June 16, 2011
At the beginning of May, I attended the Ecumenical Conference on Mining in Toronto as a representative of the Youth Council of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund. The conference, organized by KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, brought together ecumenical partners from Canada, the United States and the global South to reflect theologically on the effects of resource extraction on Creation and to think strategically about how to address the unregulated negative activities of Canadian-based mining companies around the world.
As a Canadian, it was devastating to hear how Canadian-based mining companies act internationally, let alone within Canada’s borders. Their compliance with Canadian mining regulations is voluntary at the international level. Although I have heard some of these stories before through various documentaries and articles, I was not prepared to hear them from the mouths of those affected. From gold mines in Guatemala to the Oil Sands in Alberta to copper mines in the Philippines, the stories of the communities surrounding these projects were all similar stories of oppression, loss of a traditional way of life, and environmental devastation.
Besides raising awareness of the numerous social and environmental harms committed by Canadian-based mining companies around the world, the conference sought to create a space where participants could reflect on extraction and Creation theologically and the role of the Church in organizing and advocating for change in the mining industry. A number of panelists were asked to share their reflections on this issue and the discussion that stayed with me the most was the idea that Christians have a problem with “dominion” and “stewardship”.
Discussions on the environment within the Church always focus on the Genesis story, in which God gives humans dominion over the Earth. Although, I definitely do not advocate for a hands off approach for humans with regard to the environment, I wonder what effect it would have on the Earth if we discarded this notion that humans are in control? The stories we heard from partners in affected communities all echoed the struggles of power imbalance. Canadian-based mining companies have the power to bypass local regulations and provide incentives to national governments to allow mining activities to occur. Local officials have the power to silence their own communities when offered incentives from mining companies.
The control of humans over the Earth as described by the notions “dominion” and “stewardship” also denotes a power imbalance between humans and the rest of God’s creation. The discussion needs to go beyond the idea that God gave humans power and instead recognize the vulnerability of the human species within creation (rather than in control of creation). A common motto for the environmental movement for many years has been “save the planet”. However, the planet is resilient; it has the ability for growth and succession after being destroyed. Humans have demonstrated this ability after disaster as well, but are we capable of stopping destruction? Or will we push ourselves so far that we cannot recover? Environmental activist Mike Balkwill said once that we do not need to “save the planet”; we need to save humanity. Some people at the conference echoed this sentiment by saying that the theological discussion of resource extraction should focus on the resurrection; that the promise of new life should resonate in our relationship with the Earth.
From the copper in my cell phone to the silver in my jewelry to the aggregate that paves the roads in my city, it is hard to imagine any part of my life that does not include products obtained through resource extraction. As I left the conference, I was contemplating the interconnectedness of all these things in my life. I’ll admit, I felt pretty defeated. However, I began to think about the interconnectedness of all the people at the conference and was reminded of what Mary Corkery of KAIROS said during her address regarding “authentic solidarity”. I was inspired by the opportunity for communities to gather and share stories but also share strategies on how we might bring the message of new life and social change to our communities in the face of Canadian mining practices. This solidarity with our brothers and sisters is worth more than all the gold in the world.