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Peru: The COP20 conference and Madre de Dios: How much is destroyed by illegal mining

As expected the COP20 climate conference in Lima has so far been host to serious discussions on environmental matters, climate change issues and suchlike. Also as expected it’s also layered over with the normal amount of inertia-inducing politics which stopped anything of note from being decided. Also as expected we have plenty of fringe meetings at which mining companies are shown as the devil incarnate, the usual fare from the extreme end of the green, the ones who give the normally sane and far-too-quiet environmental mainstream a bad name.

Here’s an example: Plenty of reports popped up on my radar about a report prepared by Peru/Ecuador indigenous jungle support group Aidesep and the Forest People’s Program (FPP, a gringo NGO). Here’s the link to one of them (Spanish language) which tells in the headline how between 125,000 and 250,000 hectares a year of the Peruvian Amazon are lost to development and industrial growth. But then you read that 75% of that is due to clearing for agricultural use. Only then comes number two culprit the illegal Amazon basin mining industry (3rd is palm oil plantations, for what it’s worth) and in the infamous Madre de Dios region we’re told (translated):

According to the report, illegal gold mining destroyed more than 40,000 hectares of jungle in the Madre de Dios region between 1999 and 2012, but the authors of the report warn that this rate has increased to 6,000 hectares a year since 2008

Now that sounds like a lot of land, and in a way I suppose it is. But it also got me thinking about scale so on checking the maps and such, it turns out that the Madre de Dios department of Peru (which in itself is only a small part of its Amazon jungle regions) has a surface area of 853 million hectares. In other words, the illegal mining that’s “devastating” MDD accounts for around 0.007% of its surface area per year. Or if you prefer, if it keeps up the same rate of land use (which it won’t, if only for pure logistical reasons) for the next 150 years it’ll be done with 1% of the MDD department.

And yes, this message is coming to you from IKN, the blog back in 2008 and 2009 and 2010 that went on and on and on about the illegal and polluting gold mining world of Madre de Dios when the rest of the world simply ignored it. These days it’s On The Agenda. These days it’s Fashionable Cause. These days you get star journalists from world level news organizations parachuted in to tell us just how awful it is, when the real problem here isn’t the “devastation” of land, it’s the plug dumb stupidity of the government of Peru that decides to blanket ban something that cannot be banned in practical terms, decides to take away the means of production from people when they should replace it, when they should formalize and immediately improve the pollution of mercury and other heavy metals, rather than try to blame it all on “illegals” or Bolivia or Chinese businessmen or whatever other bullshit excuse they come out with today. I know the gold industry in MDD isn’t pretty, a true case of where’s there’s muck there’s brass if ever there was one. But it’s not going to eat up all the jungle because for one simple thing, it costs money to pump the water to the spots they want to mine and if you go too far from a river, the economics of running a high powered pump and hose system fall apart. It’s not going to kill the Amazon*, get it? Formalize this industry, stop them from using mercury, get them to use other safer methods of extraction and the world will forget all about MDD and will just have to find another example to faux-care about.

*in fact the Amazon will kill them, given enough time.

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