Some extractive frontiers provide enormous amounts of bulk commodities to the “core” regions of the world economy by new means of transport. They are essential to the rich economies’ metabolism. There is an international division of nature clearly visible at the commodity extraction and waste disposal frontiers. Ecologically Unequal Exchange (EUE) between nations or regions is an underlying source of most ecological distribution conflicts (Hornborg, 1998). Shatan (1998) counted the tons of exports needed to pay for the Latin American external financial debt. Or vice versa, how the external debt became an instrument of unequal trade. Most local conflicts are caused by bulk commodities, by their extraction, transport, manufacturing and waste. But the preciosities are also troublesome, they have small volume and weight, and great economic (chrematistic) value. They might be luxuries (feathers, jade, emeralds) or become industrial inputs, such as palladium, coltan, niobium and other materials whose extraction also gives rise to local conflicts.

INTRODUCTION: BULK COMMODITIES DOMINATE THE SOCIO-METABOLISM BUT THE “PRECIOSITIES” DESERVE A CHAPTER

This thematic chapter contributes to understand the political ecology and political economy of the world-system of historical capitalism. We focus not only on economic and political domination but on the materiality of the social metabolism and industrial ecology. Some large areas around the world are extractive frontiers from where enormous amounts of bulk commodities are taken to the “core” regions of the world economy by new means of transport (including pipelines and tankers). They are essential to the rich economies’ metabolism. There is an international division of nature that appears very clearly at the new frontiers of commodity extraction and waste disposal. These same peripheral extractive frontiers also supply high-price, low-volume necessary industrial inputs (palladium, coltan, niobium) and other superfluous preciosities whose extraction is locally also damaging.

The environmentalism of the poor and the Indigenous is a reaction against ecologically unequal trade, and the Northern refusal to face up to ecological liabilities. Ecologically Unequal Exchange (EUE) between nations or regions is an underlying source of most ecological distribution conflicts (Hornborg 1998; Muradian and Martinez-Alier 2001a, 2001b). Most of such conflicts are caused by bulk commodities, by their extraction, transport, manufacturing and waste. But the preciosities are also troublesome, they have small volume and weight, and great economic (chrematistic) value. They might be mere luxuries (feathers, jade, emeralds) or become industrial inputs. Or they might have both qualities, like diamonds and gold. If kept carefully, the preciosities might last. Furs are typical preciosities. As the tango lyrics say, tu tapado de armiño, más durable que tu amor, but organic matter rots. Jewels can last for a very long time. Artistic paintings and sculptures also last for a long time. They have no direct role in the social metabolism. Some historic monuments are still standing while other monuments, irrigation channels and harbours have disappeared. The buildings, roads, railways and ships that are being built will need maintenance, and will also disappear. The endosomatic and exosomatic energy spent on building and maintaining them is dissipated forever.

What is Ecologically Unequal Exchange?

In economic geography, there are debates on “resource peripheries” and also debates on resistance movements. Thus, Hayter (2003) defined “resource peripheries” as marginalized places facing a specific set of processes: industrialism, environmentalism, aboriginalism and imperialism (Irrazábal and Arias-Loyola 2021). “Resource peripheries” is a concept of economic geography close to “commodity extraction frontiers” in economic and environmental history p. 584(Moore 2000) that comes from Wallerstein's “world systems theory”, and more remotely from the Raubwirtschaft of the geography of 1900.

Wallerstein's theory divided countries into the core (European colonialist countries, later the United States and Japan, now some regions of China), the semi-peripheral countries, and the colonized peripheries that supplied cheap labour and materials to the central metropolitan regions, the core. Racism, coloniality, military power and international trade support these political structures. Russia had its own core and its internal periphery and did not become a world core. The notion of internal colonialism (in Russia, Brazil or India) is also relevant.

