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Environmental justice and large-scale mining

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(Part IV: Substantive issues): Mining and resource extraction
Leire Urkidi and Mariana Walter
From the 2000s to the 2010s the extraction of metals has almost doubled worldwide passing
from 764,000,000 to 1,551,000,000 tons per year (Schaffartzik et al. 2016). In this chapter, we
address environmental justice (EJ) in the context of large-scale metal mining activities, an
increasingly relevant activity in EJ debates and one of the most polluting activities in the
world (EPA 2013).
This chapter approaches the environmental injustice of large scale metal mining from three
complementary angles. Firstly, we outline some of the key biophysical features of large-scale
mining activities (e.g. environmental intensity, temporal length of the activity, territorial
impacts) and some of the implications for EJ. Secondly, we examine a central debate: the
(spatial and non-spatial) dynamics shaping the distribution of mining burdens and benefits.
Thirdly, we address mining struggles, movements and discourses. In this section, we examine
the transnational diffusion of the EJ framework among anti-mining movements. We also
review some of the central grievances in mining conflicts and EJ discourses. We underline the
role played by anti-colonial discourses in mining conflicts given the presence of large
transnational corporations and the significance of mining in historical processes of
colonization. We also address debates revolving around the current relevance of
environmental awareness, resource control, recognition and participation in mining protests,
as well as the implication of scaling processes. We conclude by signalling that EJ frameworks
express themselves and mutate during mining struggles in complex ways that require
approaches able to capture the diverse and dynamic dimensions, scales, contexts and learning
processes in motion. Some research gaps and future lines of inquiry are suggested.
When approaching mining issues, EJ examinations require attention to the biophysical
features of the activity and natural resources involved. The biological and geophysical
properties of commodities are intertwined with the social relations that are created around
them (Perreault 2006). Large-scale modern mining is a highly industrialised activity (e.g.
large open pits, chemical and mechanical processes) that largely differs from the imaginary of
mining (i.e. underground pick and spade work, alluvial mining) and that can lead to EJ
conflicts at different temporal moments of extraction.
One of the particularities of the metal mining production chain is that its initial stages
(extraction and processing) are characterised by their large social and environmental costs
(Giurco et al. 2010). Moreover, as pressure to extract metals increases and the extraction
frontier expands, lower quality deposits (i.e. low grades, toxic minerals present) are exploited,
increasing social and environmental pressures (Giurco et al. 2010). The worldwide decline in
the quality of ores has direct implications in terms of land intervention of mining activities
(e.g. land clearing), as larger and open cast mines have to be built, the amount of water,
energy and chemical inputs increase and higher quantities of waste rock are generated (Giurco
et al. 2010; Mudd 2007; Prior et al. 2012). Waste rock is especially sensitive when sulfidic
material is present, as in many metal ores (Bridge 2004a; Giurco et al. 2010; Mudd 2010).
Pollution is caused by the oxidation that naturally occurs in sulfidic minerals, triggering the
formation of sulphuric acid and acid drainages and the mobilisation of heavy metals. This
process has been pointed out as one of the main environmental challenges of the mining
industry (Bridge 2004a; Giurco et al. 2010; Government of Australia 2007). Mining related
chemical pollution can also be generated by the release to the environment of reagents added
during mineral processing, such as the sulphuric acid that is used for the leaching of copper
oxides, or the mercury or cyanide used to process gold.
Precious materials such as gold tend to have the highest generation of overburden, since their
high prices make them economically feasible to extract at decreasing qualities/grades,
entailing the processing of large amounts of ore and the generation of increasing amounts of
waste rock and tailings. The significance of these trends grows as we consider the expansion
of the mining frontier to sensitive and critical ecosystems such as tropical and cloud forests,
or the very high mountains next to pasturelands and glaciers. These are also often the homes
of indigenous people and peasants (Bebbington 2012b).
