Ever since early humans first fashioned native copper into tools, utensils and jewelry, metals have been an essential part of human civilization…
Miners like to say “if you don’t grow it in the soil or fish it from the sea, you have to dig it from the earth”. Minerals are as necessary for our lives today as are food and wood, it would simply be impossible to exist without them. And yet, even though they claim to understand this, environmental activists are generally anti-mining. This is epitomized by Operation Underground, an ultra-leftist coalition that works to oppose mining developments around the world. And indeed there are many examples of mining operations that cause serious damage to the environment. How can we approach this issue in a logical, science-based manner? Here is a speech I gave to the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada in March, 1997. You will find some sections are in common with “Hard Choices for the Environmental Movement”.
Hard Choices for Environmentalists and the Mining Industry
Toronto, Ontario, March 10, 1997
It was the mining industry that turned me into a radical environmental activist in 1969. As a Ph.D. student at the University of British Columbia, I had chosen to study the environmental impact of the Island Copper Mine on northern Vancouver Island. The mine operators, Utah Construction and Mining, claimed that they could safely dispose of 40,000 tones of mine tailings daily into the waters of Rupert Inlet. They said the inlet was stratified into layers of differing density and that so long as the tailings were injected into the deep zone they would remain there, far below the productive surface water.
Preliminary research turned up previous oceanographic surveys indicating that Rupert Inlet was actually thoroughly mixed from top to bottom, indicating that the tailings would inevitably rise to the surface. I made these findings public and, with the approval of my professors, presented them to public hearings looking into the proposal. Considerable controversy ensued, but the mine got its permit despite the evidence brought forward
Shortly after, I was approached by the head of my thesis committee. He informed me that he had been approached by the Dean of the Faculty.The Dean, in turn, had been counseled by someone of stature in society that perhaps if I expected to get a job when I graduated I might consider changing the nature of my inquiry. I rebelled against this apparent coercion and resolved to prove my hypothesis. Through oceanographic research conducted on site over a three year period I demonstrated conclusively that the tailings had been spread throughout the water from top to bottom. Despite a concerted effort by mining interests to block acceptance of my work I was granted a Ph.D. in resource ecology in 1972.
In retrospect, it seems the mining engineers were right about the bigger picture. The alternative to submarine disposal was a massive tailings dam on the land. This would have resulted in a long-term acid rock drainage problem and the threat of tailings dam failure. Despite the fact that some of the tailings were mixed into the surface waters it does not appear that long-term damage to the marine environment has occurred.
The Rise of Environmental Extremism
We have arrived at a confusing juncture in the evolution of the environmental movement and the response to it by government and industry. It seems as rapidly as reforms are made and environmental policies strengthened, the more strident the environmental movement’s rhetoric becomes and the more unreasonable their demands appear to be. Tonight I hope to shed some light on this puzzling contradiction and to suggest how we might bring about a less polarized debate regarding the impact of the mining industry on the environment, and on local communities that depend on it.
More than twenty-five years ago I was one of a dozen or so activists who founded Greenpeace in the basement of the Unitarian Church in Vancouver. The Vietnam war was raging and nuclear holocaust seemed closer every day. We linked peace, ecology, and a talent for media communications and went on to build the world’s largest environmental activist organization. By 1986 Greenpeace was established in 26 countries and had an income of over $100 million per year.
By 1986 the mainstream of western society was busy adopting the environmental agenda that was considered radical only fifteen years earlier. By 1989 the combined impact of Chernobyl, the Exxon Valdez, the threat of global warming and the ozone hole clinched the debate. All but a handful of reactionaries joined the call for sustainable development and environmental protection.
Whereas previously the leaders of the environmental movement found themselves on the outside railing at the gates of power, they were now invited to the table in boardrooms and caucuses around the world. For environmentalists, accustomed to the politics of confrontation, this new era of acceptance posed a challenge as great as any campaign to save the planet.
For me, the environmental movement is about ringing an ecological fire alarm, waking mass consciousness to the true dimensions of our global predicament, pointing out the problems and defining their nature. Environmentalists don’t necessarily have the solutions to those problems and certainly aren’t equipped to put them into practice on their own. That requires the combined efforts of governments, corporations, public institutions and environmentalists. This demands a high degree of cooperation and collaboration. The politics of blame and shame must be replaced with the politics of working together and win-win.