Ecologically unequal exchange (EUE) theory was developed to understand the structure of the world economy. Peripheral countries or regions fulfil the crucial role of raw material providers. EUE theory can be traced back to the Latin American ‘structuralist school’ (Prebisch 1962) and later to ‘world systems theory’. Prices are the means to extract materials and exergy (available energy) (Hornborg 1998), reinforced by unequal political power relations based on global, historical developments of capitalism and colonialism. Global trade thus enables environmental harms to be displaced. In Underdeveloping the Amazon, Steve Bunker (1985) explained how the Amazon region of Brazil extracted bulk commodities (such as hydropower, bauxite and iron ore), and there was no local social and political structure able to stop this unilateral current. Bunker emphasized that “extraction” was different from “production” (Yasin 2017). I myself brought together EUE theory and political ecology, researching the conflicts that arise from the irreversible socio-environmental damages in the areas sacrificed to such unequal trade. New painstaking and brilliant research on “the opens veins of South America” shows that the region has been persistently for the period 1900‒2016 a low-economic-value, primary-product net exporter while importing manufactured goods at a higher price (Infante-Amate et al. 2020, 2022).

Simron Singh published one of the first studies of the metabolism of the economy of India (2012). In a recent article (2021) he revisits this work and recalls that global material extraction has tripled since the 1970s. These accounts leave water aside. Less than 10 per cent of the 100 GT of materials entering the world economy per year are recycled, while 60 per cent ends up as waste and emissions that are the leading cause of global warming and pollution. The rest accumulates as stocks in the built environment (Figure 15.1). There is an enormous entropic hole of 12 tons per person/year, almost 35 kg per day. This is a world average with great differences between rich and poor. This means large volumes of fossil fuels, sand and gravel, biomass, and metals in bulk; these commodities dominate the human metabolic landscape and international trade. The increase in the material volume of inputs into the economy is due to the increase in the bulk commodities facilitated by the means of transport, mainly maritime trade but also internal or international trade by pipelines, railway and trucks although a substantial part of the material inputs is extracted inside countries; it does not travel long distances. This is particularly true of the sand and gravel for the cement and building industries.

Compared to “bulk commodities”, preciosities are material goods with a high economic value per unit of weight. In the origins of the colonial expansion of Europe the tiny sailing vessels could not carry heavy weights. Think of Vasco da Gama filling his one-hundred-ton ships on the coast of today's Kerala with pepper, not with coconuts and bananas. Compare to today's container ships, bulk carriers or oil tankers. For instance, the 220,000-ton Ever Given that got stuck in 2021 in the Suez Canal carried many thousands of 20-foot containers. The tonnage transported by bulk carriers, oil tankers and pipelines is enormous as we realize when there are accidents. For instance, on 19 July 1979 two Greek oil tankers, the 288,000-ton p. 585Atlantic Empress and the 207,000-ton Aegean Captain, collided not far from Tobago in the Caribbean Sea. Twenty-seven crewmen lost their lives. They were carrying a total of 3.5 million barrels of crude oil, about half of which was burned or spilled into the ocean. 1

Preciosities might have large environmental impacts on human livelihoods and ecosystems in their places of origin. They produce much waste. The amalgam of silver required mercury (azogue) with terrible health consequences in Potosi (Bolivia) or in Zacatecas (Mexico). However, the means of transport at the time made bulky trade impossible. There was some trade in timber. Vessels made of teak and carrying goods came from India to Great Britain to be dismantled. Interestingly, some preciosities changed status and became staples. Sugar for instance was a luxury good. However, later, as a result of the large-scale slave trade for American plantations and factory-crushed and boiled sugar cane, it became a source of cheap calories.

Some primary-exporting peripheral countries managed to follow the route of the so-called “staple theory of economic growth”. The staple theory was put forward by Harold Innis (1894–1952), a Canadian author. Many other countries have persisted in their role as extractivist peripheries, perhaps hoping to follow the “staple theory of growth” but falling into a “resource curse”, submerged into periodic economic crises because of low export prices that lead to still more primary exports and further socio-ecological destruction and conflicts.

