The argument given for mining is that while it may pollute the environment, it does bring jobs and prosperity to the communities where the mines are located. There is less and less truth to this story.
A mine one hundred years ago might have lasted one hundred years. Therefore, it would often have invested in schools and other infrastructure in the community where it was based. Mining then was much less automated, requiring lots of workers. A mine today will last 10-15 years. It’s in and out with lots of big equipment. The jobs are quite technical and usually it’s like an occupation, where most of the workers come into the community for that period and then leave. There are fewer and fewer good local jobs.
“The narrative out there is that the mining is going to create some jobs and transform lives, but we don’t see that in the lives of those living in the communities,” Perk Pomeyie, a Ghanaian environmental activist, tells me. “The mining companies, they hire people from outside the communities. They bring in their own people from outside the country to come and work. And you have a handful of people from the community doing the menial jobs on minimal wages. These people still find themselves living with low livelihoods. The companies are supposed to give back to the communities through investment but you don’t really see much of this. We have the communities complaining that they cannot afford school fees. They have to spend a lot of the little money they have on their health because of the impact of bauxite mining.”
Not simply does a mining company not improve conditions for most members of a community, it actually negatively impacts on health, pollutes the land and water, and causes an increase in rents and prices in the local stores. “Once a mining company moves to an area, you have businesses increasing their prices to be able to make more revenue,” Perk explains. “These company workers or officials are able to afford services but the locals are unable to afford these services. It’s very expensive to live in such mining communities. Rent. Rent is very expensive.”
At a central level, the government will get some taxes. “The overall government response hasn’t been encouraging,” Perk says, laughing ruefully. There is an environment agency in Ghana, but like in the other countries I’ve researched, its job doesn’t seem to be to protect the environment. “Yes, we have the EPA,” Perk says. “Unfortunately, we don’t see a lot of work being done to protect the environment. We are not satisfied with the work they are currently doing in the country. And also, because it’s a government institution, there’s some level of allegiance and loyalty to their political leaders.”
I say to Perk that I come from Ireland where the Environmental Protection Agency is known by environmental activists as being more interested in protecting industry. “Yeah. It’s likewise seen in this country also,” he says.
The so-called “green” transition is based on doubling the amount of mining globally over the next thirty years. We have dug a huge hole in the Earth that has devastated communities and the environment, and has been a primary driver of pollution and biodiversity loss. And the solution of our leaders is what?
To double the size of the hole.