My Experience with Mining in Australia and Colombia

By Andrea Garzon

Now that Australia is experiencing a down turn from the mining boom, it is an ideal time to reflect on the extraction and use of non-renewable resources.  After almost a decade of living a mining boom Australia have large areas of land disturbance, one area you can actually see from space in Kalgoorlie. Also Australia is left with an economy based on a volatile industry of finite resources and industries such as manufacturing in decline and agriculture in crisis.  Now Australia is experiencing high unemployment rates due to the monopoly economy, many jobs have being replaced by computerised technology and the lack of experience in any other industry besides mining.  Mining generates jobs and increased GDP but for how long furthermore in comparison to the extremely high profits made in mining the employment it generates is actually minimum, such high profits are earned by a few.  Mining have the power to change the economy of a Country and once its people get used to the lifestyle it is a challenge to let it go.  Now the non-renewable resources are harder to find and the market have changed, the country needs to keep up with an economy that has been built up based in mining where housing is well overpriced.  It simply makes you wonder what would be of our grand-children when the ore is going to be even harder to find.

Mining countries such as Australia are putting all their eggs into the mining basket.  Australia could have invested smarter in other industries with the profits made in Mining.  However most of the major profits have been spent by few people on more than likely, material things that end up in the landfills.  More productive investments could have been done with the mining profits far from consumerism.   For instance, we could have invested in education through not only training but also travelling by communicating life experiences to others and building communities and networks.

Moving forward

A change of behaviour of this kind requires leaders who understand the importance of managing the number of resources consumed per capita.  Global leaders rather than country leaders, who work together for the wellbeing of humanity over the wellbeing of individuals or a single country.  It is going to be a point when there is not going to be a difference between liberal and conservative, greens or independents, black people or white people, female or male, developed or developing countries as we are all going to be at the same level, the global financial crisis illustrates the point from the financial perspective but we are certainly experiencing a crisis at a global level from the social and environmental point of view.

The lesson learnt from mining countries is not to base an economy in an industry that provides for the immediate future but it does not provide for the long term future.  Colombians have a saying: “Pueblo de mina pueblo de ruina”, which means “Country of mining is country of ruins”.  The only two largest mining operations in Colombia owned by Australian investors are located in places surrounded by worst poverty in comparison to non-mining states.

Colombian people have been paying the highest costs for the resources taken by overseas investors and from mining specially gold mining, the price is health issues to surrounding communities from chemicals used such as mercury, with one of the most contaminated places in the world.  Also social consequences such as increased corruption, the more royalties the government gets the more corrupt the government has become.  Overseas investors have been taking advantage of a Country already in ruins from its wars among left and right wing over 50 year war and endless war of drugs and criminal activities.

Colombia just as Australia needs to balance and prioritize its industries between working with renewable and non-renewable resources.  Mining is one necessary industry out of many others, global leaders need to understand that even though the principle of economics and nature is for the stronger to survive, the new generations to come need to take a step forward from that towards a more balanced future and a step backwards from a different type of growth and development to a growth in a common wellbeing.  We need to change the social paradigm that growth and more is better, not always, the natural resources are limited, it is not sustainable for the human population to keep growing, it is basic maths, the difference between the number of people and the number of natural resources is too great, it is not sustainable.  Also while there is no technology that can fix the environmental legacy from mining we should be applying the precautionary principle.  I would not like to see Australia to become unsustainable such as Colombia.

I want to see a future where our strength is not measured by material things but by how balanced we are in terms of health of human and natural resources, healthy individuals physically and mentally, healthy communities, and healthy natural environments.  Mining should be an industry that supports other industries such as sustainable agriculture and manufacturing, towards healthy individuals and healthy environments.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Joshelyn says:

    Hi Andrea, I really enjoyed reading your post. I am from Peru and we are also currently going through a hard time in terms of mining negative impacts. To cite an example, La Oroya , a Peruvian mining town, is one of the ten world’s most polluted places with up to 35000 affected people. About 99% of the children living there have blood lead levels more than three times greater than those recommended by the WHO. What is worse, even after active emissions from the smelter are reduced, the expended lead will remain in La Oroya for centuries and there is currently no plan to clean it up.
    So I agree with you, mining should be an industry that commits to people and their environments for a healthy and sustainable future, and in order to achieve that, we need leadership. It is not meant to be easy but it is a challenge we must embrace for our good and the good of our people.

  2. Andrea Garzon says:

    Thanks Joshelyn, I understand Peru is in a similar position to Colombia, however Peru have had more success on the implementation of cleaner technologies such gravimetrical technologies and other practices that do not rely on the use of mercury to extract the metals out of the ground.

    If you would like I would like to write a blog with you and Mario on how do we see Australia encouraging the implementation of clean technologies of this kind in our countries plus other environmental best industry practices used in Australia and applicable to Colombia and Peru.

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