Conflictive Preciosities

Bulk commodities such as coal, iron, oil or copper are essential products that are relatively inexpensive per kilogram and that usually have serious environmental impacts during the extraction process. In 2021, thermal coal's price had gone up to US$ 200 per ton, 20 cents per kg. Gold might cost US$ 1,000 per ounce (33 gr.), US$ 30,000 per kg. In principle, preciosities are luxury goods, not essential for the metabolism of the economy but this statement must be qualified. Some high value goods are used in small but essential quantities for industrial processes. Indeed, the rare earths and rare metals needed for the electrical transition are preciosities in the sense of high monetary value per unit of weight. They are necessary inputs for new industries more than luxury, superfluous goods. The “geodiversity” of the world, all the elements in the Periodic Table, are being commodified and coming into the commercial economy.

Preciosities are not used as energy carriers or in large quantities as material inputs into the economy. If strongly heated in the presence of oxygen, diamonds will burn to form carbon dioxide. However, nobody cooks his meals by burning diamonds. It is obvious that the “bulk commodities” cannot be substituted so easily. Substitution of fossil fuels by current sun energy requires large space and material requirements. This is what Vaclav Smil's concept of “power density” clarifies. Power density is low for renewable energy flows and high for fossil fuels and thermal electricity generation. The “boring” trade in bulk commodities, coal, oil and gas, as also biomass, has trumped in the news in 2022 together with the excited search for lithium after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

I give below some instances of conflicts on diamonds, jade, “precious” woods, gold, palladium and other preciosities. The ounces of gold and the carats of diamonds look negligible as metabolic items but they cause social and environmental havoc at the points of extraction.p. 586

THREE CONFLICT CASES ON DIAMONDS

Diavik Diamond Mine by Rio Tinto and Kimberlite Waste Issue in Canada 2

Rio Tinto is a leading international mining group headquartered in the UK and Australia. The Diavik Diamond Mine is a diamond mine in the Northwest Territories, Canada, about 300 km northeast of Yellowknife, itself known for gold mining and terrible arsenic pollution. According to Rio Tinto, the Diavik mine produces “stunning white gems”, which is indeed a raw material for the jewellery industry. It also produces a lot of waste. But diamonds are not a bulk input for industry, they are measured not in tons but in carats. A carat is equal to 200 milligrams.

The mine is placed on First Nations’ territories, and the proposal is to dump mine waste kimberlite and other tailings into their waters and land. The Environmental Board approved the project in January 2020. The Diavik Diamond Mine lies on Lac de Gras, about 200 km south of the Arctic Circle. Diavik comprises four diamond-bearing pipes that are mined using a combination of open-pit and underground mining. The mine is owned by Diavik Diamond Mines (2012) Inc., a subsidiary of Rio Tinto (60 per cent ownership), and Dominion Diamond Diavik Ltd. The mine was approved in 1999 and opened in 2003. In 2018, a fourth diamond pipe was opened. The most precious diamonds that the companies exploit from the mine are collectively known as “The Diavik Stars of the Arctic”. However, the most valued and the rarest diamond on the market is the Large Yellow Diamond; the mine produces only five of these diamonds each year but earns the highest profit from them.

The company filed for an amendment to its water license with the Wek’eezhii Land and Water Board that would allow it to fill three mined-out pits with processed kimberlite, diamond-bearing rock which includes waste rock and tailings known as slimes. At the moment, processed kimberlite is piled into a containment facility. Arguing for such a project, Diavik says it is due to a storage area shortage. First Nations communities were unhappy about the decision and were calling for a full-panel environmental assessment of the mine. Leaders such as Chief Felix Lockhart of the Lutsel K’e Dene said the environment minister acted irresponsibly. The Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board conducted an environmental assessment, saying more information was needed on how adding mine waste to the pits could affect fish, wildlife and traditional use by Tlicho and Akaitcho Dene.

First Nations representatives, the federal and territorial governments and Diavik would jointly determine the scope of the environmental assessment because the First Nation’s’ concern was that the processed kimberlite could contaminate water in Lac de Gras.

“Their proposal is that they will deposit all of the processed kimberlite into the underground and they will fill it up with water – they say it will never mix, or flip. […] Then for five years after active closure, they’re going to monitor that water and if they determine that water is safe, they’’ll breach the dike and it’’ll become a greater part of Lac de Gras”.

First Nations replied: “A lot of what they’re proposing relies on permafrost being there”.