It is important to stress that in the case of mining activities, eco-efficiency and technological
approaches are limited (Bridge 2004). For instance, considering an eco-efficiency approach,
inputs to the mining process – such as water, energy, or chemical compounds – can be
reduced per unit of production, the management of waste can be improved (e.g. better
membranes to isolate waste from soil), and mining sites can be rehabilitated (e.g. re-
vegetation) (Bridge 2004). However, the adverse impacts can be reduced per unit of output
but not eliminated. This is particularly significant in the context of a global decrease in the
quality of deposits that entails the processing of larger amounts of ores to extract the same
amount of output. In this vein, Prior and colleagues (2012) suggest that the “peak metal” (the
time at which extraction can no longer rise to meet the demand) has more to do with a
carefully weighed decision that considers the social and environmental implications of
continuing to extract, than a question of existing metal quantities.
A particularity of mining activities is that their related social, cultural and environmental
impacts surpass the actual duration and location of extractive activities. EJ conflicts can rise at
many spatial and temporal stages of mining activities. From a production chain perspective,
conflicts can start before extraction itself. For instance, conflicts may emerge due to problems
of access to resources, such as land or water, that are claimed by a company fostering
processes of speculation and dispossession (Bebbington 2012a; Perreault 2013). This occurred
in Botswana when the government granted concessions for mineral exploration to diamond
companies over an area encompassing the entire ancestral territories of the Gana and Gwi
people (San or Bushmen) forcing the relocation of most local inhabitants (Özkaynak et al.
2015). The extraction of diamonds has also been related to wars in Africa since homelessness,
injustice, and corruption in the diamond sector provided a cause, or at least a rationale, for
some combatants to join insurrections (Le Billon 2008).
Environmental injustices can also emerge during mining operation, in relation to processing,
waste management or transportation activities. For instance, the notorious spill of 151 Kg of
liquid mercury in Choropampa, near the Yanacocha goldmine in the Peruvian Andes in the
2000s, poisoned over 900 villagers and fostered civil resistance. Accidents at some mining
waste dams are well known, such as the 2015 disaster in Minas Gerais (Brazil), or the 2000
cyanide spill resulting from the dam break in Bahia Mare, Romania. Sometimes mining
operations dump directly the liquid waste into rivers, such in the Huanuni tin mine in Bolivia.
In 2015, one of the largest metal mining companies of the world, Barrick Gold, was accused
by a federal prosecutor in Argentina of dumping over 224,000 litres of a cyanide and waste
water solution in a local river near its Veladero mine, which has a long history of conflict with
local communities (Buenos Aires Herald 2015/09/23).
Socio-environmental impacts can also persist for decades or centuries after mine closure. In
August 2015, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported a polluting spill of
three million gallons containing heavy metals when conducting an investigation/treatment at
the Gold King Mine, which had been closed since 1923 (US EPA 2015). Acid mine drainage
can impact underground and surface water quality during a period that exceeds the productive
life of a mine and can even increase with time (Kuipers 2003). The Montana Department of
Environmental Quality (1997) determined that acid drainage at the Golden Sunlight mine
would continue for thousands of years. Studies conducted by the U.S. government signal that
insurance coverage of large scale metal mines has often been insufficient to handle the full
environmental liabilities costs in the long term (U.S. Accountability Office 2011:8). This is
particularly relevant in the case of radioactive metal mines: the large amounts of tailings from
abandoned uranium mines entail a potential negative impact, resulting from both the
radioactive material and high heavy metal concentrations (Antunes et al. 2007).
The great environmental, social, and territorial impacts of metal mining have placed this
activity at the centre of large EJ debates and struggles (Urkidi and Walter 2011; Walter and
Urkidi 2016; Özkaynak et al. 2015). The relationship between the extraction of minerals and
their geological location shapes a singular debate over the distributive dimensions of the
injustices at stake. Is there a disproportionate impact on marginalised social groups or critical
ecosystems? If this is the case, why?
