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Sustainable Mining

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The mining industry moves more earth than any other human endeavor. Yet mining companies regularly claim to practice sustainable mining. Progressive redefinition of the term sustainability has emptied out the concept of its original reference to the environment. Mining companies now use the term to refer to corporate profits and economic development that will outlast the life of a mining project. The deployment of corporate oxymorons like sustainable mining is one of the key strategies corporations use to conceal harm and neutralize critique.

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  1. The Clean Coal campaign has also been subject to critical “subvertisements” (see Sawyer, this volume), including a popular video by the Coen brothers (, suggesting that corporate oxymorons are not always successful in subduing critical thought.

  2. The new consensus resulted in strategic alliances between the mining industry and some of the largest conservation organizations, including WWF, Conservation International, and IUCN. Conservationist Chapin (2004: 18) criticizes these NGOs for “partnering with multinational corporations directly involved in pillaging and destroying forest areas belonging to indigenous peoples”.

  3. Barrick Gold purchased Placer Dome in 2006.

  4. The socially and politically important question of who benefits and who loses as a result of the project is also deemed irrelevant in this formulation.

  5. But note the objections of an anonymous industry correspondent: “Being discovered as an industry trying to fool people is the great risk being run by mining as it pretends to be something more than a business which digs, delivers and moves on—each step being perfectly acceptable, essential in fact, to meeting the demands of industry and consumers—but definitely not sustainable” (Anonymous 2004).


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Correspondence to Stuart Kirsch.

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Kirsch, S. Sustainable Mining. Dialect Anthropol 34, 87–93 (2010).

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