The Rise Gold mine reopening controversy is a microcosm of choices the human species must make to keep on living here, happily, on planet Earth: Do our local residents and those who visit care about the environs or a lucrative but dirty temporary industry?
In her book, “Braiding Sweetgrass,” Robin Kimmerer relates the indigenous practice of “honorable harvest” to our present day modes of consumption. “Take only what is given, only what is needed,” “never take the first you see, it might be the last,” (I paraphrase).
While it is difficult to measure and nearly impossible to practice in modern life, the consequences for ignoring the hard-earned lessons of native faith traditions are no less real.
The true long-term costs of production (farming, mining, manufacturing, etc.) are seldom, if ever, entirely passed along to the consumer. Mining is only the most obvious example of unsustainable human activities. It doesn’t take a genius to realize there is only so much gold, oil, coal, manganese, etc., in the ground.
The local gold is among the last known deposits on Earth. However vast, and however clever we become at extraction … the Earth is finite, while, hopefully, humanity is not.
Economic activity (profit, jobs, spending) is but one measure of a successful society. But present day fixation on numbers like GDP only engenders further destruction of not only the health of the planet but our own physical and mental health. Are we, the highly productive Americans (according to our present measure of GDP), as happy, healthy and ultimately secure as we could be? Spending on health care, defense and finance count generously in current measures of economic success, but provide little of what people want in life.
Other numbers that reflect more than the mere movement of money are needed. Progress in life expectancy, job satisfaction, freedom, transparency, health, charity, etc. — the “happiness quotient” (America is No. 19 and dropping) — should be reported alongside GDP and the DOW.
If the negative economic costs to the environment, climate, to our health, and to our very future were assessed by our scientists, economists, businessmen and posted on the front page daily, we might make very different decisions how to work, consume and vote. Our current lifestyle is subsidized by an unforgivable loan from the future planet that makes the national debt look like a mere pittance.
Our imminent conversion to more sustainable electric energy will in turn require mining precious minerals like lithium (for batteries) at least until alternative technologies are hopefully developed. Whose backyard will these extractions destroy? More efficient energy, transportation and infrastructure, and less destructive farming, etc., all require diversion of human capital, which unlike the planet’s resources, is nearly limitless.
Nobody wants to pay more for food, power and consumer goods now. But rest assured, the consequences of inaction will be dire for future generations.
Difficult, often painful life-changing choices face us. Which brings us back to our gold mine. Is it worth it? Gold, however precious, has little real value to humanity except as a marker of wealth.
Its use by industry is dwarfed by current production and existing stockpiles. In a world of digital currency, gold-backed securities now seem rather quaint.
We could just leave the gold in the ground (there’s a term for this … “green gold”). The money not spent on remediation can collect interest forever, while the gold is still as real and valuable to those who believe in it.
Entities like Rise Gold answer only to their stockholders and will spend as little as possible to minimize their impact. Will the real long-term, costs to the community and environment ever be assessed from their bottom line?
Terry Boyles lives in Penn Valley.
This opinion piece was originally published in The Union.