In fact, an increasing proportion of mineral exploration and investment expenditures during
the 1990s targeted the tropical areas around the globe, reaching ecologically sensitive and/or
high value conservation areas (Bridge 2004). The International Union for Conservation of
Nature (IUCN) has issued concerns related to the expansion of the mining, gas and oil frontier
in World Heritage Sites, demanding protection for them (IUCN 2011).
Regarding the impact on indigenous lands, half of the gold mined in the world from 1995 to
2015 (excluding Africa) is estimated to come from these areas (Moody 1996). Recent studies
led by scholars and activists point to the high overlap of mining concessions with the land of
peasants and indigenous people in Latin America (Bebbington 2012b). For instance, de
Echave (2009, quoted in Bebbington 2012a) estimates that over half of Peruvian peasant
communities are affected by mining projects or concessions. This is also the case in
Guatemala, where 95% of the existing licences in 2004 had been granted after 2000, and most
of them were in indigenous provinces (Defensoría Q’eqchi 2004).
In Canada, 36% of First Nations communities are located within 50km of a mine (Hipwell et
al. 2002). A report by Mackasey (2000) indicated that there were 160 abandoned mines in the
north of Canada, 67 of them having problems of chemical pollution or physical instability and
many being located within aboriginal territories. However, Keeling and Sandlos (2009) argue
that these data don’t reveal causal or intentional factors but incidental ones, since mining
companies located their operations where they found significant mineral deposits and where
transportation routes allowed for a profitable exploitation. These authors suggest that it would
be difficult to demonstrate the imposition of disproportionate environmental impacts on
aboriginal communities because they form a majority of the population in many areas of
Northern Canada.
However, we cannot understand mining developments only in relation to geology, as fiscal
and legal frameworks facilitate extraction in some locations that could be considered
comparatively unattractive in geological terms. Since 1985, in a context of increasing
environmental and labour protection measures in the Global North (Europe, Canada and the
US), over 90 states adopted or revised mining laws and codes to increase foreign investments
in this sector (Bridge 2004b). For instance, Latin American countries, most of which
conducted such reforms, have seen a steep increase of mining investments (Ericsson and
Larsson 2013) and related conflicts (OCMAL 2013). Similarly, in the context of a pre-
Fukushima global uranium boom, social reaction and stricter environmental regulations in
Australia and the US, among others, coincide with a shift of uranium mining activities to
poorer countries. Pressure to extract has increased in African countries that have less
restrictive legislation, despite having poorer deposits (Conde and Kallis 2012).
Moreover, analysis of the spatial distribution of damages and risks tends to overlook the
multiple geographic scales in which particular stories of environmental injustice and industrial
development are situated (Keeling and Sandlos 2009). As shown by Bickerstaff and Agyeman
(2009), there is a peril of having (spatial) distributive arguments shadowing other legitimate
environmental justice concerns. Kurtz (2003) points that EJ raises difficult questions about the
best way to measure environmental inequities across space and address the nature and spatial
extent of both problems and possible solutions.
Furthermore, the EJ distributive debates tend to focus on the allocation of environmental
impacts, neglecting the economic distributive injustices at play. There are patterns of
(economic, social and environmental) mal-distribution among mining companies, affected
communities and socio-political elites. The thesis of the resource curse or the paradox of
plenty suggests that countries with an abundance of natural resources, particularly non-
renewable ones, tend to perform worse in terms of economic growth and development
outcomes than those less dependent on natural resources (Auty 1993). The deterioration of
institutions (Sala-i-Martin and Subramanian 2003), socioeconomic conditions, and inadequate
policies (Arellano Yaguas 2011) have been identified as relevant factors to understand this
paradox. It has also been argued that the multiplication of foreign junior companies in
exploration stages has affected industrial performance, since those companies tend to engage
in corrupt behaviours, especially when operating in weak institutional regions (Dougherty
Civil society organizations claim that transparency in the extractive is instrumental in
overcoming the 'resource curse' through two important functions: empowering citizens and
communities to participate in decision-making, and fostering more accountable governments
and corporations (McGrath 2014). In the case of transnational companies, it has been also
suggested that regulatory frameworks must be developed simultaneously in host countries, in
the home countries of the corporations, and at the international level (Canel et al. 2010).