An alternative proposal by the company was to store the processed kimberlite by raising the dam walls of the existing processed kimberlite containment facility and building additional on‐land containment sites. The Mackenzie Valley Environmental Review Board opened the public hearing, in which Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada provided p. 587$300,000 to individuals and groups to help them participate in the environmental assessment. The report was completed in eight months, and on 6 January 2020 the project was approved by the Board. The Review Board believes the Project will not lead to impacts on caribou. For the First Nations, with a longer time horizon, this was seen as a bad outcome.

Rio Tinto's Diamonds in Madhya Pradesh – a Bizarre Story 3

Rio Tinto Exploration India Private Ltd is the operator for Rio Tinto's mineral exploration activities in India. The Bunder Diamond Mine project, located in Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh, was proposed as a mechanized open cast mine up to 360 m deep. Reserves are estimated to last for 11 years. The proposed lease area of 954 ha is a block south of Sagouriya village and about 7 km north of Bakswaha village. A minor dam was also planned to supply water to the project, as well as other infrastructure to support the mining process.

In October 2017, it was announced that Indian resources conglomerates Adani and Vedanta were considering bidding for a US$ 9 billion diamond project in the country that was abandoned by global miner Rio Tinto. What had happened? The Bunder Diamond Mine had been sold to Essel Mining, a company owned by the Aditya Birla Group. The mine was set to produce two to three million carats a year.

The Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh in Central India is home to the Panna Tiger Reserve, an important ecosystem for various critically endangered or highly sensitive species. The reserve itself is part of Buxwaha forest, which is ecologically important because of its teak forest cover and watershed sourcing the Shyamri River. However, this was threatened by Rio Tinto's Bunder Diamond Mine. Because it is a protected area, only forestry activities are permitted, making it very questionable whether the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests really did grant Rio Tinto the lease and rights while violating the Forest Conservation Act. Environmentalists heavily criticized the mine for its potentially degrading practices. For example, the mine could lead to habitat loss for endangered tigers; drilling would lower the water table, dry the forests and pollute the Shyamri River; over 99 per cent of mined ore would be wasted and dumped along with precious topsoil; and blasting, drilling, loading and transportation would release a lot of fumes and dust contributing to air pollution.

Local communities living near the mine were fearful of the project yet they felt powerless to prevent it from starting. In October 2009, the state´s chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan inaugurated the Rio Tinto project and many stakeholders were set to become rich. This is a story that many people in India remember when diamond mining is mentioned. Activist Shehla Masood was killed when exposing Rio Tinto's mining proposal. On 16 August 2011, she was sitting in her car outside her house in Bhopal on her way to a protest. A hired hitman shot her in the neck. She was a well-known tiger conservationist and president of the Progressive Muslim Women´s Association and also allied with Anna Hazare's India Against Corruption movement, women´s rights campaigns, police reform campaigns and the Right to Information (RTI) movement. As part of a minority community, she had been seeking support from fellow activists she could trust during her activist career fraught with many threats. These threats first began when false rumours circulated that she was a spy for Pakistani intelligence. In July 2011, she was working on a legal case with a parliament committee against Rio Tinto's illegal operations. She had also already filed over 200 court appeals against various corruption scandals revolving around what she called “the tiger mafia” and was starting “RTI Anonymous” as a platform to help whistle-blowers expose corruption.p. 588

Human rights, environmental and other organizations such as Front Line Defenders and Toxics Watch Alliance came forward with allegations that Masood was silenced for her continued investigation. The manager of Rio Tinto India, however, said that “The company never met Shehla Masood nor had any interaction with her”, and that “If the chief minister went over and inaugurated it, [the Rio Tinto mine] has to be legal… we have a very strict, transparent ethics policy that is uncompromising no matter where we operate”. According to the CBI's investigation, her murder was nothing more than a “love triangle that went horribly wrong”. In the end, the government sold the mine to Aditya Birla Group's Essel Mining Company, with rights for a 50-year government lease.

