Ten years ago, an ECLAC report warned that a large part of the social and environmental conflicts in Latin America were linked to mining activity. Such consideration is still valid in Argentina today.
There are several criticisms of those who oppose mining: in addition to various environmental impacts, it is argued that the activity drive out local populations, excludes its inhabitants from the same material resources whose usufruct is guaranteed to transnational firms, generates little direct employment with an extra-provincial hired labor force, there is a meager fiscal contribution to the public treasury, high rates of structural poverty and the absence of infrastructure and basic services for the population persist even with the undertakings underway and that we resign ourselves to being mere primary exporters, relegating the added value of our minerals.
The discrepancy between development and environmental protection generates a polarized debate that must be channeled. It is not by attacking a president – as happened days ago in Chubut – that we must settle our differences.
Paradigms have changed, policy must focus on consensus building. Broad debates should be driven by fostering dialogue – based on science and not rhetoric – that privilege the interests of society. Discussions in which everyone must participate: specialists -from both sides of the library-, businessmen, decision-makers politicians and, very especially, the citizenship. We must resignify sustainability, implementing a process of participatory environmental planning of the territory that allows everyone to decide what will be done, why, where and how.
The current model must be discussed “well”: quality of life, rational use of resources, environmental and social costs, employment and inclusion, the future of local communities, regionalization, and the environmental ordering of the territory.
In addition, if the political limits are the ones that delimit the activities, should the Andean people decide what type of development those who live in the Chubut plateau will have? There are several issues to consider: extraction methods, current legislation, royalties, tax benefits, legal certainty, foreseeable rules of the game …
If it is possible to enforce the laws when the State is the main partner in an undertaking, what is the real profitability of the business; if natural resources are commodities that must be extracted at any cost; if “mega-mining neo-extractivism” is the correct way of calling mining or is it invoked with some ideological charge; definitely, if sustainable mining is possible.
Sustainability is not only environmental management. It refers to both the environmental, economic and socio-cultural aspects of development, requiring a balance between these three dimensions to guarantee its long-term sustainability. Integrate sustainability into public policies and business strategy -aligning them with the Sustainable Development Goals- It is no longer an option, but an obligation.
The environment is a strategic sector to integrate into the world and leverage the social and economic development of Argentina. Mining is indispensable. Discuss and resolve how we will do it define what type of country we want.
The author of this column is the former general director of the Ecology Commission of the Buenos Aires Legislature.
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