Moreover, while most studies analysing the impact of mining rents and windfalls focus on the
national level, little research has examined the local level, where most of the contestation is
occurring. A statistical analysis by Arellano Yanguas (2011) in Peru concludes that those
regions that have received more mining rents had more socio-environmental conflicts, and
that there is no evidence that mining rents arrive to the local scale or improve local economic
and social well-being indicators. Arellano signals that new conflicts are rising from groups
that aim to improve their access to mining rents and benefits, or from unsatisfied expectations
generated by mining activities.
Other quantitative and qualitative studies on the local impact of mining royalties point that the
availability of royalties does not by itself guarantee growth and improvement of living
conditions at the community level (Caselli and Michaels 2009; Perry and Olivera 2009; Van
der Ploeg 2008). Mining rent investment tends to benefit urban and departmental
(municipal/provincial) levels and men, rather than rural areas and women –particularly if they
are poor (Lagos and Blanco 2010; Perry and Olivera 2009; Ward and Strongman 2011).
Moreover, mining areas are vulnerable to economic downturns when mining activities are
coming to an end or have ended because of the high dependence that is usually created
(Hernández 2004; Perry and Olivera 2009).
The multiple scales and dimensions that shape EJ in mining requires an approach that rather
than focusing on a single scale or single dimension of injustice, considers the multiple and
dynamic scales and dimensions at play. In the following section, we argue for approaching
mining conflicts from multi-dimensional justice frameworks and multi-scalar and context-
dependent perspectives. Moreover, we highlight the relevance of analysing the different
socio-economic and cultural inequalities within mining contexts.
The concept of EJ, born in the midst of waste-disposal conflicts, was transferred rapidly to
U.S. mining struggles. Mining-related environmental injustices have also been a relevant
theme in the transnational diffusion of the EJ framework to Latin America, Canada and South
Africa. We must note that we are referring to the diffusion and adoption of the
“Environmental Justice” term. We acknowledge that previous (and ongoing) environmental
struggles have expressed similar concerns without explicitly framing them as EJ. Indeed, from
our point of view, many of the claims articulated in mining struggles can be understood under
an EJ framework that includes non-explicit EJ discourses. There are relevant academic
debates about which are the central discourses, grievances and concerns in mining protests
and which is the most accurate framework for understanding them. In this section, we
approach the relevance of mining in the transnational diffusion of EJ through some examples
and review the central discourses deployed in mining conflicts and the related scholar debates.
Mining and the transnational diffusion of Environmental Justice
Uranium mining was a key concern for many Native Americans who joined the US EJ
movement (Rosier 2006). Since the 1970s, Native Americans have been protesting against
coal mining and, in the 1980s, uranium mining and the storage of nuclear materials started to
dominate their EJ claims (Rosier 2006). After decades of uranium mining in Navajo and
Pueblo reservations, the health impacts prompted a protest against ‘nuclear colonialism’. With
uranium mining as a relevant issue in their agenda, Native American activists took part in the
1991 First People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, as a multi-racial movement for
change (Rosier 2006). There, the self-determination right of indigenous peoples was asserted
in the foundational ‘Principles of Environmental Justice’. According to Bullard and Johnson
(2000), the ‘radioactive colonialism’ that still operates on Indian lands is due to the legacy of
institutional racism.
In South Africa, mining issues have attracted growing EJ activism in the last 15 years
(Madihlaba 2002). The South African EJ movement is highly permeated by anti-racist
concerns and mining conflicts are not an exception. Indeed, there are close similarities
between the history of the EJ movement in the US in the 1980s and that of South Africa in the
1990s since, in both countries, the history of racial discrimination is central to the
environmental discourse (Khan 2002). During the post-apartheid period, several radical
organisations acknowledged the relationship between the environment, politics, racial
inequality and poverty (Khan 2002) and mining started to be a key theme. In 2012, the
Mining and Environmental Justice Community Network of South Africa was created as a
network of community based organizations, whose environmental and human rights are
affected, directly or indirectly, by mining-related activities (MEJCON-SA 2012).
