Extractive Industries and Hypocrisy (Emily In New Zealand)

One day, my classmates and I were taken to see an open pit mine that was in the middle of a town. There we had a lecture from a man named Sefton Darby. His big-picture talk on whether or not we should mine in general was extremely thought-provoking. Could we survive without the materials that mining provides us? Could we think of five things in our lives that do not contain mined materials, were not created by mined materials, or had not reached us through mined materials? If we concluded that we needed mining, what steps could we take to minimalize environmental impact.

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One statement that really struck me was that some mining workers in other countries worked for one dollar per day in order to try and get rich. On that topic, Sefton stated that he could not tell those mining workers to stop working for the mine for moral reasons. This was because he is a rich white guy that uses all the items sourced from mining. The concept of hypocrisy, even in the face of negative environmental and social impact, in this small-scale, person-to-person situation can be extended to larger issues.

Sefton’s mention of this struck a huge chord with me because of another prior experience I had in Ecuador. I did volunteer work for three weeks at Tiputini Biodiversity Station in the Ecuadorian Amazon through the CGIS GIEU (Global Intercultural Experience for Undergraduates) program. This research station was located in the Tiputini portion of the ITT Block, an oil property that would soon begin drilling. While Tiputini Biodiversity Station was located in a national park, right next to indigenous territory, the area (including the territory) was auctioned for drilling by the Ecuadorian government anyway because the economic benefits are in “national interest.” Whether drilling in a national park and indigenous territory, right next to a well-established research station, is worth pursuing the economic incentive is debatable. Ecuador is a developing country and is partly driven by oil, so to them it very well may be worth the destruction of the rainforest (at least for now).

There was a world-wide outcry against the drilling, but no real action was taken to prevent it. Sefton’s point made me wonder: should have there been action against drilling in the ITT Block? The United States was one of the largest influences in the protest against drilling in the rainforest of the ITT block, even if they did not act fully enough to halt the auctioning. This is hypocritical because the U.S. has ruined many of its natural resources through over-exploitation and continues to do so with practices like fracking and mountaintop removal. Given that, who are we to tell Ecuador not to drill in a resource like the amazon?

While I know the answer is not black and white (such is the case with mining in general), hypocrisy has no place in making decisions about mining. We must be considerate of the developmental stage of other countries, especially those who have little alternatives, and refrain from telling them not to drill. Instead, maybe we should work with them to create standards on how to drill responsibly and minimize harm to the natural environment.

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