Fracking, tar sands, open pit mines, Artic oil fields: austerity leads to a new round of primary resource extraction that will have horrific environmental consequences. Environmental concerns are being over ridden as the need to show economic growth do …

Walton Pantland

Rosa Montana

Fracking, tar sands, open pit mines, Artic oil fields: austerity leads to a new round of primary resource extraction that will have horrific environmental consequences.

Environmental concerns are being over ridden as the need to show economic growth dominates. Austerity is allowing environmentally disastrous plans to be pushed through, on the grounds that they “create jobs” and “boost the economy”.

The world is addicted to extracting what Thom Hartmann calls “the last hours of ancient sunlight” – the energy trapped in oil, coal and gas. As we begin to deplete this resource, there is a drive for even riskier and more destructive extraction. This is what is behind the recent push for fracking and tar sands extraction. This is why we are seeing the development of Artic oil fields, and deep water fields like the one that lead to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. These marginal extraction processes are technically very challenging and expensive, and there is tremendous pressure to keep costs down. This inevitably leads to corners being cut, with terrible consequences for workers’ health and safety, and the environment.

A new round of primary resource extraction – and a short term dash for cash from destructive industries – is being embraced, at precisely the time that we should be investing in building green infrastructure. Because these resources are being depleted, we need to manage a transition away from them. Unions need to be part of that process.

There have been massive protests across the world – against fracking in the UK, gold mining in Greece, and now in Romania too. As Naomi Klein argued at a recent Unifor conference, unions need to be on the side of people and the planet, and not believe the spin from the extraction industry.

Romania: fracking and open pit gold mining

In Romania, there have been mass protests against fracking and an open pit gold mine.

Gabriel Resources, a Canadian company, plans to build an open pit gold mine, destroying the historic village of Roşia Montană and four mountain tops. They will be replaced by a lake of an estimated 2000,000 tons of cyanide.

The mining company claims that 3,600 jobs will be created, and contrasts this to the poverty in the region.

Thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest against this, causing the Romanian government to waver. The company has threatened to sue if the mining does not go ahead.

At the same time, Chevron is introducing fracking – hydraulic fracturing of the earth to release shale gas. Fracking is linked to a number of serious environmental issues, including potential groundwater contamination.

There have also been protests against Chevron fracking in Poland.

UK: Fracking

In the UK, the Tory-led coalition government is pushing through deeply unpopular fracking. By offering “the most generous tax breaks in the world” and other incentives to frackers like the drilling company Cuadrilla, the government is firmly signally that it is on the side of the extractive industries and has no interest in sustainability. But citizens disagree: there have been large scale protests at Balcombe in the south of England, which included the arrest of an MP, and occupations at various sites.

Greece: gold mining

In Greece, a Canadian gold mining company – this time Eldorado Gold – is once again the culprit in the environmentally disastrous plan to build a mine in the ancient forest of Skouries. The concerns in Greece are much the same as those in Romania – the destruction of villages, and dangerous cyanide pollution.

This is happening everywhere

There are hundreds of other examples around the world, of corporate greed trampling on the needs of people and the environment, with the need to boost the economy out of recession the excuse. People are fighting back everywhere:

There is no doubt that people need jobs, and that we need investment in infrastructure. But a short-termist drive from profit from the extractive industries is no compensation for destroying our communities and environment.

We need to work to build the case for a Green New Deal that creates sustainable, quality jobs while solving environmental problems.


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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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