In the Australian case, Banerjee (1999) notes that since the earliest times of European
invasion, the two activities that led to the greatest dispossession of Aboriginal peoples from
their land were mining and pastoral activities. The aboriginal and Northern Australian
activists connect the infringement of environmental and cultural rights by uranium mining
with the historical European mining pressures (Katona 2006). In Canada, the resistance to the
environmental impacts of mining is coupled with the broader themes of cultural survival and
sovereignty over traditional lands (Keeling and Sandlos 2009).
Mining and anti-mining movements have also had a central place in the EJ networks
emerging since 2000 in Latin America (Urkidi and Walter 2011). In March 2007, a Latin
American meeting on Environmental Justice and Mining took place in Oruro, Bolivia
(CEPA/OCMAL 2008). In Chile, the inter-regional Network of Action for Environmental and
Social Justice was created in 2006, aimed at “resisting and mobilizing against plunder”,
alluding to past colonial abuses, and at denouncing the impacts and injustices of large-scale
mines, plantations, hydropower plants, and other industries mainly driven by transnational
corporations and IFIs (Urkidi and Walter 2011). In Argentina, EJ concerns transverse socio-
environmental claims. During the past decade, Argentinean socio-environmental struggles and
EJ related claims have expanded with a significant influence of large-scale metal mining
conflicts (Urkidi and Walter 2011). In 2015, the first explicit EJ association was born in
Argentina (i.e. AJAM) with an emphasis in denouncing extractive industries. The
combination of human rights and social justice tradition, environmental concerns, and the
experiences of mobilised communities contributed to the development of a (more or less
explicit) EJ framework in Latin America (Urkidi and Walter 2011).
Mining activities have been related with EJ claims and grievances worldwide. Moreover, anti-
mining networks have played a key role diffusing EJ discourses (Walter and Urkidi 2016)
However, the demands, concerns and discourses of anti-mining movement differ among
regions and particular cases opening debates about their specific character.
Mining grievances and Environmental Justice discourses
Mining activities are related with a large number of EJ related struggles. In this section we
highlight some key dimensions that appear in the claims and discourses of anti-mining
movements around the world and address some relevant scholar debates. In some cases, we
highlight concerns regarding (neo)colonialism, cultural difference and recognition. In other
cases, environmental justice movements stress grievances related to power-imbalances
present in mining spaces and the lack of genuine participation mechanisms. In many cases,
damages to local livelihoods and the environment are at the origin of local protests. These
different concerns usually appear in mining struggles in intertwined and differentiated ways.
However, the case-specific meaning of concepts such as livelihood or environment is a
contested issue in the literature, as well as the suitability of using some explicative
frameworks such as EJ or environmentalism.
As shown in the previous section, grievances related to cultural and racial discrimination and
demands for recognition are central in the mining conflicts of many regions. In the case of
indigenous communities, these maintain complex and variable relationships with mining
companies, but many groups associate mineral extraction with their historical memory of
dispossession and the disruption of traditional lifestyles (Keeling and Sandlos, 2009). As
Goodall (2006) notes, history is central to questions of how indigenous peoples understand
environmental justice, as the exercise of colonial power has had a spatial expression, through
control over space and environment.
According to Banerjee (1999), large-scale colonial mining has devastated many indigenous
communities around the world –Africa, the Asia-Pacific, North and South America– and the
trends of deregulation and privatization of the last 20 years have led to a mining industry
increasingly resembling what it looked like during colonial times. According to an Australian
aboriginal activist “the types of benefits the mining companies are talking about is another
form of assimilation for Aboriginal people (…); their relationship with the land and all the
values and beliefs that underpin that (…) is being challenged by this development” (Katona
1998, in Banerjee 1999:25). In Guatemala, for instance, since the protests against the
quincentenary of Columbus’ arrival, mining contestation is permeated by ethnic claims and
concerns about historical justice, due to the historical marginalization of the Maya population
(Urkidi 2011).
