While the rivers of northern Ontario continue to flow under a dozen inches of ice, mining company executives, government representatives, and industry players flow south, through the doors of Toronto’s Metro Convention Centre for the Prospectors and Developers’ Association of Canada convention (PDAC).
Toronto is a hub for the mining industry, the belly of the beast. Corporate interests, the Toronto Stock Exchange, narratives of development and social responsibility, government (both local and international), the media, arts, and the academy work together to feed wealth into the beast’s belly, which is both controlled by and sustains big money and corporate power. This wealth does not trickle down to the communities whose lands and waters are harmed for the sake of development and profit.
Every year at PDAC, representatives from mining companies, governments, and other key industry players converge to make deals and ensure they can continue to operate in ways that prioritize profit over the health and well-being of people and our planet. This year was no exception. However, PDAC continues to frame mining operations as “green,” “clean,” and “critical” to any transition towards a greener economy.
Metals come from somewhere. Transition technologies like wind, solar, and electric batteries require significant amounts of metals and minerals. But far from investing in efforts to recycle and reduce our dependence on newly-mined materials, the mining industry is using this as an opportunity to push into even more sensitive areas key to regulating our global climate – like the Brazilian Amazon, the peatlands in northern Ontario, and even the deep seabed in the Pacific Ocean – without the consent of those most impacted.
In northern Ontario, the Attawapiskat River is under threat from mining development. The river has been used to hunt, fish, trap, and travel since time immemorial. Former Chief Peter Moonias describes the river as “the lifeline of our community. ”The river is also an important migratory stopover for ducks and geese and its headwaters at James Bay form an important wetland ecosystem for all forms of life. The Ontario government and mining industry alike have been referring to the Ring of Fire as central to the province’s transition toward a greener economy, specifically through the manufacturing of electric vehicles. The Ring of Fire supposedly contains minerals that the government has identified as being critical to the manufacturing of electric vehicle batteries and energy storage systems, such as cobalt, lithium, nickel, and copper. Meanwhile, First Nations in the area, such as Neskantaga First Nation, have been under a boil water advisory for almost three decades.
In the Nevada desert, mining threatens the sacred and culturally important Peehee Mu’huh site, which has been used by the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Burns Paiute Tribe, and Summit Lake Paiute Tribe for gathering edible and medicinal plants, hunting and fishing, conducting ceremonies, camping, and everyday lifeways of Paiute and Shoshone peoples. Lithium Americas Corp., a Canadian company, plans to develop an open pit mine in Thacker Pass for lithium for electric batteries. This would irreparably harm the environment, for example, the mine operations alone would require 1.7 gallons of water annually from an aquifer in the Quinn River Valley, which is already over-allocated.
Meanwhile, the Pacific Ocean’s Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ) is poised to become the largest mining operation in world history. This will affect more than 2 million people who call the Pacific home. In its quest for so-called battery metals, The Metals Company (TMC) would destroy an area of seabed similar to the land area of the whole of Hawaii in 30 years – the license period it could be granted. This modeling was conducted for TMC’s Nauru sponsored (NORI D) license area – where TMC plans to begin experimental mining.
While capital flows back to Toronto, Canadian mining operations, and the governments that support and enable them, are shifting the flow of the world’s waterways, polluting rivers that flow into the oceans, our planet’s life support system and one of our most important natural solutions to mitigate climate change.
In response, MISN disrupted the flow of people at PDAC and business as usual. Organizers and allies used long swathes of blue fabric painted with fish to temporarily block the entrances to the trade show, exhibitor booths, and access to escalators. We held blue fabric, to represent a river, in front of Ontario’s booth which promotes critical minerals and proposed mineral exploration and development projects in the so-called Ring of Fire region. We brought the importance of water back into the spaces where it is so often excluded.
Extractive projects create “sacrifice zones” – places that extractors poison and destroy for the greater good of economic progress because to the extractors, they “don’t count.” A true just transition will not create sacrifice zones and will include Indigenous communities exercising sovereignty over their territories and economic development, workers in fossil-fuel producing and reliant industries, such as oil and gas workers and auto workers, and rural communities without access to critical infrastructure like Internet connection and public transportation.
We need an energy transition that leaves no one behind.
Water is life!