Mining, Pollution & the Miracle of Awakening
by Thom Hartmann
In a recent newsletter, I talked about a copper mining operation in Indonesia, owned by an American company, that’s devastating several downstream tribes of indigenous peoples by dumping cyanide-laced tailings (mining waste) into their rivers.
A fellow in South Africa, to whom I assume somebody had forwarded that newsletter to, sent me a rip-roaring email in response, saying that we shouldn’t blame the mining companies for, in his words, “giving the average American slob what he lusts for: a car, house, and computer full of copper.”
He went on to point out the incredible hypocrisy of Americans, saying that we don’t want mines in our back yards, and complaining about the damage they do to other people’s back yards, but we sure want “cars, jets, houses, and computers full of mined
He sent a follow-up email suggesting that if I was sincere in my concerns about people suffering the effects of mining, I should eliminate all mined metal products from my life and convince all other Americans to do the same, as the 300 million of us consume more mined metals than the two billion Indians and Chinese combined. And then we should quit exporting our culture and entertainment, which is only pushing those in the developing world to want to emulate our metal-hungry lifestyle... thus further increasing the demand for mined metals.
It’s an important point, and even though his emails to me were apparently intended to be scathing and put-me-in-my-place, I appreciated his feedback. This is really a difficult business for those of us in the developed world.
The challenge is to learn to live and function in a less toxic way in a world that’s increasingly dominated by corporate interests that, on the one hand, “manufacture wants” (to use Noam Chomsky’s term, as I recall) and then, on the other hand, rape the planet to get the raw materials to satisfy our demands for the fulfillment of those wants.
If you’ve read my book “The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight,” you’ll remember the chapter titled “The Secret of Enough.” It’s essentially a recap of the core values of the voluntary simplicity movement, and I felt it was important enough that I also reposted it on our website so anybody could read it.
As the writer from South Africa so correctly pointed out, we relieve the pressure on indigenous people worldwide when we live more simply, drive less, shop at the thrift store, patronize local businesses instead of the chains, and ask ourselves if it's really necessary when we consider the purchase of any new thing. Since the average American, European, and Japanese consumes around 30 times the natural resources of the planet than the average of the other 5.7 billion humans on the planet, every time we take one of these small steps its effect is amplified thirty fold. (Or close to that - these statistics are somewhat difficult to nail down, and some people claim we consume 50 time more when you add in things like water and power, whereas other say it's closer to 20 times.)
The amazing and wonderful thing is that as we consume less, we discover life has other rewards and meanings. There are numerous resources on the web devoted to voluntary simplicity, and Vicky Robin's book "Your Money or Your Life" is a nice introduction to one way of viewing it.
This spring (2000) I spoke in Thailand at a conference in Chaing Mai. (Yes, it took ozone-depleting jet fuel to get there. Another issue that I struggle with: where is the right balance, the right trade-off?) Anyhow, there was a woman named Rachel Flower there who was working with the Karen refugees.
These are tribal people who’ve been driven out of Myanmar (was Burma) and forced to settle into refugee camps along the Burma/Thai border. Rachel and Scott (her partner) took me to visit with the leaders of an organization who are working with the Karen people, and the stories I heard were heart rending. Rachel and Scott were trying to figure out some way to help the Karen people, and noticed that the Karen women make these really unique bags, and so Rachel is trying to market the bags with all of the proceeds going to the Karen people. No organization or anything, just her passing the money and info along. She got one of those MLM web accounts so she could build a website about what she’s doing, and you can find her and the Karen people here.
Over the past six months, I’ve been accumulating a huge and depressing basket of statistics and information on how rapidly our world is being degraded and the planet’s wealth consolidated in a very few large corporate hands. I think part of my procrastination in sending out this newsletter is that I find that basket such a frightening place to dig through. And I’m concerned that wringing our hands and complaining isn’t the optimal place to be hanging out when it comes to these issues...and by reciting to you dire statistics it seems that hand-wringing is where I end up.
So instead, I’d like to suggest that we need to be working on healing. Healing ourselves, our families, our communities, and the world. But how?
Two nights ago I had an interesting conversation with a dear friend and author on spirituality issues. I started ranting about how the mercury industry is fighting Vermont’s efforts to label it as a toxic substance (it’s the last unregulated highly toxic industry, and fighting tooth and nail to keep things that way), and these guys are spending a fortune on lobbying and advertising to be able to keep killing people profitably. And mid-rant she interrupted me and said, “Thom, you have to realize that things have gone too far. The only thing that will save us is a miracle. You can’t do it and I can’t do it and no single organization can do it, but a miracle can. So we need to start working toward a miracle.”
My first internal response was skepticism: I know the scientific facts here, and things are bad, and (particularly with weather, water, famine, and diseases) are probably going to get a lot worse before they get better. But another part of me knew that she was right. We need a miracle. And, oddly enough, miracles happen all the time.
Andrew Weil does a great job of documenting them in his book Spontaneous Healing, which I just read (and recommend). Our history and religions are filled with stories of them. Ask anybody and they can usually tell you about at least one miracle a truly miraculous event that has happened in their life. You’ve probably had one or more in your life, and I sure have. In many ways, it's a miracle I'm still alive.
So what I want to put out in this newsletter is a call for miracle consciousness. Find them in your life. Begin to create them in the lives of others. And let’ s work for a miracle that will awaken and transform the world.
(c) Copyright, 2000 by Thom Hartmann.
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