Diamonds in Sierra Leone. Koidu Diamond Mining Conflict 4

Diamonds in this region started to be mined under British colonial rule, and later have financed civil wars. They were called “blood diamonds”. Relocation from mining sites, displacement, killings, land degradation, a decrease in biodiversity, reduction in water quality and air and noise pollution are some of the results of diamond mining by Koidu Holdings Limited (KHL) in Sierra Leone. KHL, operating since 2003, was granted rights to mine kimberlite diamonds worth about $1.5 billion for 25 years after the end of Sierra Leone's war (KHL became part of the Octa Diamond Group). In December 2007, people were shot dead by security in clashes with residents from nearby communities at the mine. Following this incident, the government suspended KHL's operations, and set up the Jenkins-Johnston Commission of Inquiry to investigate. The Commission produced a critical report on KHL's operations and made recommendations which were included in a White Paper which found that the root causes of trouble were relocation and resettlement, forced evacuation before blasting, lack of community benefits and lack of community participation. Crop compensation had also been a point of contention.

The initial EIA going back to 2003 was criticized because it happened just after the war at a time when people were displaced. It said 4,537 people would be affected by KHL's blasting They would have to be relocated to new housing which the company should construct. KHL eventually built housing using mud bricks and proceeded with operations, but this led to near violence until agreement was reached in 2005 to build new houses. In December 2012, violence again flared at the mine and two people were shot dead when local workers went on strike over poor working conditions. The conflicts continue.

GOLD MINING

Gold is a precious commodity although also a raw material for industry, and a deposit of chrematistic value that goes as ingots to the vaults of banks ‒ from the earth to the earth causing a lot of damage in between. In the EJAtlas there are many conflicts on gold mining, nearly 300 by July 2021. Conflicts with both gold and copper as commodities are about one hundred. There are 67 conflicts in which one commodity is gold and one mobilizing group are “artisanal miners”. But I must insist that most gold is mined not by artisanal miners but by corporations. Corporate open cast mining dominates although there are also conflicts on a small scale, often on alluvial artisanal mining. In Eduardo Gudynas’ words (2014), “gold mining has become a scourge plaguing many Latin American countries. A few transnational p. 589giants are operating in certain places but hundreds, thousands, of people throng together in other areas, sifting through the rivers of the rainforests or in the bowels of the mountains in search of a few ounces of gold”. Gudynas complained: “It's hard to argue that community wellbeing or the planet's industrial development depends on continued mining for gold, […] when the gold is then mostly used for jewellery and the financial world”.

The small miners of alluvial gold use mercury. They work for middlemen, who then become exporters. The mining corporates do open cast gold mining with a yield of a few grams of gold per ton of earth removed and lixiviated with enormous amounts of water with cyanide. Here are two more conflicts from gold mining.

Newmont in Conga, Cajamarca, Peru: el agua vale más que el oro 5

Massive social opposition managed to suspend the giant mining project in 2012. However, it is still on the Peruvian state's agenda. This happens a short distance from the city of Cajamarca, where there is a memory of el cuarto del rescate, the room that Atahualpa, kidnapped by Pizarro, had his followers filled in with gold jewellery. He was executed nonetheless. The drawing by Guaman Poma (seventeenth century) is inexact in the details but a faithful symbol (Figure 26.1).

Death of Atahualpa, 1533 (Guaman Poma de Ayala, First New Chronicle and Good Government).
Figure 26.1

Death of Atahualpa, 1533

Source:  Guaman Poma de Ayala, First New Chronicle and Good Government

The Conga project belongs to Minera Yanacocha., belonging to Newmont Mining Corporation (United States), Minas Buenaventura (Peru) and the International Finance Corporation (World Bank). The Sumitomo Corporation acquired the shares of the IFC. The area of the project extends throughout 80 lagoons at over 3000 m of altitude in the province of Celendin. Under threat are 100 ha of wetlands (bofedales), the project boasts reserves of 11.8 million ounces of gold and 3.2 billion pounds of copper. In February 2010, the company Yanacocha presented the EIA, and in October the Ministry of Energy and Mines approved it. The enormous controversy generated by the Conga project arose after years of conflict caused by the Yanacocha mining company. It is the result of a democratic demand from the communities to be consulted, for the right to veto, and to participate in the benefits of mining investment. In 2011, the Ministry of the Environment made observations contrary to the EIA approval; in February of this year, the US expert Robert Moran (who travelled to the region) wrote that the EIA report was a dishonest document not providing the necessary technical information.

In November 2011, a strike was held in a large area of Cajamarca in rejection of the Conga project. Peru's National Police intervened, injuring 19 people and leaving Elmer Campos permanently paralyzed. A state of emergency was declared throughout the Department, with a number of leaders arrested. In March 2012, a peaceful Water March was held. It carried a giant green flag and it grew as it passed through many communities and cities to Lima. After complaints and demonstrations against the EIA, plus the resignation of the Deputy Minister of the Environment, José De Echave and the intervention of Robert Moran, the central government decided to hire other international experts to review the EIA. They were quickly discredited. Soon after, a survey was carried out by the company GFK to determine the level of approval of the mining project. As reported by El Comercio, this survey showed that 54 per cent of the national urban population was in favour while 36 per cent opposed it. At the regional level, 78 per cent of respondents in the province of Cajamarca opposed the mine. In July 2012, the central government again decreed a state of emergency restricting the inviolability of the home and freedom of assembly and travel in three provinces of the p. 590Department of Cajamarca to deal with protests that left five civilians dead and 20 injured by police gunfire.

The resistance was organized with the Celendin Inter Institutional Platform (Milton Sánchez), the Bambamarca Defence Front (Eddy Benavides) and the Environmental Defence Front of Cajamarca. These three formed the CUL Unitary Committee of Struggle. Faced with these facts, there was an agreement in July 2012 that Monsignor Cabrejos and Father Gaston Garatea of the Catholic Church mediate to reach an agreement. The Conga No Va movement remained strong. In the face of resistance, the Newmont company announced the suspension of mining activities. In April 2013, the ronderos (peasant civic resistance groups) of Bambamarca and Celendin recovered the rondero camp set on fire by the police months before. A telephone tower was blown up. The Guardians of the Lagoons were constituted and p. 591regularly monitor the area. International support was decisive, as well as alternative press, videos, documentaries, music, poetry. The Chaupe-Acuña family was accused of usurpation by the mining company. A trial ended in 2015 and exempted Máxima Acuña. However, the mining company did not stop attacking her (murdered dog, contaminated trout, shots in the air, fence built around her lands). In 2016, she was awarded a Goldman Prize (Figure 26.2).

Máxima Acuña stood up for her right to live off her land sought by Newmont and Buenaventura Mining to develop the Conga mine (Goldman Prize Foundation).
Figure 26.2

Máxima Acuña stood up for her right to live off her land sought by Newmont and Buenaventura Mining to develop the Conga mine

Source:  Goldman Environmental Prize

Open-pit Gold Mine in Conglomerate Mesa, California 6

Less dramatically, the ad-hoc group Friends of the Inyo together with a coalition of tribal representatives, conservation groups, individuals and recreationalists organized against the K2's mining project in Conglomerate Mesa. In 2021 it was still in the exploratory phase. It is located next to Death Valley National Park in California, the traditional homeland of the Timbisha Shoshone and Paiute Tribal Nations. For both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, Conglomerate Mesa is an important environmental and cultural territory. However, Vancouver based Canadian mining company K2 Gold has been developing an open-pit cyanide heap leach gold mine project there. The project has completed Phase 1 of its exploration. Local residents and environmental groups found out about the project on a monitoring trip in April 2020.

Local people and environmentalists are especially concerned about the project because cyanide heap leach mining is known to produce high rates of toxicity in lands and waters. p. 592Local people argue that the “cyanide heap leach project will have devastating consequences for tribal homelands, biodiversity and recreation in the area”. Furthermore, the company explored an area three times larger than their permit allowed. For instance, the company adopted the 7-drill site helicopter exploration project but submitted an expanded proposal requesting road construction into the Mesa and 30 additional drill sites.

