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Defeating Dirty Energy: 5 Inspiring Examples of David Beating Goliath

These projects run the whole gamut of dirty and destructive development, from coal and oil to open-pit mines and giant dams.

Photo Credit: Giancarlo Liguori/ Shutterstock.com


     This story first appeared in OnEarth.org.     

Okay, so we’re all depressed. The planet is going to hell in a bucket, Congress is a train wreck, the fossil fuel lobby is stomping us into the ground, the  Keystone XL pipeline means game over for climate change.

Right? No, wrong. And here’s why. I’ve never been a Pollyanna, but all over the world I see remarkable things happening. In one multi-billion dollar mega-project after another, David is standing up to Goliath—and winning. These projects run the whole gamut of dirty and destructive development, from coal and oil to open-pit mines and giant dams. In many cases, they involve  stories I’ve reported on in the past few years forOnEarth.

Let’s start with the  extraordinary announcement last week that the mining company Anglo-American (market cap $35.5 billion) is pulling out of the partnership that has been planning to build the gargantuan Pebble Mine on the pristine headwaters of Alaska’s Bristol Bay. With an estimated $300 billion in recoverable reserves of gold, copper, and molybdenum, Pebble would be one of the richest mines in the world. Now Anglo-American, which held a 50 percent share in the project, is writing off losses of more than half a billion dollars.

The environmental threat posed by the mine, especially to the world’s largest wild salmon runs, was clear from the start. But who could stand in the way of such a colossus? A bunch of cantankerous local fishermen? A few native peoples, whose views have never counted for much? Yet that ragtag assortment of dissenters has morphed over the years into a diverse and vocal opposition movement that drew in guides and outfitters, anglers and hunters, bush pilots and storekeepers, and big NGOs such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (which publishes OnEarth). Polls of Bristol Bay residents show 80 percent opposed to the mine.

Already pushed to the wall by this wave of opposition, Anglo-American and its partner, Northern Dynasty, were then hit by a second setback. The unprecedented decade-long boom in gold and copper prices has suddenly turned sour. Two years ago, gold almost broke the magic barrier of $2,000 an ounce. Copper was trading at $4.50 a pound. Those numbers today? $1,312 and $3.19 respectively.

True, the fight over Pebble Mine is far from over. But this setback to the mining companies’ plans is not an isolated case, far from it. Here are some more in the same vein.

Revenge of the Incas

Let’s stay with mining for a moment. For the past 20 years, Newmont, the third-biggest gold-mining company in the world, has operated a huge mine in northern Peru called Yanacocha. Several years ago, it announced plans to build a new $5 billion mine, Conga, right next door. Ranged against the expansion were a local priest, the tiny NGO he created, a few university students, and some disgruntled peasant farmers, descendants of the Incas, many of whom didn’t even speak Spanish.

But as in Alaska, this motley opposition grew and prospered, and at the end of 2011 Newmont was forced to halt work on the project. In July 2012,  on the day I visited the Conga site, riot police shot dead five protesters. Despite this intimidation, the protests have not abated. This summer, thousands of peasants occupied a sacred lake that Newmont wants to turn into a tailings pit. Polls show that 78 percent of people in the region oppose the mine. The project remains paralyzed.And the protests have spread nationwide. A report by Standard and Poor’s last month predicted that community opposition might lead to other mega-mines in Peru being scrapped. And Newmont CEO Richard O’Brien announced in July that the company had suffered second-quarter losses of almost $2 billion.

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