As human beings, we need a couple of things to continue living on this giant home of ours.
We’ve all learned this in elementary school, but I’ll do a quick recap: we die without water, we’re exposed to the elements without shelter and we starve (or eventually grow sick) without (nutritious) food.
While I feel this is fairly universal knowledge, I continue to be sorely mistaken.
It seems that, despite having the grade-school knowledge of what we need to stay alive, humans continue to exploit the very things that entails and at the expense of fragile and finite local environments.
We continue to dig for gold and oil and any number of what we consider precious minerals. We use unethical human labor to make our clothes, electronics and most of our diets possible.
This is our current societal paradigm, one of unsustainable practices for the benefit of few and the promise of economic gain for many, and it’s frankly not going to last much longer at the rate we’re going.
In an article published earlier this week, New York Times writer Suzanne Daley examined a town in northeast Greece that is, along with the rest of the country, facing its sixth year of dire economic recession. This town, however, is built on gold—gold that Alexander the Great himself once mined for.
If you’re a cynic like me, you can probably imagine the rest of the story: a mining company, which does not hail from Greece, nor even Europe, but Canada, is taking the reigns on a mining operation in the seaside town of Lerissos, where they expect to create 1,500 short-term jobs that will provide perhaps 10 years of employment.
This, of course, is at the expense of the prototypical Greek livelihood—olive trees, honey bees, plants that thrive only in a Mediterranean environment—which will all be subjected, along with the inhabitants of northern Greece, to the dust of the mining operations in the region.
But the narrative of economic gain over sustainability and humanity is not limited to the shores of Greece and the sweatshops of Bangladesh.
Marquette County residents have recently been characters in a very similar account.
Up until the beginning of January, when the permits necessary for the construction of County Road 595 were not filed by the Environmental Protection Agency, we too were facing the seemingly inevitable threat of corporate interests trumping environmental protection.
The road, which would have been funded entirely by corporate mining giant Rio Tinto, would have created a 21-mile stretch of pavement from Rio Tinto’s Eagle mine in the Yellow Dog Plains, southwest of Big Bay, to the Humboldt Mill in Ishpeming.
The proposed roadway would have intersected forested wetlands in some of the most untouched—and fragile—wilderness in the Upper Peninsula and, arguably, the United States.
While alternative routes for hauling nickel and copper from the mine to the mill have been present from the beginning, the proposed roadway was still alarmingly close to becoming a reality.
I do, however, understand the supposed benefits of such practices as mining and such rationale as economy over environment.
It can be argued that the sacrifices we make environmentally are in the best interests of the working class, the families that rely on mining and similar operations to put food on the table. I can’t argue with that. I also know that my own lifestyle as a middle-class college student who owns a laptop and drives a car requires mining to a certain extent.
However, at some point humans (including myself) have to realize that these lifestyles are not compatible with the finite resources we have to work with.
We must work toward a future of localization, of longer lasting products, of decreased consumption and consumerism.
The promise of 10, 20 or 2,000 jobs is certainly going to provide sustenance to families in the Upper Peninsula and Greece and any number of other places, but at what cost?
The yellow-stained water in Greece, a result of the gold mine runoff, is a consequence they now have to work to mitigate.
This enormous lake on which we live, the largest body of freshwater in a world where thousands of people die daily with no access to clean water, is a resource that we continually have to fight to keep unpoisoned in an era of hydraulic fracturing, mine runoff and little to no care on behalf of the corporations that are responsible for this degradation.
This planet has only so many resources, and the outdated ideology that we should be allowed to degrade the environment for the economic benefit of few needs to be addressed.
Only we, as individuals, can help to change this paradigm. Small but consistent steps are still steps, whether it’s walking to class a couple days of the week instead of driving, shopping locally when possible or simply becoming more informed of the environmental issues in our area and the world.
The earth’s well-being is dependant on all of us—but we need to begin respecting it, and each other, first.