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Global mining boom is leading to landgrab, says report

John Vidal, Guardian
The global mining, oil and gas industries have expanded so fast in the last decade they are now leading to large-scale “landgrabbing” and threatening farming and water supplies, according to a report by environment and development groups in Europe, Africa and India.

“The catalogue of devastation is growing. We are no longer talking about isolated pockets of destruction and pollution. In just 10 years, iron ore production has more than doubled, coal has risen 45% and metals like lithium by 125%. Across Africa, Latin America and Asia, more and more lands, rivers and aquifers are being devoured by mining activities.

“Industrial wastelands are being formed by vast open-pit mines and mountain top removal, and the poisoning of water systems, deforestation, and the contamination of topsoil,” says the report by the Gaia foundation and groups including Friends of the Earth International, Grain, Oilwatch and Navdanya in India.

The dramatic increase in large-scale mining, clearly seen in places such as the Amazon for gold and oil, India’s tribal forest lands for bauxite, South Africa for coal and Ghana for gold, is being fuelled by the rising price of metals and oil. These have acted as an incentive to exploit new areas and less pure deposits, says the report.

“Technologies are becoming more sophisticated to extract materials from areas which were previously inaccessible, uneconomic or designated of ‘lower’ quality,” it says. “That means more removal of soil, sand and rock and the gouging out of much larger areas of land, as seen with the Alberta tar sands in Canada.”

Economies are getting better at reducing the intensity of the use of raw materials but the sheer increase in their absolute consumption is now staggering, say the authors. According to the US Mineral Information Institute, the average American will use close to 1,300 tonnes of minerals in a lifetime.
(1 March 2012)
The report referred to is Opening Pandora’s Box – A New Wave of Land Grabbing for the Extractive Industries and The Devastating Impact on Earth, spearheaded by the Gaia foundation and supported by various groups including Friends of the Earth International, Grain, Oilwatch and Navdanya in India.

Suggested by Common Dreams which writes: “the report cites that over the last ten years, iron ore production is up by 180%; cobalt by 165%; lithium by 125%, and coal by 44%. The increase in prospecting has also grown exponentially, which means this massive acceleration in extraction will continue if concessions are granted as freely as they are now.”

Do Environmentalists Have an Interest in Who Controls Oil Resources?

Mark Weisbrot, Guardian/UK
Venezuela’s Opec stand is a win for climate change campaigners

Environmentalists seem to realize that they have some stake in a fight such as the Ecuador-Chevron lawsuit. That case, which Chevron has recently moved to an international arbitration panel in an attempt to avoid a multibillion penalty handed down by Ecuadorian courts, is about whether a multinational oil corporation will have to pay damages for pollution for which it is responsible. Most environmentalists figure that would be a good thing.
what about fights between multinational oil giants and the governments of oil-producing states over control of resources? Do people who care about the environment and climate change have a stake in these battles? It appears that they do, but most have not yet noticed it.

In December of last year, Exxon Mobil won a judgment against the government of Venezuela for assets the government had nationalized in 2007. The award was actually a victory for the government of Venezuela: Exxon had sued for $12bn, but won only $908m. After subtracting $160m the court said was owed to Venezuela, Exxon ended up with a $748m judgment. The ruling was made by an arbitration panel of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). On 15 February, Venezuela paid Exxon $250m and announced that the case was settled.

Some background: the dispute arose out of the Venezuelan government’s decision to take a majority stake in oil extraction, in accordance with its law. In 2005, it entered into negotiations with foreign oil companies to purchase enough of their assets in order to achieve a majority stake. Almost all the negotiations, with dozens of companies, were successful – with only Exxon and ConocoPhillips going to arbitration (Conoco is still negotiating).

Exxon adopted a strategy of trying to make an example of Venezuela, so that no other government would try to mess with it.
(3 March 2012)

Deforestataion, agroecology and Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement

Joao Pedro Stedile, Friends of the MST (Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement)
Statement by Joao Pedro Stedile in meeting with President Dilma

Transcription of the talk by João Pedro Stedile, of the MST, in the meeting between Dilma and representatives of civil society held on January 26 2012 during the Thematic Social Forum in Porto Alegre.

“In the name of the rural social movements, I want to begin by complimenting our president [President Dilma Roussef of Brazil] for having chosen Porto Alegre and not Davos. You appear to be really courageous. But my obligation here, in the name of the rural social movements – without claiming to represent all of them – is to put forward some ideas in this spirit of open and frank dialog.

I promise not to speak about agrarian reform because it is paralyzed, despite the fact that there are still 180,000 families camped alongside the highways who need at least a humanitarian solution. But since the topic here is Rio + 20, we analyze within the MST as everything that we learn in the tradition of socialist and Christian struggle, that the best preaching is done by example. That Brazil can only lead an international process to defend our planet, our biodiversity, if we provide the example.

We have a national agenda that needs to be resolved. The first item is that we cannot accept the changes that were agreed upon in the Senate for the Forest Law. We are going to reveal your email address so the Brazilian people can write you to ask you to veto some parts of the Law that you yourself promised to veto during your campaign, and which we cannot accept .

We cannot accept the amnesty for environmental crimes by the big estate owners, just as we cannot accept a reduced size for the legal reserves, even in the four modules. Because it gives an opening to international capital to continue deforesting the Cerrado and Amazonia. Our policy – we hope you agree – is for zero deforestation. There is no need to cut down a single additional tree to continue increasing the production of food, including in much better conditions.

The second item: we need to have a large national reforestation program for family farming, controlled by women – since women are now in charge in this country – a program so that each family farm can reforest two hectares. This is a pittance. The National Development Bank (Banco National de Desenvolvimento, BNDES) gives so much money to corporations, it ended up funding America Online, which went bankrupt…Why not give money so that family farmers can reforest our country, which would be a contribution to humanity?

Third item: we urgently need a national program to stimulate agroecology. A program of public policies that can recover a healthy agriculture, which plants foods without poisons. The more agrotoxins we put in our food, the greater the incidence of cancer. It’s a requirement to produce healthy food and to do this, the techniques of agroecology are the most recommended. But the government is missing in action and we need to have public policies that compensate and encourage these practices. …

What is the MST?

Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement, Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST) in Portuguese, is a mass social movement, formed by rural workers and by all those who want to fight for land reform and against injustice and social inequality in rural areas.

The MST was born through a process of occupying latifundios (large landed estates) and become a national movement in 1984. Over more than two decades , the movement has led more than 2,500 land occupations, with about 370,000 families – families that today settled on 7.5 million hectares of land that they won as a result of the occupations. Through their organizing, these families continue to push for schools, credit for agricultural production and cooperatives, and access to health care.

Currently, there are approximately 900 encampment holding 150,000 landless families in Brazil. Those camped, as well as those already settled, remain mobilized, ready to exercise their full citizenship, by fighting for the realization of their political, social economic, environmental and cultural rights.
(26 January 2012)
More background on Joao Pedro Stedile and the Sem Terra Movement of Brazil