Saturday, March 19, 2011

Two Wins for the Environment

Gold mountain?
Colombia's environment scored two wins the other day:

In one, Canadian mining company Greystar backed off of its plan for a huge open-pit gold mine near the city of Bucaramanga, after environmental authorities said the project was unacceptable. Colombia is experiencing a gold mining boom as the metal's price has soared - with its related environmental impacts: jungles and wetlands destroyed and rivers poisoned with mercury and choked with silt.

The proposed Greystar Mine might have been better than most - the company had promised to reforest six acres for each one destroyed and to carefully manage the cyanide it used. And, the company argued, much of the area planned for its mine had already been damaged by illegal, informal miners, who use even-more-damaging mercury.

Illegal mining's devastation - the worst of all worlds. (Foto: Dinero magazine)
Certainly, Greystar's project might have been less bad than others, but the project would have made a travesty of Colombian law prohibiting mining in paramos: high-altitude wetlands which produce much of the country's fresh water. To have approved this project would have made a mockery of the law and set a terrible precedent.

Map showing mining concessions overlaid on
forest areas in  the Serrania de San Lucas.
Foto: Geominas
Besides, Colombia still has time to escape from the long list of 'developing' nations which have sold off their natural resources and been left with only poverty and a devastated environment to show for it. Tragically, raw material production often feeds corruption and outlaw groups and does little to develop the kind of skilled jobs which build sustainable economic growth.

Now, Greystar is talking about building instead an undergound mine, which would cause much less environmental impact, but produce less gold and be more dangerous for miners. That could be a reasonable compromise, and would demonstrate that Colombia's environmental laws do mean something.

If Colombian officials respect the spirit of the laws protecting paramos, these critical wetlands could be preserved for more future generations - or at least until they fall victim to global warming.

Jumping for joy?
The second win for the environment was Colombia's decision to join the International Whaling Commission. Why this was an issue at all is a mystery to me. After all, Colombians do not either hunt or eat whales, and the country's relations with whale-hunting nations aren't particularly close. But Colombia is increasingly marketing itself as a whale watching destination. Every year between July and November, humpbacks meet and mate off of Colombia's Pacific Coast.

In 2009, the Dominican Republic joined the IWC, leaving Venezuela as the only Latin American nation outside of the organizaion. (Some small Carribean nations have joined apparently at the behest of Japan and defend its whale hunting.)

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

No comments: