Embrace it, accept it, or fight like hell: understanding diverse responses to extractive industrial development


This article considers why some people welcome externally imposed resource extractive development projects while seemingly similar others vehemently reject them. Informed by an understanding of human cultural and political undertakings as components of complex and conjoined systems that are simultaneously social and ecological, I identify economic, political, environmental, and cultural experiences and values that guide individuals’ decisions to embrace, accept, or oppose extractive industry. Drawing on recent ethnographic research in northeastern British Columbia—where First Nations and Euro-Canadian citizens concurrently confront ongoing logging, extensive oil and gas extraction, construction of a third massive hydroelectric dam, and renewed metallurgical coal mining—I suggest that diverse responses are significantly influenced by whether or not individuals perceive extractive industry as having adverse economic effects, the level of trust they place in governmental decision making, and whether or not they connect extractive industry to injustice and violations of citizens’ rights. In an era of unprecedented human impact, I ultimately argue, local outcomes of global resource extraction debates have an important role to play in shaping the future of our societies and our world.

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  1. 1.

    Pseudonyms are used throughout to protect research participants’ privacy. Some interviewees’ statements are condensed for clarity.

  2. 2.

    Data from BCStats, “2016 Census Total Population Results for the Northern Rockies and Peace Districts” (http://www.bcstats.gov.bc.ca/StatisticsBySubject/Census/2016Census/PopulationHousing/CensusDivisions.aspx, accessed April 23, 2018).

  3. 3.

    To cite one recent challenge to the coal industry, an area First Nation took legal action in 2010 against proposed metallurgical coal mining exploration within their customary land use area, which resulted in collaboration with conservation biologists to develop a species recovery plan for caribou (Muir and Booth 2012).

  4. 4.

    Exact ages were not recorded, but interviewees ranged from their 20s through their 70s, with the greatest number in their 40s and 50s.

  5. 5.

    In two instances, individuals preferred not to be recorded. In one instance, my recorder’s microphone failed. Detailed notes were taken in these cases.

  6. 6.

    This parallels my experience recruiting diverse participants in other research contexts (see Willow et al. 2014).

  7. 7.

    My conversations indicate that the hydroelectric and oil and gas industries are prominent collective foci, with more individuals critical of the former than the later. Because the Site C dam was an ongoing controversy and the oil and gas industry was experiencing a downturn during my research period, this is unsurprising. Some individuals also expressed concern about logging and/or coal mining, but this was more regionally specific.

  8. 8.

    While not clearly expressed in my data, divisions between elders (who tend to reject development in favor of land protection) and young people (who tend to be concerned about jobs and income) were described by several interviewees.


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I am grateful to Treaty 8 Tribal Association, the British Columbia residents who took time out of busy schedules to contribute to my research, and the Ohio State University’s Human-Environment Learning Lab (https://anthropology.osu.edu/research/laboratories/human-environment-learning-lab). Transcription assistance was provided by Lisa Beiswenger and Jude Snowden.


This study was funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research (Grant No. 9177: “Contested Developments and Cumulative Effects: Understanding Diverse Responses to Energy Resource Development in British Columbia’s Peace River Region”).

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Willow, A.J. Embrace it, accept it, or fight like hell: understanding diverse responses to extractive industrial development. Environ Dev Sustain 22, 7075–7096 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10668-019-00529-8

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  • British Columbia
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Extractive industry
  • Reflexivity
  • Socioecological systems