It was no coincidence that the round-table, consensus-based negotiation process was adopted by thousands of environmental leaders. It is the logical tool for working in the new spirit of green cooperation. It may not be a perfect system for decision-making, but like Churchill said about democracy, “It’s the worst form of government except for all the others”. A collaborative approach promises to give environmental issues their fair consideration in relation to the traditional economic and social priorities.
Some environmentalists didn’t see it that way. Indeed, there had always been a minority of extremists who took a “No Compromise in Defense of Mother Nature” position. They were the monkey-wrenchers, tree-spikers and boat scuttlers of the Earth First! and Paul Watson variety. Considered totally uncool by the largely pacifist, intellectual mainstream of the movement, they were a colorful but renegade element.
Since its founding in the late 1960’s the modern environmental movement had created a vision that was international in scope and had room for people of all political persuasions. We prided ourselves in subscribing to a philosophy that was “trans-political, trans-ideological, and trans-national” in character. For Greenpeace, the Cree legend “Warriors of the Rainbow” referred to people of all colors and creeds, working together for a greener planet. The traditional sharp division between left and right was rendered meaningless by the common desire to protect our life support systems. Violence against people and property were the only taboos. Non-violent direct action and peaceful civil disobedience were the hallmarks of the movement. Truth mattered and science was respected for the knowledge it brought to the debate.
Now this broad-based vision is challenged by a new philosophy of radical environmentalism. In the name of “deep ecology” many environmentalists have taken a sharp turn to the ultra-left, ushering in a mood of extremism and intolerance. As a clear signal of this new agenda, in 1990 Greenpeace called for a “grassroots revolution against pragmatism and compromise”.
As an environmentalist in the political center I find myself branded a traitor and a sellout by this new breed of saviors. My name appears in Greenpeace’s “Guide to Anti-Environmental Organizations”. Even fellow Greenpeace founder and campaign comrade, Bob Hunter, has referred to me as the “eco-Judas”. Yes, I am trying to help the Canadian forest industry improve its environmental performance. As chair of the Forest Practices Committee of the Forest Alliance of B.C. I lead the process of drafting and implementing the Principles of Sustainable Forestry that have been adopted by a majority of the industry. These Principles establish goals for environmental protection, forest management and public participation. They are providing a framework for dialogue and action towards improvements in forest practices. Why shouldn’t I make a contribution to environmental reform in the industry my grandfather and father have worked in for over 90 years?
It’s not that I don’t think the environment is in deep trouble. The hole in the ozone is real and we are overpopulating and overexploiting many of the earth’s most productive ecosystems. I believe this is all the more reason to hang on to ideas like freedom, democracy, internationalism, and one-human-family. Our species is probably in for a pretty rough ride during the coming decades. It would be nice to think we could maintain a semblance of civilization while we work through these difficult times.
Two profound events triggered the split between those advocating a pragmatic or “liberal” approach to ecology and the new “zero-tolerance” attitude of the extremists. The first event, mentioned previously, was the widespread adoption of the environmental agenda by the mainstream of business and government. This left environmentalists with the choice of either being drawn into collaboration with their former “enemies” or of taking ever more extreme positions. Many environmentalists chose the latter route. They rejected the concept of “sustainable development” and took a strong “anti-development” stance.
Surprisingly enough the second event that caused the environmental movement to veer to the left was the fall of the Berlin Wall. Suddenly the international peace movement had a lot less to do. Pro-Soviet groups in the West were discredited. Many of their members moved into the environmental movement bringing with them their eco-Marxism and pro-Sandinista sentiments.
These factors have contributed to a new variant of the environmental movement that is so extreme that many people, including myself, believe its agenda is a greater threat to global sustainability than that posed by mainstream society. Some of the features of eco-extremism are:
- It is anti-human. The human species is characterized as a “cancer” on the face of the earth. Extremists perpetuate the belief that all human activity is negative whereas the rest of nature is good. This results in alienation from nature and subverts the most important lesson of ecology; that we are all part of nature and interdependent with it. This aspect of environmental extremism leads to disdain and disrespect for fellow humans and the belief that it would be “good” if a disease such as AIDS were to wipe out most of the population.
- It is anti-technology and anti-science Eco-extremists dream of returning to some kind of technologically primitive society. All large machines are seen as inherently evil. Science is invoked only as a means of justifying the adoption of beliefs that have no basis in science to begin with.
- It is anti-organization. Environmental extremists tend to expect the whole world to adopt anarchism as the model for individual behavior. This is expressed in their dislike of national governments, multinational corporations, and large institutions of all kinds. It would seem that this critique applies to all organizations except the environmental movement itself. Corporations are criticized for taking profits made in one country and investing them in other countries, this being proof that they have no “allegiance” to local communities. Where is the international environmental movements allegiance to local communities? How much of the money raised in the name of aboriginal peoples has been distributed to them? How much is dedicated to helping loggers and miners thrown out of work by environmental campaigns?
- It is anti-trade. Eco-extremists are not only opposed to “free trade” but to international trade in general. This is based on the belief that each “bioregion” should be self-sufficient in all its material needs. If it’s too cold to grow bananas – too bad. Certainly anyone who studies ecology comes to realize the importance of natural geographic units such as watersheds, islands, and estuaries. As foolish as it is to ignore ecosystems it is absurd to put fences around them as if they were independent of their neighbours. In its extreme version, bioregionalism is just another form of ultra-nationalism and gives rise to the same excesses of intolerance and xenophobia.
- It is anti-free enterprise. Despite the fact that communism and state socialism have failed, eco-extremists are basically anti-business. They dislike “competition” and are definitely opposed to profits. Anyone engaging in private business, particularly if they are successful, is characterized as greedy and lacking in morality. The extremists do not seem to find it necessary to put forward an alternative system of organization that would prove efficient at meeting the material needs of society. They are content to set themselves up as the critics of international free enterprise while offering nothing but idealistic platitudes in its place.
- It is anti-democratic. This is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of radical environmentalism. The very foundation of our society, liberal representative democracy, is rejected as being too “human-centered”. In the name of “speaking for the trees and other species” we are faced with a movement that would usher in an era of eco-fascism. The “planetary police” would “answer to no one but Mother Earth herself”
- It is basically anti-civilization. In its essence, eco-extremism rejects virtually everything about modern life. We are told that nothing short of returning to primitive tribal society can save the earth from ecological collapse. No more cities, no more airplanes, no more polyester suits. It is a naive vision of a return to the Garden of Eden. The Southern Hemisphere Native Forest Network puts it succinctly when they state that “it is necessary to adopt a global phase-out strategy of consumer-based industrial capitalism.”
As a result of the rise of environmental extremism it has become difficult for the public, government agencies and industry to determine which demands are reasonable and which are not. It’s almost as if the person or group that makes the most outrageous accusations and demands is automatically called “the environmentalist” in the news story. Industry, no matter how sincere in its efforts to satisfy legitimate environmental concerns, is branded “the threat to the environment”. Let me give you a few brief examples.
The Brent Spar
In 1995, Shell Oil was granted permission by the British Environment Ministry to dispose of the oil rig “Brent Spar” in deep water in the North Sea. Greenpeace immediately accused Shell of using the sea as a “dustbin”. Greenpeace campaigners maintained that there were hundreds of tonnes of petroleum wastes on board the Brent Spar and that some of these were radioactive. They organized a consumer boycott of Shell service stations, costing the company millions in sales. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl denounced the British government’s decision to allow the dumping. Caught completely off guard, Shell ordered the tug that was already towing the rig to its burial site to turn back. They then announced they had abandoned the plan for deep-sea disposal. This angered British Prime Minister, John Major.
The Brent Spar was towed into a Norwegian fjord where it remains to this day. Independent investigation revealed that the rig had been properly cleaned and did not contain the toxic and radioactive waste claimed by Greenpeace. Greenpeace wrote to Shell apologizing for the factual error. But they did not change their position on deep-sea disposal despite the fact that on-land disposal will cause far greater environmental impact.
During all the public outrage directed against Shell for daring to sink a large piece of steel and concrete it was never noted that Greenpeace had purposely sunk its own ship off the coast of New Zealand in 1986. When the French government bombed and sunk the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour in 1985, the vessel was permanently disabled. It was later re-floated, patched up, cleaned and towed to a marine park where it was sunk in shallow water as a dive site. Greenpeace said the ship would be an artificial reef and would support increased marine life.
The Brent Spar and the Rainbow Warrior are in no way fundamentally different from one another. The sinking of the Brent Spar could also be rationalized as providing habitat for marine creatures. It’s just that the public relations people at Shell are not as clever as those at Greenpeace. And in this case Greenpeace got away with using misinformation even though they had to admit their error after the fact.
