April 23, 2018, 12:36 am
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Modern Day Luddites

IN the early 19th century English textile workers led by Ned Ludd took to burning weaving machinery that threatened to replace their role in the industry. Thus arose the term “Luddite” which has come to mean someone opposed to industrialization, automation or new technologies.

The term first came to my attention when I hosted the late Dr. Alvin Toffler and his wife Heidi in Manila for their lecture in August of 1994. Dr. Toffler gifted me with a video (in VHS, the format at that time) of his lecture “The Third Wave” based on the book of the same title; in that lecture he mentioned Ned Ludd and his eventually futile attempt to “stop” the onset of change.

I was about to say “progress” but didn’t, because I know that there are some folks among us who do not equate one with the other.

A few days ago I came across news reports announcing that the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) - of which the mining firm I work for, Nickel Asia Corp., is a member - was adopting the standards of the Mining Association of Canada (MAV), called TSM or Towards Sustainable Mining.

The reports carried comments from the usual critics of mining, and one of those quoted was the head of Alyansa Tigil Mina who declared with all finality that “there is no such thing as responsible mining’. I read that and read it again and figured that the statement by the ATM head sounded more definitive than any Papal declaration of late.

But it raises a number of serious questions that ATM should answer.

In their apparently Luddite view of minerals development, when they say that “there is no such thing as responsible mining”, are they speaking about mining in the Philippines, or mining all over the world? Either way, you see, this point of view seems to imply a preference for the return to our caveman ways, and I for one am ready to tell ATM that I am not ready, willing, or able to follow them back to the ways of Fred Flintstone.

If ATM were to say that they believe that there is no responsible mining in the Philippines only, then whether you agree with them or not, the entry of the membership of the COMP into a partnership with the MAC is a step towards adopting the best mining practices from other parts of the world for practitioners in the Philippines. Shouldn’t that be welcome?

Oh, but ATM also goes on to criticize mining practices in Canada, citing allegations of irresponsible acts by some operations. I do not deny that there may be irresponsible actions committed in operations in Canada — there are irresponsible miners everywhere just as there are irresponsible parents, teachers, priests, government officials and activists everywhere — but the acts of a few do not and should not be the basis for condemning a whole industry or a whole class of people! Which, by the way, is a favorite tactic of the Luddite anti-mining groups.

I suspect that if the COMP were to enter into an agreement with the mining association in (put name of country here), ATM and its anti-mining allies will fish out an allegation or two about mining practices in (put name of same country here) and claim that (put country name again here) is NOT a good example of responsible mining practices.

Which brings me to a second option: that ATM In its Luddite-like perspective believes there is no responsible mining of any kind anywhere in the world!

From the time of Fred Flintstone humankind has passed through various stages of development: the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, and now the Information Age. All these stages were made possible because man (or, as Toffler would posit, woman) realized that all around them were riches of the Earth that could be harnessed to make life, well, better. And so as man moved out of caves and into huts that became homes and then subdivisions and then high rises, as he studied more of his world and learned more about his body and explored more of his universe, he had the ability to do so because many of Earth’s resources were available to be tapped, to be harnessed, to be utilized in the process.

Has the utilization always been done in the most optimal way? No, for sure. Early on who knew or cared about pollution, when man numbered in the mere millions and wildlife was far more abundant and we couldn’t see or hear beyond the next village? This is why over the years man has developed regulations and better technologies and that’s why we are where we are today at a stage where the process of improving systems continues. Which is what the COMP-MAC partnership is all about.

Bottom line is : it is always easy to be anti. Anti-this or Anti-that. To many people who romanticize “activism” or being an “Eco-warrior” (while not practicing things like waste segregation at home!), it’s sexy too. But if you think about it, an absolutist opposition to the development of the world’s mineral resources is a condemnation of the progression we have made from the caves of Tabon to the construction sites in Taguig. Yes we can opt to chew leaves for medicinal purposes and shun needles that are a product of mining, or choose a medicine man to chant prayers around us and eschew the latest MRI machines.

But are the members of ATM seriously going to do that and be true to their principles?

Or are these statements just for press releases?

Happy holidays to all, whether you be pro- or anti-mining!
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