“I have witnessed the start of a network”: strategy sharing and building resilient environmental justice movements

I have witnessed the start of a network.

Blog by Marta Conde

In environmental justice struggles networking has been crucial for their success. Through networks organisations support each other, share key information about their projects as well as successful –or not so successful- strategies. As shown in the numerous cases uploaded in the EJAtlas (EJOLT Report No. 14), a resilient network is characterised by having different types of regional and local organisations coordinated by a national hub. A thematic branch of the French organisation Engineers without Borders, called EWB Extractive Systems and Environment (ISF SystExt), decided to facilitate the creation of a network in France. There is an increasing amount of conflicts in France that are either rejecting present and future projects or are claiming the restoration of closed mining sites.

In a peaceful and green farm outside Paris, ISF SystExt invited some of the most prominent movements in France and Europe all eager to listen and learn from each other’s experiences. I was witness to one of these exchanges; the movement against the re-opening of the Salau tungsten project in the Pyrenees were complaining about the lack of any publicly available technical or environmental report of the current state of the mine, which is specially worrying because the old mine had heavy asbestos pollution. ‘Contraminacción’, a network organisation in Galicia (Northeast Spain) that has been fighting different projects in this region for decades, proposed them to use the Aarhus convention to access these studies as well as the ESPOO convention on transboundary issues, given that Spain will also receive some of the pollution. Also looking for this kind of support where different organisations fighting against the ‘Montagne d’Or’ project in the French Guyane, where there are plans for a 2.5km wide pit in the nature reserve of Lucifer Dékou-Dékou. They learned from the ‘Chalkidiki People’s Committees against Gold mining’ experience, who showed the importance of stopping the mine project at very early stages before workers are hired increasing support for the mine. Many groups were looking to extract lessons from the successful fight in Romania, presented by ‘Mining Watch Romania’, which combined street protest and days of action with court cases and independent research and journalism. They for example commemorate each year the death of 80 miners killed by a mine accident in the region. For those in France fighting for the restoration of mines it was perhaps hopeful to hear about the co-management experience in the Linnunsuo Restoration Project in Finland, presented by the ‘Snowchange cooperative’, where wetlands badly damaged by surface mining for peat are being restored by an horizontal co-management organisation of fishermen, locals, companies, universities and government. In France indeed, there are more than 200 closed uranium mines with radioactive pollution that can last 5 billion years. ‘CRIIRAD’, the most important independent radiological laboratory was also present; it encourages and trains local population how to use measuring devices and organise to lobby the government to neutralise these sites.

ISF SystExt also invited researchers, NGOs and other networks. The organisation ‘Friends of the Earth France’ have been very active in promoting the approval of a new piece of legislation in France that allows citizens to denounce the activities in foreign soil of French multinationals (including its subsidiaries). In support of these legislative strategies, Alain Deneault, author from Canada of several books about the strategies of mining companies, denounced the overwhelming power of mining multinationals that can act above the law and even shape these laws in some countries. The use of court cases and legislative changes remain a very challenging strategy due to the huge amount of time and funds needed, energy that perhaps could be invested in other strategies. Juliette Renaud from Friends of the Earth France remarked that all strategies are necessary and complementary but that it “was necessary to address the impunity of multinationals”. The network ‘Yes to life, no to mining’, an emerging global network that strives to support movements across the globe, also pointed to the challenges that arise when organising and exchanging information at a global level and at the local level.

Addressing these and other challenges are urgent presently because mining is returning to Europe. Partially promoted by the EU Raw Materials Initiative that follows a material security discourse, the EU is promoting the opening of new mining projects. This is being accompanied by a re-newed discourse on ‘green, responsible and sustainable’ mining. This ‘new’ type of mining consists for example in the use of green and efficient techniques, close circuits and no pollution released to the environment. Is mining now really going to be green and responsible? If it were possible, how it would be? How do we develop alternatives to the mining discourse? Do we need alternatives or just the promotion of our present way of living? This was in fact one of the main reasons behind the organisation of this event by ISF SystExt – to start finding a response to these questions – together.

This newly created network is planning to meet more often to grow in numbers and plan future actions together in order to support each other in their struggles and address common challenges.