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Sunday, March 14, 2010

The effects of mining on the environment

When I was a teenager we moved to live in a small mining community in north western Ontario where my dad  had hired on at one of the mines. The beauty of  the landscape, as we traveled along the highway leading toward our new home inspired me to go exploring, something I hadn't done since I was a very small child in Germany. We arrived at our new home well after dark and so I didn't see the area of land immediately surrounding the town as you came off the highway.  At the time I had no knowledge of the impact of human activity on nature and wildlife, much less the impact of mining on the immediate environment.  So the sight of  the dead areas of land immediately surrounding the town had a profound effect on me, once I finally saw them.  We were out with new friends, my sister and I exploring.

These dead areas surrounding the town consisted of  tracts of exposed unhealthy looking soil of undefined color, drenched by an ugly rusty red liquid spread over it in small puddles and rivulets,  and sparsely populated by dead, downed, and rotting trees.  We also found the remains of  innocent victims, a bunny, and several dead birds.  It was a repelling experience; the land a horrific sight.  It looked to me just  like a very bad disease. I asked one of my new friends what was wrong with the land and he explained what he knew to be the cause. Mining, specifically, the waste left over from the means by which gold was processed. It had simply been dumped everywhere with great carelessness.  His explanation had a great deal of impact, and created in me a deep anger and long lasting sadness.  I also knew instinctively that this couldn't be good for people's health, if the land was already affected this badly and the wildlife dying, but at the time no one seemed to care.


I have not forgotten, nor have I seen the like since.  Yet this was small.  Certainly it was nothing in comparison to the immediate destructive impact on the environment of Mountain Top Removal mining in the U.S. and the massive Alberta Tar Sands here in Canada today. According to my research, it is predicted that the Tar Sands development will affect drastically and permanently alter, and perhaps destroy utterly nearly a quarter of the landmass in Alberta.   All of it Boreal Forest.  Both types of mining utilize and/or  contaminate vast amounts of water and waterways. Although it was claimed that  85% of water used in the oil sands project, for example is recycled, whether that is true or not, it is water that we cannot afford to waste in view of a global fresh water shortage.

The images of Alberta Tar Sands and Mountain top removal that are available on line show clearly an appalling, violent and brutal rape of our natural world. When seen (above) and compared to what was before (left), it is horribly shocking.   Satellite images, already show quite clearly the ugly wounds on the planet surface caused by these types of mining and the true extent of the rape taking place.

One is left to wonder what the long term effects will be be on the province of Alberta and it's inhabitants, or on the states where the mountains are destroyed, the wildlife, and the planetary eco- system?  Already it is known that the Tar Sands project is contributing heavily to global warming through the utilization of huge amounts of power to extract oil from the tar sands, and that it will increase significantly still in future if the tar sands are allowed to expand.  When considering the threat to us all from global warming which is already in evidence, this seems incredibly foolish.

The immediate victims of these types of destruction, are the land and vegetation, but following close on its heals are the innocents, those who know no better and those who trust; our children whose small bodies will succumb to such poisons much too quickly as they are released, and of course our younger cousins; beginning with fish living in polluted or destroyed water ways.

When you remove a mountain top whose home do you destroy?  Eagles, hawks, bears, deer, squirrels and more.  In fact the list could go on and on. So how many will die as a direct result? Surely the slowest moving creatures will all die and those in rivers and streams trapped through their inability to run or fly. The same applies to the regions of boreal forest which grows on top of the tar sands and is the home to many wildlife species.  The question that begs to be asked here, is how much damage can we do to the planet and the environment, before everything implodes leaving behind a completely unsustainable system, a black hole if you will, in which life of any kind cannot exist?

There is no hiding the recent discoveries of a very real and immediate threat to the health of human members of communities surrounding the areas where these mining projects are allowed to flourish. Contaminated water left  in huge toxic "ponds", and/or leaking into waterways is responsible for slow, painful death and disease. Destroyed waterways due to the removal of mountain tops, leave even less available fresh water for all within short, and even long, distance of these mining sites, forcing the migration of human and animal alike.  Then there is its impact on the more vulnerable:  fish, migrating birds, as well as both small and larger mammals whose habitat is destroyed utterly or poisoned, causing their numbers to decline and even disappear.  Because we are still dependent on some of this wildlife to feed us, in both types of  mining this serves to contribute even more to the threat on the health of human beings.

The sad fact is that the mountains (how many are there now?) which are destroyed can never be put back to their original splendor so that its natural inhabitants can return, nor can rivers and streams be replaced. Water that is not cleared of toxic and dangerous chemicals will eventually seep into the soil to contaminate any food crops grown near by.

The boreal forest can never be replaced exactly as it was to sustain and shelter its diverse wildlife, nor will the attempt to do so serve to save the wildlife that becomes extinct as a result, or to resurrect the human beings that suffered and died.  Add to that the fact that clean up is hugely expensive, leaving one to wonder just how much of it will actually take place when the rape of the land is finally completed at any of these sites.

The companies responsible for this destruction keep reassuring us that there is no threat to health, wildlife or the environment; that reclamation can take place and all will be well in the end (thirty to forty years from now). Or, they tell us that they are doing everything they can to minimize the damage and it's impact on wildlife, environment and to human health. We need these resources for our convenience and comfort, and most of all we need these resources to feed our economy to assure its continued growth, and thus feed us all. There are, after all, no alternatives that exist today when it comes to energy resources, right?

In the end these companies are of course the biggest monetary beneficiaries of the rape and ultimate death of the land (mother nature) and its inhabitants, so why would they tell us differently and why would they stop what they are doing and spend their billions on developing and utilizing an alternative, safe energy source?   It is not as though we are all connected, so that what affects one will eventually affect all right?

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