WWF and Species Extinction
In March, 1996, the International Panel on Forests of the United Nations held its first meeting in Geneva. The media paid little attention to what appeared to be one more ponderous assemblage of delegates speaking in unintelligible UNese. As it turned out, the big story to emerge from the meeting had nothing to do with the Panel on Forests itself. In what has become a common practice, The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) chose to use the occasion of the UN meeting as a platform for its own news release.
The WWF news release, which was widely picked up by the international media, made three basic points. They claimed that species were going extinct at a faster rate now than at any time since the dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago. They said that 50,000 species were now becoming extinct each year due to human activity. But of most significance to the subject of forests, WWF claimed that the main cause of species extinction was “commercial logging”, that is, the forest industry. They provided absolutely no evidence for this so-called fact about logging and the media asked no hard questions. The next day newspapers around the world proclaimed the forest industry to be the main destroyer of species.
Since that announcement I have asked on numerous occasions for the name of a single species that has been rendered extinct due to forestry, particularly in my home country, Canada. Not one Latin name has been provided. It is widely known that human activity has been responsible for the extinction of many species down through history. These extinctions have been caused by hunting, the conversion of forest and grassland to farming and human settlement, and the introduction of exotic diseases and predators. Today, the main cause of species extinction is deforestation, over 90% of which is caused by agriculture and urban development. Why is WWF telling the public that logging is the main cause of species extinction?
While I do not wish to guess at the WWF’s motivation, it is instructional to consider the question from a different angle. That is, if forestry does not generally cause species extinction, what other compelling reason is there to be against it? Surely the fact that logging is unsightly for a few years after the trees are cut is not sufficient reason to curtail Canada’s most important industry.
Despite the WWF’s failure to support its accusations, the myth that forestry causes widespread species extinction lives on. How can a largely urban public be convinced that this is not the case? The challenge is a daunting one for an industry that has been cast in the role of Darth Vadar when it should be recognized for growing trees and providing wood, the most renewable material used in human civilization.
Chlorine in Manufacturing
I don’t mean to pick on Greenpeace but they are close to my heart and have strayed farther from the truth than I can tolerate. In this case the issue is chlorine, an element that is used in a wide variety of industrial, medical, and agricultural applications. In 1985 Greenpeace took up the campaign to eliminate chlorine from all industrial processes, to essentially remove it from human use despite its enormous benefits to society.
The basis of the campaign was the discovery that the use of chlorine as a bleaching agent in the pulp and paper industry resulted in the production of minute quantities of dioxin, some of which ended up in waste water. The industry responded quickly and within five years of the discovery had virtually eliminated dioxins by switching to a different form of chlorine or eliminating chlorine altogether. The addition of secondary treatment resulted in further improvements. Independent scientists demonstrated that after these measures were taken, pulp mills using chlorine had no more environmental impact than those that used no chlorine. Did Greenpeace accept the science? No, they tried to discredit the scientists and to this day continue a campaign that is based more on fear than fact. Its as if chlorine should be banned from the periodic table of elements altogether so future generations won’t know it exists.
Environmental Extremism and the Mining Industry
This problem of extremism is particularly difficult for the international mining industry. The multitude of concerns related to environmental damage combined with social justice issues regarding local people, often aboriginal, has led to a very negative impression. From Ok Tedi in Papua New Guinea to Voisey’s Bay in Labrador to Freeport in Indonesia to Marcopper in the Philippines, stories of cultural and environmental abuse hit the front pages around the world. How can the mining industry respond to this situation in a responsible and progressive manner?
It is not reasonable to expect the environmental movement to drop its extremist agenda overnight. The rise of extremism is a major feature of the movement’s evolution and is now deeply embedded in its political structure. We can hope that as time passes the movement will be retaken by more politically centrist, science-based leaders and that the extreme wing will be marginalized. At the same time, we must remember that most of the larger environmental groups such as the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council etc. do have many members and campaign teams that are reasonable and based on good science. It’s just that for the time being, major elements of their organizations have been hi-jacked by people who are politically motivated, lack science, and are often using the rhetoric of environmentalism to promote other causes such as class struggle and anti-corporatism.
The only way industry can successfully help to promote a more pragmatic and reasonable environmental movement is to prove that it is willing and able to avoid future damage to the environment and to correct past abuses. In other words, if your house is in order, there will be little or nothing for extremists to use as a reason for taking an essentially “anti-mining” position.
Let’s look, in retrospect, at the case of the Tatshenshini area in northern British Columbia. For all its wealth, power and knowledge the mining industry was not able to convince governments, the public, or environmental leaders that it could develop an open-pit copper mine without causing destruction of the wilderness. The spectre of acid rock drainage and huge ore trucks disturbing the peace of high-end river rafters combined to convince the British Columbia government to rule out development altogether. They declared the entire million hectares, with its $8 billion in copper reserves, a World Heritage Area. I’m not judging whether this is good or bad – future generations might be glad we left them some decent ore bodies and they might mine them in a more environmentally friendly way than we do today.
Was there a way, if the mining companies involved had acted differently, to avoid this outcome and to reach a compromise on development? I believe there was. The mine developers were unreasonably rigid in insisting that a bridge be built over the Tatshenshini River for ore transport. They gave the impression they were not willing to consider alternative transport routes such as tunneling under the river if a crossing was absolutely necessary. In addition, they were not able to convince regulatory agencies or political leaders that they could manage acid rock drainage successfully. It seems that promotion may have been put ahead of sound engineering and communication.
I will now present what I believe are the keys to future improvement in the mining industries environmental performance under four broad headings. These are; sustainable development, biodiversity, watershed management, and public participation.
Sustainability and the Mining Industry
Some people laugh when the term sustainable development, or sustainability as it is now usually called, is applied to the mining industry. It seems ludicrous to many people to call an industry based on non-renewable resources “sustainable”. This is because they do not understand the real meaning of the concept of “sustainability”.
First, it is important to remember that just because a resource is non-renewable doesn’t automatically mean it will soon run out. Iron, copper, manganese, titanium and aluminum are good examples of minerals whose production can be sustained into the foreseeable future. Second, sustainability is a relative concept, not an absolute one. Nothing lasts forever, even the sun will burn out in three or four billion years and is therefore not perfectly sustainable.
Sustainability is not about finding an ideal state that will last forever. It is about managing through the inevitable change so as to satisfy present-day environmental, economic, and social priorities while not foreclosing the options for future generations to do the same. This is a tall order for all segments of our society but it should be no more difficult for the mining industry than for any other.
I recommend that the mining industry adopts the philosophy of sustainability as their central goal for strategic planning.
The concept of biological diversity, the short form of which is biodiversity, is often difficult for miners to grasp. It comes easier to foresters and farmers as they are trained in the life sciences such as botany, ecology and animal husbandry. For geologists and engineers biodiversity can appear very nebulous, a catch-all phrase that, when used with reference to the mining industry, nearly always spells trouble.
In fact the term biodiversity, at one level, is fairly simple. It means the sum total of living things in a given ecosystem, that is the ecosystem minus the rocks, water and air. It is usually taken to include the soil, in which there is an organic component that is derived from the decomposition of living things.
In the past , miners have tended to treat biodiversity as that bunch of green stuff you have to get out of the way in order to reach the good things underground. In British Columbia, early prospectors burned entire mountains of forests in order to make it easier to see the rocks beneath. Even today, there is not enough recognition of the fact that the core value of environmentalism is the protection of biodiversity. This means incorporating the principles of conservation biology, critical habitat protection and ecological restoration into development plans from the beginning. This cannot be done by engineers alone. The mining industry must employ a larger number of specialists in the life sciences, in particular people who know how to repair the inevitable damage caused by the very nature of the industry.
The job of ecological restoration cannot be an add-on, something only considered after the mining is done. Ecological restoration must be integrated into planning from the beginning and must be an ongoing part of development.
Before a mine is developed there must be a thorough inventory of biodiversity, a plan to minimize disturbance during operations, and sufficient financial and human resources to carry out both ongoing and final restoration. It is not good enough to just spray a mixture of grass seed on barren rock. Native plants and habitats must be restored where possible and where not there must be an effort to create new habitats that are biodiverse and productive.
The Island Copper Mine run by BHP on northern Vancouver Island offers a good example. Even before the mine closed in 1995, after 25 years of operation , ongoing restoration had returned much of the disturbed area to grasslands and forest. Now that the mine is closed over 400,000 trees have been planted on the re-contoured site. This resulted in positive coverage in the national media and a better image for the industry.
Getting more down to earth, many of the environmental problems associated with mining involve water and impacts on water quality and watershed health. The most destructive operations are those that dump mine tailings directly into rivers. But there are hundreds of other examples of catastrophic tailings dams failures and uncontrolled leaching of acid drainage into waterways causing an unacceptable level of pollution. These impacts could usually have been avoided by more comprehensive engineering.