Demands for recognition and participation also come from non-indigenous groups in the
South that denounce historical and current colonialism and deep power imbalances among
Northern companies and Southern societies. These asymmetries are notable in the conflicts
and negotiations among corporations, states, communities and civil society organizations
(Canel et al. 2010). As in other cases in the world, communities affected by transnational gold
mines in Ghana argued that the lack of engagement by government agencies resulted in
companies acting in a surrogate governmental capacity (Garvin et al. 2009). In the context of
the post-Washington Consensus, companies’ responsibility codes and corporate-community
agreements are replacing State regulations (Canel et al. 2010), with different results. Garibay
et al. (2014) signal that, in Zacatecas (Mexico), the Canadian Goldcorp proceeded, with the
help of the Mexican State, though coercive strategies and negative reciprocity principles (“get
something for nothing with impunity”). In this sense, Keeling and Sandlos (2009) highlight
the relevance of studying mining within broader processes of capital.
Another key grievance in mining protests is related to impacts on local livelihoods. However,
the relation between discourses in defence of livelihoods and the environment is debated. In a
quantitative study analysing the determinants of social conflict in Latin American mining,
Haslam and Tanimoune (2016) signalled that livelihood issues are a major concern and
defined the problem as the overlap of agriculture and mining and, mainly, the increasing
scarcity of agricultural opportunities. Moreover, they showed that poverty was a variable to
take into account when analysing the prevalence of protests but that the relation is not linear:
poverty intersects with distributional struggles in a complex way (Haslam and Tanimoune,
Other authors relate livelihood and environmental claims with compensation concerns,
pointing to the influence of rent distribution processes in the emergence of mining conflicts.
According to Arellano Yanguas (2010), some (apparent) environmental mining conflicts are
instead related to the effort of some actors to improve their political leverage and gain access
to mining rents. From our Latin American review of 68 mining consultations and our in-depth
research in some case-studies (Walter and Urkidi 2015), we argue that, in general, these were
not among the key collective concerns that led movements and communities to mobilise.
However, we don’t discard this hypothesis for some of the involved actors. Even within a
single case, there are different motives and worries behind those actors that protest against
mining projects.
A related debate was developed by Banks, Kirsch and Hyndman when studying mining
conflicts in the island of New Guinea. In a review of three mining projects, Banks (2002)
argues that Kirsch (1997) and Hyndman (2001) overlooked the influence of the environment
in the development of the Ok Tedi conflict in Papua New Guinea, wen framing it as
“ecological resistance”. Kirsch and Hyndman criticized the economically based explanations
given by previous observers (Banks 2002). Banks (2002) defends a framework that would
look at the way in which control over a range of resources is affected by mining operations,
including subsistence resources derived from the natural environment, other material
resources such as cash crops and wages, and social, political and cultural resources such as
relationships, rights and responsibilities, attachments and identities that maintain the physical,
social, and cultural lifeworlds of communities.
For instance, Banks (2002) suggests that, in the Porguera mine in Papua New Guinea, an
environmental fix would resolve a series of community concerns over use and abuse of the
river system, but it would not address other concerns over regional relationships, decision-
making, resource control, and equity (Banks 2002). In the Grasberg mine in Indonesia,
evidence did not indicate direct links between the degree of environmental damage and the
extent of community protest. However, there seemed to be a link with the loss of autonomy
over cultural and subsistence resources (particularly land), as well as human rights (Banks
2002). In the Ok Tedi mine, some communities were not involved in environmental protest as
they enjoyed monetary compensation or had moved and had access to monetary resources
(Hyndman 2001, Banks 2002). Banks (2002) argues that there are cases where environmental
effects are the overwhelming concern because of the massive impact on the community’s
resource base, but that, in many other, marginalization, oppression, or access to new forms of
resources (material or political) were the key issue at play. Banks (2002) notes that there is an
agreement among authors that community involvement in decision-making processes is at the
root of tensions.
