The news this week has been mainly bad: more crashing stock markets, more idiotic statements from Republican hopefuls, more countries seizing the mines of the country. The saddest part is that the only idea Republican hopefuls have about resuscitating mining in the US is to abolish the EPA and treat companies like individuals.
“It is as always.” one commenter consoled me. “It is still venial self-interest at work. And a glaring absence of leadership from anybody.”
“Proves as always, that it is good to invest in gold, and bad to invest in Africa,” is how another commenter consoled me.
Scratching around the web for mining good news, I found this link. Here is part of what it says–read and then go to the link to see the photos:
Sierra Leone is a country at a crossroads. Decades of resource exploitation and a brutal ten-year war have taken a deep toll on the environment and the people, which are among the poorest and most uneducated in the world. Yet as the country celebrates its 50th year, Saloneans are appropriately proud of their success with post-war reunification and reconstruction. Children are learning, infrastructure is expanding, and healthcare is improving.
In Kono, the diamond-rich and war-ravaged district along the country’s eastern border, mining is a way of life for many people. During the dry season, when it is possible to dig down to the diamond-laden gravel, many young men head to the diamond fields. Some strike out on their own while others are hired by mining companies as short-term laborers, often for less than a dollar a day. With few alternative employment opportunities, most men don’t have a choice but to work in the mines for part of their lives, and many are forced to give up school to do so.
At this critical moment, it is imperative that Sierra Leone attracts the right kind of investors and NGO partners; along with diamonds and gold, the country recently made public discoveries of large deposits of iron and oil. Fortunately Saloneans, all of whom have been affected by the war, are strongly motivated to break free from the resource curse and craft their future to ensure that the value of their precious resources remains within their country and communities.
Now I would never invest in a diamond mine in Sierra Leone. But it is fascinating to see how hard people will work when they are not able to go into debt, rely on the government for social support nets, vote, or even get educated. I hope this case history does not mean that things will have to get that bad before we return to mining in the US.
I know a number of Republicans who would cut off all unemployment benefits, tear up social support nets, and who truly believe people would then get off their buts to pick apples and strawberries, and go mining. Some even point with pride to the independent gold miners of Alaska as an example of how people would work if they had no government support, no Chinese financing, and no Mexicans to collect food from the fields.
It is good to contemplate a return by the US to more mining. But it is as scary as hell to contemplate that a return to mining might be a replay of the old days of rugged and independent men tearing up every plot of land where they believe there is gold, diamonds, or some other substance needed for electric cars in distant cities.
Or am I wrong? Maybe Sarah Palin can make part of her presidential bid, a nationwide emulation of Alaska’s independent mining practices.