Resist. Restore. Revive: The frontline communities sowing the seeds of post-extractivism

Hannibal Rhoades

“We are stuck with the problem of living despite economic and ecological ruination. Neither tales of progress nor of ruin tell us how to think about collaborative survival. It is time to pay attention to mushroom picking.”- Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing

All around our living planet communities are standing on the frontlines of pitched battles to protect sacred lands and waters from destruction by the mining industry – the most-deadly source of environmental conflict on Earth. These same communities are also defending-old and innovating-new alternatives to the socially unjust and ecologically unviable extractive ‘development’ model that so often brings destruction and displacement to their lands. Their alternatives are not linear, monocultural dreams of GDP growth, ‘trickle down’ wealth and material gain. Rather they are as plural and diverse as the territories they arise from. Often emerging out of conflict, these alternatives present a fundamental critique of extractivism and the need to resist and go beyond it- to revive cultures of care and solidarity, repair damages done and establish regenerative ways of living for the future.

A peat mining ditch filled with acidic water. Photo – Snowchange/Pretty Good Productions

Emblematic cases

The global “Yes to Life, No to Mining” (YLNM) solidarity network is made up of and for these communities – those who have chosen to say no to mining and yes to life-sustaining cultures, livelihoods and ecosystems. Over the past 12-months YLNM’s coordinators have worked alongside five communities in our network who have a wealth of experience to share and who hold a piece of the ‘post-extractive puzzle’. 

As well as supporting each other with critical information, international solidarity and the convening of critical community-to-community exchanges, we have developed a series of ‘emblematic’ case studies that attempt to share the learning and experience of these communities. First launched as interactive, long-form stories, over the coming 5-months we will be publishing shorter, synthesized versions of these case studies in collaboration with Radical Ecological Democracy. These stories draw out and reflect on the strategies these communities have used to successfully resist mining. They explore what it takes to repair the damages left by mining that does go ahead. They amplify the ‘seed-forms’ of grass-roots post-extractivism; the philosophies and practical actions communities are taking to build a better, self-determined future for themselves.

Resisting, Restoring, Reviving – From Finland to Colombia

Selkie, Finland

In the first emblematic case, to be released in November 2019, we will travel to Finland and the village of Selkie. Located in the Eastern Finnish province of North Karelia, Selkie has, like many Finnish villages, been the site of mass extractivism since World War II. In an effort to repay war debts to Russia, marshmires, peatlands and old-growth forest across Finland have been converted into mines and forest plantations, with huge impacts on rural communities practicing hunting, fishing, berry-gathering and small-scale farming. In this case study, Tero Mustonen, Head of the Village of Selkie shares how, by combining traditional knowledge and science, the villagers of Selkie have restored waters, wetlands, fish and migratory birds to health after catastrophic damage caused by peat mining in the Jukajoki River catchment.

Restored trout spawning area along the Jukajoki River in Selkie, Finland. Photo – Snowchange

Kawthoolei, Myanmar

In the months to come, we will travel to the hyper-biodiverse Karen Indigenous territory of Kawthoolei, in eastern Myanmar. According to their own calendar, the Karen have lived in this territory for at least 2,758 years, developing intricate governance systems and deep connections to the land. A focal point for one of the longest-running civil conflicts in the world, Kawthoolei has also attracted the attention of gold miners, quarriers and Chinese and Thai companies wishing to construct massive hydro dams along the mighty Salween River. In this case study, a collective from the Karen Environment and Social Action Network (KESAN) describe how and why the Karen have established the Salween Peace Park – “a grassroots, people-centered alternative to the Myanmar government and foreign companies’ plans for destructive development in the Salween River basin”.

Kawthoolei – the biodiverse forest homeland of the Karen indigenous people of Myanmar. Photo – Karen Wildlife Conservation Initiative

Froxán, Galicia

In the small village of Froxán in Galicia, north-west Spain, farmers still manage their lands and waters as commons, shared between all and governed collectively. But for over a century this community has been ravaged by tin and tungsten mining and attempts to enclose and privatise what the community care for as a collective. Now, Spanish company Sacyr is trying to re-open these mines, responding to new demand created by the ‘green economy’ and incentivised by EU raw materials policies. In a case study contributed by Froxán commoner Joam Pím Evans, we learn about Galicia’s long history of social resistance through ‘rhizomatic’ networks of commoning communities. We also learn about the community’s efforts to plant 10,000 native trees in mine-damaged landscapes as villagers from Froxán reassert their commons and “expand the circle of concern” for their lands.