However, Banks (2002) also acknowledges that this debate may become one of semantics, as
the environment is understood separate from society or not, and argues for dropping the
essentially Eurocentric divisions between the environment and the rest of one’s daily life. We
agree on the need of putting this division aside in order to better understand the intertwined
environmental and socio-political claims of anti-mining groups. As pointed by Guha and
Martinez-Alier (1997), the environmentalisms of the poor originate in social conflicts over
control and access to natural resources, since many communities depend on these resources
for their material and cultural survival. Indeed, Kirsch (2007), in a later article, highlights that
it is risky to reduce indigenous movements to a binary simplification of choices between the
environment and development. He explains that the movement against the Ok Tedi mine, like
many other indigenous movements, sought compensation for the damages to the environment
and to limit further pollution of the river, but that they also hoped that the mine would
continue to operate, providing them with economic opportunities, albeit not at the cost of the
river and rain forest (Kirsch 2007).
We argue that mining conflicts are cut across by different concerns and that the pluralistic
approach to EJ developed by Schlosberg (2007), among others, allows capturing the
complexity of environmental, political and cultural claims deployed EJ struggles. In the
analysis of two notable Latin American mining conflicts (Pascua-Lama in Chile and Esquel in
Argentina), we identified the different dimensions of EJ distinguished by Schlosberg (2007)
(Urkidi and Walter 2011). The studied movements reclaimed distributional justice
(denouncing the unjust allocation of projects and the accumulation of benefits by
transnational mining companies), participation in decision-making processes, and the
recognition of their culturally and ecologically differentiated needs and livelihoods (Urkidi
and Walter 2011). However, we noted that the initial reason behind the defence of local
livelihoods was the environmental risk related to metal mining. Similarly, in a later study
examining mining consultations in Latin America, we identified that concerns related to the
defence of livelihoods, cultural recognition, territorial control, participation and self-
determination were central in most of the mining conflicts that led to consultations (Walter
and Urkidi 2015).
We have seen that some keywords dominate the debate around mining conflicts in the world.
However, it’s almost impossible to reduce the mining issue to one specific concern. In this
section, we have focused on cases from the South but the heterogeneity can be even further if
we consider Northern cases in depth. Indeed, some authors point to the great gap between the
Global North and the Global South, when analysing environmental discourses in mining
conflicts (Doyle 2002). Even a single conflict cannot be understood under reductionist
approaches, but under frameworks that acknowledge the interrelation among environmental,
social, cultural, economic and political spheres of life and the complex (and sometimes
contradictory) claims of communities and movements. From our point of view, the multi-
dimensional and context-dependent EJ framework offers an inspiring viewpoint to examine
these struggles.
Finally, studies signal the relevance of examining extractive struggles with a geographical and
temporal scale-sensitive approach. As we have analysed in two mining struggles in Latin
America, social discourses mutate as conflicts evolve and movements engage in rescaling
processes. While some dimensions of justice appeared first (participation and recognition),
others (distribution of environmental and socio-economic goods and damages across multiple
lines of social discrimination) emerged later, as movements jumped scales, engaging with
national and international networks that provided a systemic perspective of the conflicts
(Urkidi and Walter, 2011). Similarly, other authors have studied the strategic rescaling of
movements in extractive conflicts and their successes and risks. On the one hand, Haarstad
and Floysand (2007) studied how the ability of the anti-mining movement of Tambogrande
(Peru) to draft and re-frame claims in legitimated terms at different scales empowered the
community. Kirsch (2007), on the other hand, highlighted the risks of counter-globalization
processes for indigenous movements as their complex ambitions regarding mining projects
might be misinterpreted and simplified in that scaling dynamics. These studies point to the
need to move from static analysis of social protest to approaches that capture both the
dynamic social learning processes at play and the strategic nature of social mobilization.