It is no longer acceptable to dump mine tailings into a river under any circumstances. Where there is no engineering alternative the development should not proceed until there is. In general, all mines should be designed to minimize the number of discreet sources of mine-water runoff, preferably to one. It should be determined in advance of development that it will be feasible to provide long-term treatment for any toxic runoff that is generated by the mine-site. Surely there is enough engineering genius in this industry to satisfy these very basic physical and chemical requirements.
Mine tailings must be disposed of in fully engineered impoundments and cannot just be dumped into water bodies such as rivers and shallow lakes. The exception to this is deep-water injection of tailings into sea water or large anaerobic lakes. Where it is feasible this method of tailings disposal is often superior to land disposal as it can eliminate the potential for acid drainage and tailings dam failure.
Public participation too often means being forced into adversarial public hearings and court proceedings long after lines have been drawn in the sand. If the industry expects to address social and environmental issues progressively it must get out in front of the regulatory machinery. Even where public hearings are a legal requirement industry must voluntarily create public participation processes in advance that get down to the grass roots of the community. Where there are no legal requirements for public participation it is even more important that industry take a leadership role.
Public participation must begin the second a prospect is announced. The biggest failing in this area is that the first people in to a new prospect are usually geologists with little or no training in working with local communities, particularly those of another culture. Not even life-scientists are equipped for the public participation challenge. This requires professionals who know how to get past the tendency for conflict and to establish a consensus approach.
Perhaps the most effective model for public participation is the Local Round Table approach. This requires that the private sector proponent forms a partnership with local government, preferably at the regional level, to create a group that represents all interests in the community. This process is established in advance of compulsory processes such as environmental impact reviews. The local group works with an independent, professional facilitator to identify all issues and concerns related to the development. After 12-18 months of monthly meetings held in public the facilitator drafts and redrafts a report which is a consensus document. The report clearly states where there is unanimous agreement and, where there is disagreement, the nature of the disagreement is stated in words agreed to by all participants.
The Local Round Table approach accomplishes a number of important things. It gives all the participants equal access to a common body of knowledge as they discuss and investigate the issues and concerns. It helps them to get to know each other and to build respect for each others opinions even when they are in opposition. And it provides the next step, the formal review process, with a clear statement, in clear language, of the real issues that must be addressed.
The Whitehorse Mining Initiative
In Canada, the public participation process has been given a framework for sustainability through the Whitehorse Mining Initiative. Representatives from government, industry, aboriginals, labour and environment met for 18 months and hammered out a set of principles and goals that can help the mining industry deal with these issues in a cooperative rather than a confrontational manner. But on its own the Whitehorse Mining Initiative is only a framework. To be put into operation, it must be translated to the local, site-specific level for each mining project. This can only be done if there is a commitment by industry to take a leadership position.
Among the important advances made through the Whitehorse Mining Initiative process is the recognition by the mining industry that there are some places that should be off-limits to prospecting and development. In return, the environmental representatives agreed that on the majority of the landscape that is not in totally protected status, there should be no unreasonable obstacles to free access for determining mineral reserves. If this one recommendation can be put into practice it would bring a new air of stability to the industry while providing assurance for those concerned with preservation.
I believe the bottom line in all this is human resources. You must weigh the benefits and costs of employing professionals in fields outside the traditional engineering and earth science disciplines. In the same way that you can’t address the management of water without hydrologists and chemists you can’t manage biodiversity without ecologists and you can’t manage public participation without professional facilitators. These specialists must be involved up front – at the beginning of the process, not as expensive rescue operations parachuted in after all else fails. In particular it is important not to confuse public relations with public participation. Traditional public relations specialists are best employed for purposes of marketing and government relations. Public participation is best handled by professionals in that field.
How many mining companies have Vice-presidents of Environment? Certainly more that just five years ago but still not enough. Too often this position is rather singular with no real role in line management, no meaningful budget, and no one reporting to it. This must change if the environmental issues are to take their rightful place alongside matters of finance.
How many Vice-presidents of Public Participation are there in the mining industry worldwide? I would guess none. At least there should be departments within the major corporations to address the issues involving local people at every mine site. Smaller companies that cannot support such departments should seek public participation specialists as consultants and should learn to take their advice.
I therefore encourage you to build more bridges with these disciplines and you will find that there are pragmatic, realistic avenues to addressing the environmental and social issues that now sometimes plague your industry. I hope I have provided some food for thought and that you will go forward in the spirit of sustainability.