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Why mining justice must be central to the Green New Deal

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Mining in Kailo. Photo: Julien Harneis/Wikimedia Commons

It is imperative that we win a bold and profoundly transformative Green New Deal to avert the catastrophe of deepening climate breakdown.

The Pact for a Green New Deal, launched by environmental non-governmental organizations earlier this week, provides the opportunity to build that vision.

Hopefully a key aspect of the blueprint that emerges through community discussions will be an awareness and commitment to avoid the further immiseration of mine-impacted communities around the world.

Why the concern?

The Mining Association of Canada (MAC), which includes Teck Resources Limited, Vale, Hudbay Minerals Inc, Eldorado Gold, and Barrick Gold Corporation, boasts that it released its first statement on climate change in March 2000.

Almost two decades later, its website highlights, "MAC and its members are committed to supporting an orderly transition toward a lower-carbon future, and to being a constructive partner in the fight against climate change."

It goes on to say that raw materials enable the world to transition to a low-carbon future.

What might be behind these statements?

In his article "Between the Devil and the Green New Deal," Jasper Bernes notes that "nearly every renewable energy source depends upon non-renewable and frequently hard-to-access minerals: solar panels use indium, turbines use neodymium, batteries use lithium, and all require kilotons of steel, tin, silver, and copper."

And Jesse Barron in his New York Times piece "How Big Business Is Hedging Against the Apocalypse," has commented, "Electric vehicles and green power grids require, for their batteries, valuable minerals and metals. Spot prices for nickel and cobalt fluctuate by double-digit percentages on commodities exchanges, while investors eye shares in lithium mines."

Large deposits of the raw minerals that would help propel our transformation to the 100 per cent clean energy economy that we must achieve are situated in countries including China, Brazil, Russia and Canada.

In Canada, this could arguably include the proposed Sisson mine that would be situated at the headwaters of the Nashwaak River on Wolastoq (Maliseet) territory, about 60 kilometres northwest of Fredericton.

The mine, approved by the Trudeau government in June 2017, would extract tungsten and molybdenum, rare minerals that are key components in the construction of solar power and wind turbine projects.

The $579-million open-pit mine would be built by Vancouver-based Northcliff Resources Ltd. with New Zealand-based Todd Corporation as a financing partner. Northcliff is also associated with Vancouver-based mining giant Hunter Dickinson Inc.

This is just one possible scenario is which a multimillion-dollar project unwanted by Indigenous peoples and harmful to water sources could generate billions of dollars for transnational corporations that see the opportunity to profit from a Green New Deal.

Large deposits of rare earth minerals can also be found in India, South Africa, Malawi and Malaysia.

U.K.-based Dalia Gebrial recently wrote in her Guardian article "As the left wakes up to climate injustice, we must not fall into 'green colonialism'" that, "Any 'Green New Deal' or 'green industrial revolution' cannot be bound within our nation's borders, or prioritize the well-being of westerners over black and brown lives in the rest of the world."

And The Wretched of the Earth, a U.K.-based grassroots collective for Indigenous, black, brown and diaspora groups and individuals demanding climate justice, recently highlighted in their open letter to Extinction Rebellion, "The fight for climate justice is the fight of our lives, and we need to do it right."

They are correct.

We need a rebellion against a toxic system that Extinction Rebellion co-founder Stuart Basden has highlighted includes colonialism, white supremacy, patriarchy, Eurocentrism, hetero-sexism/heteronormativity, class hierarchy and other oppressions.

That toxic system also includes extreme violence and environmental damage by transnational mining corporations, many of them headquartered in Canada.

Gebrial further argues that a green colonialism that claims leadership and ignores the lived experience of the global majority "is no victory worth claiming, and it is the default left position if we do not actively fight for a different vision."

Afro-Colombian anti-mining activist Francia Márquez, who recently survived an assassination attempt, frames her broader vision of challenging climate change as follows:

"I am one of those people who raise their voices to stop the destruction of rivers, forests, and wetlands; one of those people who dream that, one day, human beings are going to change the economic model of death, in order to build a model that guarantees life."

A conscious and explicit recognition of the need for mining justice -- and the impacts of mining injustice on racialized communities around the world -- are critical components of the Green New Deal and the economic model of life that we need to build.

Let us work together for that future.

Between May 18 and May 31, people across the country will be holding town halls in their communities to shape a vision for a Green New Deal. Town halls are already planned for Edmonton and North Vancouver (May 18), Kitchener (May 19), Waterloo (May 20) and Toronto (May 21). These are an excellent opportunity for you to share your bold vision for a Green New Deal.

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

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