This chapter reviewed the environmental injustices of large-scale metal mining activities. We
introduced some of the key biophysical features of this environmental and social sensitive
activity showing how EJ conflicts emerge at different spatial and temporal moments of
extraction. We examined the multiple patterns of maldistribution involved and the socio-
environmental injustices underlined by communities and social movements in mining
struggles, highlighting the relevance of anti-mining movements in the diffusion of EJ frames.
We signalled that the multiple scales and dimensions that shape EJ in mining conflicts
requires an approach that considers them. We argued for approaching mining conflicts from
multi-dimensional justice frameworks and multi-scalar and context-dependent perspectives,
signalling the relevance of analysing the different socio-economic and cultural inequalities
within mining contexts.
Mining activities offer interesting debates for EJ studies due to their material, territorial and
historical particularities. Impacts surpass the duration and location of mining activities and EJ
conflicts rise at many spatial and temporal stages. Extractive activities tend to be located in
rural, biodiversity rich and indigenous areas. Large-scale mining claims tend to be related to
(neo)colonisation in EJ discourses due to the historical role of mining in processes of
colonization and the transnational character of mining companies. These are key EJ features
of mining conflicts that could also partially fit other type of activities.
EJ mining studies offers relevant avenues of future research. Social movements worldwide
tend to frame and use the “environmental justice” term in differing ways. While in some
contexts it is used or avoided given its “legalistic” connotation, in others locally developed
terms are preferred to emphasise locally sensitive approaches. It would be relevant to analyse
the temporal and spatial evolution of the EJ concept among anti-mining groups and its causes.
Moreover, further research is needed on the diffusion of EJ frame worldwide among networks
and movements. A process in which anti-mining related networks seems to be playing a
significant role. There is also a research gap regarding the exploration of environmental
injustices and power-asymmetries in cases where there are no explicit conflicts (Conde and
Kallis 2012). It also seems relevant to examine the medium-term outcomes of successful
struggles and negotiation strategies and how EJ views and discourses evolve over time (e.g.
uranium mining in Gabon, gold mining in Tambogrande, Peru).
Another line of research emerges from a criticism to the EJ framework and its distributional
focus that points to the need to widen EJ approaches. In their study of ‘Save Rosia Montana’
anti-mining movement in Romania, Velicu and Kaika (2015) argue that the struggle went
beyond the ‘traditional’ pursuit of justice as a normative idea to be applied through citizen
participation or compensation and that it was a process of disruption. They noticed that many
local inhabitants were not asking just for redistribution or recognition by institutions; they
were questioning the very frameworks at play (development and neoliberalism, for instance).
This is also happening in extractive conflicts in Latin America, where local inhabitants refuse
to participate in official participation events or event boycott them, and question the
‘development paradigm’ used to justify mining expansion (Walter and Urkidi 2015). The
restrictive nature of mining frameworks is also explained by Blackburn (2009), when he
argues that the indigenous cultural objections to neo/colonialism in Canada are unheard
within a political context that champions property as the only social good.
Rosia Montana’s activists refused to enter negotiations and consensus-building exercises
between a pre-defined set of actors and instead redefined their positions and identities and
practiced EJ as a transformative act. As an open egalitarian socio-environmental ideal that has
to be re-negotiated, re-embodied and performed to change not only the power relations and
the set of actors in the process, but also the subjective positions of the actors themselves
(Velicu and Kaika 2015). Similarly, many groups involved in extractive conflicts are
engaging in broader reflective processes over the idea of ‘Good Living’. These processes seek
to transform identities and subjectivities and promote the reconstitution of the general socio-
cultural and environmental project (Gudynas 2011). In this sense and to conclude, a relevant
matter that requires more attention is the link between specific EJ struggles and deeper
transformative processes. Are environmental justice struggles over mining a way to transit
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