Cajamarca, Colombia

In 2017, the municipality of Cajamarca grabbed global headlines as citizens voted, with a 98% majority, to ban mining in their territory in a ‘popular consultation’ organised by and for the people. The vote effectively ended South African corporation AngloGold Ashanti’s plans for a vast open-pit gold mine known as ‘La Colosa’- The Colossus. Nestled between the fertile volcanic slopes of the Andes mountains in central Colombia, Cajamarca has since become a global reference point for mining resistance, sparking a wave of popular consultations and a national movement challenging extractivism. YLNM’s Regional Coordinator for Latin America, Mariana Gomez, comes from nearby Doima, where the first ever popular consultation on mining was held in 2013. Writing with researcher Benjamin Hitchcock-Auciello, in this case study she shares Cajamarca’s story, from the origins of resistance to the latest steps on a citizen-led journey to re-define ‘development’ around the ‘true treasures’ of the territory- fertile lands, clean waters and rich culture.

Citizens of Cajamarca, Colombia, out in force to vote in Colombia’s first citizen-led ‘popular consultation’ on mining. Photo: Viviana Sanchez/Conciencia Campesina

Bismarck Sea, Papua New Guinea

The ocean is sacred to the Indigenous peoples who live along the coast of the Bismarck sea, off New Ireland Province, Papua New Guinea.  But more recently it has drawn the attention of mining companies looking to the deep seabed as a new frontier of mineral and metal mining. Since 2005, Nautilus Minerals has been attempting to secure the permits necessary to mine a deposit of metal sulphides, gold and silver from the seabed. In this case study, members of the Indigenous-led Alliance of Solwara Warriors and YLNM’s coordinator for the Pacific, Natalie Lowrey, share how frontline communities have successfully resisted Nautilus Minerals, stopped the world’s flagship deep sea mining project, and invigorated a global movement calling for a global ban on deep sea mining.

These deep sea mining machines were commissioned by Nautilus Minerals, but were never used because of the popular resistance organized by activists in Papua New Guinea. Photo: Nautilus Minerals via The Guardian

Extractivism, climate emergency and the ‘green economy’

These case studies were first launched by YLNM alongside a new report from London Mining Network and War on Want. Entitled A Just Transition is a Post-Extractive Transition, the report provides the stark context in which these case studies exist. The report shows that the mining industry is a major, but largely hidden, contributor to climate breakdown, causing 20 percent of global carbon emissions (UNEP). This same industry is now aggressively promoting prolonged, expanded extractivism as a solution to the climate emergency.

Around the world at company AGMs, investor gatherings, the UN and other forums, mining CEOs are taking the stage to tell the world that only an expanded mining industry will deliver the minerals and metals needed for growing renewable energy demand and the ‘green’ economy. This is a cynical attempt to capitalise on the massive forecasted growth in demand for minerals and metals by mid-century and beyond. For some metals, like lithium, demand is projected to increase by a massive 900 percent, but for most minerals and metals only a fraction of the amount mined will be used in renewable energy technologies. As YLNM’s case studies show, meeting this demand through expanded mining entails the destruction of climate-critical ecosystems and disruption of communities already vulnerable to climate change on a massive scale. It will lead to a ‘multiplier’ effect in destruction, too, as the US, EU, Japan and others seek to reduce their reliance on Chinese minerals by mining the peripheries of their own territories (think the Arctic, ocean floor and marginalised, economically impoverished areas) and exerting aggressive trade influence in the Global South to secure supply.

A transformational post-extractivism

The mining industry has anticipated and responded decisively to the shifting metabolism of the global economic order from a fossil fuel to a mineral and metal-based energetic foundation. Their greenwash is firmly in place, smoothing the way towards an unjust transition that will lead to a significant re-materialisation of an economy already at odds with planetary boundaries. This transition is bound for failure. But there are other ways into the future.  

A carnival in Cajamarca celebrates the region’s agricultural wealth and the women who grow Cajamarca’s ‘true gold’. Photo – COSAJUCA

A Just Transition is a Post-Extractive Transition puts forward the case for a move away from a growth-oriented, extractive economy towards de-growth, in the North especially, redistribution and massive demand reduction for minerals and metals. Calling for a scaling-up of urban mining and recycling as part of our response to climate change, it points out meta-pathways towards a post-extractive economy, drawing on work by the likes of Eduardo Gudynas.

Meanwhile, the emblematic cases YLNM has assembled evidence the crucial fact that communities, not mining companies, are already living the ‘answers’ to the climate and ecological crises. Frontline communities’ plural, dynamically-entangled alternatives, must be the guide the transformative transitions we must surely undertake.

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Hannibal Rhoades is the YLNM Regional Coordinator for Northern Europe.

These case studies have been developed by YLNM member communities and organisations with the support of YLNM’s Regional Coordinators. The network’s deepest thanks go to: Snowchange Cooperative and the village of Selkie (Finland), Froxán Commoning Community and ContraMINAccíon (Galicia), Karen Environmental and Social Action Network and Kalikasan PNE (Myanmar and Philippines), Comité Ambiental en Defensa de la Vida and COSAJUCA (Colombia), Alliance of Solwara Warriors (Papua New Guinea).

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