive governments, is one of the most devastating activities due to its social and environmental consequences. And Latin America is the world's leading metal producer. Of all of them the most coveted are gold and silver. Today, nearly 90% of its extraction is done in the open air, polluting surface and groundwater, but also soil and air. And what do we use it for? In the case of gold, only about 10% of what is extracted is used in technology, the rest: 40% in jewelry and the remaining 50% in investments. It comes out of the subsoil of living territories and ecosystems to end up in the subsoil of financial territories: banks. The recycling percentage of these metals is negligible, compared to their extraction. Capitalism thirsts for accumulation.

As they affirm, with the extraction of these and other metals there is also another imbalance: “industrial countries consume 70% of the annual production of the nine most important minerals. The United States, Canada, Australia, Japan and Western Europe, which have 15% of the world's population, consume 61% of aluminum, 60% of lead, 59% of copper and 49% of steel ”.

In Los perversos versos Can Mining Be Sustainable? It is said that “the examination of industrial mining in recent years around the planet shows countless multiple and irreversible damages and destruction of Nature (…) In the economic sphere, the situation is not better either. Countries whose exports depend primarily on mineral or oil resources are economically underdeveloped. " In other words, neither sustainable, nor development, nor anything at all. The investigation points to more data and although it has been carried out from Ecuador, the truth is that the stories are repeated in other places: diseases, dependency, rupture of the social fabric, corruption, migration, criminalization and everything else that such a situation brings with it ...

For those who like to say: "you are against mining, but you stop using a computer", it can be said that it is true, our modern lives use metals and minerals, but against what they want us to believe, the greatest The consumption that is made of them is industrial and armaments. Therefore, it is not about being against the use of metals and minerals but against the model that supports it. Still, from the individual we can rethink some practices.

Undo the discourse of planned obsolescence

A couple of weeks ago we shared a note warning that technological garbage is becoming an unsustainable and poisonous crescendo. In large cities, only 11% of the electronic material generated is recycled and in many cases those “electronic devices, (‘ obsolete ’but functional…), full of metals” end up in the bottom of a closet. Based on this, the Ecuador Shuar Chamber project is asking for support in “spices” to develop its plan. The call is to recycle the electronic devices that sleep in the closet, and to support the Shuar people's struggle against open pit mines and oil extraction. It seeks to give a new life to those devices that will be used in the audiovisual dissemination project that the community itself will carry out as part of the “defense of inhabited territories and thus denounce the future extraction of other metals that will eventually cram other dusty cabinets , when the gadgets these metals helped create are rendered obsolete by marketing programming.

In the first economies of the world you can find many containers to throw electronic scrap that supposedly will be recycled. However, most of the time these devices end up in garbage dumps in distant countries, such as Ghana, to which they arrive under the new business of development cooperation and “taking into account that only a quarter of electronic products can be reused, great some of them end up in the second-hand stores of the region.

The rest are just waste and they end their days in Agbogbloshie, the biggest landfill in Ghana ”. Maybe there is someone who thinks “they shouldn't allow it” or “they should have a law that prohibits it”. The truth is that the “European Union itself has laws that prohibit the export of hazardous waste, but disguised as second-hand goods or even donations, they manage to circumvent legal barriers and reach port. In the United States there is no regulation that prohibits the export of electronic waste ”.

Once again, all that capitalism touches is business ... Not sustainable, not friendly, or anything like it. Simple and plain business. The forecasts do not seem to show an encouraging horizon; According to predictions, the amount of electronic waste in the world will increase 33% in 5 years.

The rule of law, many rights and no obligations

Despite the number of known and reported cases of communities and entire populations that have been affected by the extraction of gold, silver or coltan (to name just a few), companies continue to mutate their discourses and have the necessary laws to legally contaminate . Proving that a mining company has destroyed the ecosystem of a region where it has been located and that its inhabitants are suffering from incurable diseases is an (almost) impossible mission. "Hard data" is needed that is often not available to communities. In light of these realities, the NGO Source International provides high-level technical-scientific support free of charge so that communities affected by these activities "can assess the damage to their resources and promote remedial actions." Without a doubt, it is of the utmost importance that science be put at the service of communities in order to fight in the legal field.

However, as Sacher and Acosta remind us, “the global mining industry is not subject to any international legal framework. At most, it undertakes, always on a voluntary basis, to regulate its activities through the signing of numerous agreements ”. Once again the call is then to take responsibility for those who consume, to exercise our market freedom in local markets -whenever possible- and in fair markets. Even so, it is important that our actions are preventive, stop them before they settle in the territories and destroy them, become aware of what our small actions, together, can do.

The impacts of the activities of the mining extractivist model on the communities and the environment are beginning to be seen even before the first explosions sound that will blow the rocks of our mountains into the air. From the exploration stage there is purchase of wills, laying of roads (which facilitate hunting and massive logging activities) and destruction of the forest layer in addition to causing fragmentation of the natural habitat, which is the main cause of the disappearance of plant species And animals. In the (not so) long term, mining (and oil) activities can accelerate or produce earthquakes since the subsoil is emptied and the balance of the tectonic layers on which our continents lie is broken.

In the short term, one of the biggest problems in mining is waste rocks. To get to the place where there is a “profitable concentration” of the metals you want to extract, you have to get rid of what is above. All that rock that before we saw in the form of beautiful mountains and "does not work", will now be transformed into mountains of garbage that will release the heavy metals stored in them into the air, water and soil. These wastes cause acid drainage, a contamination that can last, without exaggeration, thousands of years. The Iron Mountain mine in California closed in 1963 but will continue to pollute the Sacramento River with acid drainage for another 3,000 years.

Does this mean we want to go back to the Stone Age? It's clear, hype has always been a great marketing tool that works for those unfamiliar with the topic. You are not talking about going back to the Stone Age.

The proposals that advocate the reduction of consumption, the great cardinal sin (ista), are many and diverse, but deep down they all advocate consuming only what we need. For example, we find electrical and electronic devices that seem to fight again and again; others instead seem to want to throw in the towel at the first tap. The problem is not consuming things but the amount of things we consume and the lack of interest in trying to find a solution to the problem, before getting rid of them.

But let's go further. We've done it all: we reduce, reuse, repair and recycle (or donate for recycling) and still need a new device to replace the current one. How to make a responsible consumption of technologies?

Not long ago we shared the news that the first truly free laptop was presented, a device developed by Gluglug, a British company that is responsible for modifying old Lenovo laptops, taking care of releasing their software but also their hardware, to obtain computers. with greater durability. To this day "these notebooks are famous among administrators for being especially reliable and durable." There is also an alternative if what is needed is a new mobile phone. It's called FairPhone and it's "a smartphone designed and produced with minimal harm to people and the planet" by controlling the entire manufacturing chain. In addition, its prototypes are available in open source, which makes it a replicable project.

That is why for some this is a free and supportive mobile phone. There is another, resounding proposal: that of this Hindu who creates a refrigerator that works without electricity. And in reality there are more and more industrial designers, architects or technicians interested and interested in (re) creating less aggressive and equally comfortable alternatives for our lives.

And what if it is me, in the first person, who wants to learn / teach these things? In Oaxaca one day, a group of friends interested in sharing experiences and knowledge in technologies and free computing, decided to create Min, a project to recycle electronic waste and donate computer equipment to schools in marginalized areas of the State. Not only do they receive any device “that connects to electricity” but they are open to teaching what they know to other people willing to learn it. In fact, your materials and documents are online to be downloaded. Because, as they themselves say:

“We work to make technology accessible to everyone. Our vision of technology is focused on solving humanity's problems in a responsible way with society and with our mother nature ”.

How many things do we own? We live in the world of programmed obsolescence and yet we see that there are alternatives. Choosing them depends on each and every one of us. Consuming less is not synonymous with not consuming anything, but rather with taking responsibility for what we buy. Or what we can exchange: the Nolotiro website, I give it to you (without conditions) collects real data, from people who have chosen not to throw away what no longer serves them, they put it in this digital window so that other people can take it and extend it its useful life.

The markets and the economy are not new. They exist since humanity has more or less complex forms of relationship. But there are economies and markets beyond capitalism, many people are already today trying to build other types of commercial relationships, to experience some possible exits from the labyrinth of capitalist development.


Video: Bold ideas and achievable solutions for a #GreenNewDeal. Doyle Canning. TEDxUOregon (June 2022).


  1. Galeel

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  2. Yiftach

    I find that you are not right. We will discuss.

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