The people of Inyo County have made it clear: “An open-pit cyanide heap leach gold mine and any associated exploratory drilling is not welcome at Conglomerate Mesa”. The coalition argues that Conglomerate Mesa “deserves trees, not drill holes a thousand feet deep” and “quiet nights with a full blanket of stars, not noise and light pollution”; “There is no place for a cyanide heap-leach mine on our public lands”. According to Friends of the Inyo, the lands K2 aims to mine are called Payahuunadu or Panawe by the Nuumu and Newe peoples, respectively. This land acknowledgement is a recognition of the original inhabitants of the Eastern Sierra, and it shows respect for Native peoples often suppressed in colonial history of the US.

PALLADIUM AND PLATINUM MINING, TAYMYR, ARCTIC RUSSIA 7

This is yet another mega-project planned in the Arctic, which is a commodity extraction frontier as we saw in Chapter 7 (Hanaček et al. 2021). The project was agreed in 2018 between Russian Platinum and Norilsk Nickel; a new project was expected to be launched in 2024 which involves the development of several platinum-group metal deposits on Taymyr Peninsula. The deposits bear almost 5,000 tons of platinum group metals with a production potential of 120 tons per year. Russia will produce more palladium than all other countries combined. In 2021, palladium became more valuable than gold, in the money scale, and it reached a record high of US$ 3,440 per ounce in March 2022 after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Palladium is a white shining metal and one of the six platinum-group metals along with ruthenium, rhodium, osmium, iridium and platinum. It is used for catalytic converters in electric cars, where it filters pollutants. It is also used in electronics, dentistry and jewellery. The metal is mined primarily in Russia and South Africa, and mostly extracted as a secondary product from operations that are focused on other metals. In order to produce 120 tons a year of palladium, the mine(s) will be opened by the company Russian Platinum, on the Chernogorsk Oye field in the Taymyr Peninsula, near the nickel fields of Nornickel. The production period will be of 55 years, and a plant will process 7 million tons of ore per year. The resources are planned to be extracted through an open pit and a nearby processing plant and a new smelter will be built. Indigenous activists, however, expressed concerns regarding the project in general and about the Nornickel company in particular, as the company is historically related to pollution and disempowerment of Indigenous communities. Ten thousand Indigenous people live on the Taymyr Peninsula. Nornickel also has a production site in Russia's Kola Peninsula where Saami people live. In both regions, pollution by the company is seen as a direct threat to the local way of life. Nornickel extracts and produces metals which are “essential” to the booming electric car industry.

As reported in The Barents Observer in June 2021, activists travelled to Switzerland to urge Swiss banks to push the companies responsible to protect the environment and properly consult Indigenous communities. A similar protest form was used in the case related to Tesla battery metals from Nornickel. Banks reassured the Indigenous environmentalists. Also, scientists from Russia's Academy of Sciences embarked on a study of the environment p. 593of the Arctic in an expedition to the Taymyr Peninsula at the invitation of Nornickel itself. Finally, Nornickel announced that there had been cooperation agreements with three organizations representing the Indigenous peoples of the Taymyr Peninsula and that they had developed a joint and comprehensive, five-year support programme. However, Indigenous activists of the Batani Foundation stated that “This is just an example of Nornickel buying influence”. “In Taymyr, Nornickel is the Tsar and the God at the same time”. Batani Foundation is an international fund created to support Indigenous peoples in the Russian north helping their protests against mineral extraction and industrial pollution. The Russian government declared Batani Foundation a foreign agent in 2015 and in 2017 the organization was liquidated by a court after a demand from the Ministry of Justice. There are many legal and illegal ways of trying to stop the world movement for socio-environmental justice, not only in Russia.

COLTAN

Coltan is another mineral of high economic value per kg but also a necessary input for industry. Coltan is primarily a combination of columbium and tantalum, two minerals that went from being a geological curiosity to a crucial item in electronic equipment.

In DR of Congo

There is persistent illegal coltan mining in DR Congo, using child labour and causing increasing biodiversity loss and environmental risks. There are many other conflicts in the country generated by the competition to exploit its rich forest and mineral resources. The mining of coltan, an essential mineral for mobile phones and electronics, has not benefitted local communities. Coltan smuggling likely provides income for the military influence in the Congo and the proceeds of mining have financed civil war. The environmental impacts are negative and citizens’ rights are at risk. Eastern Mountain Gorilla populations are also now endangered as some miners are deemed to kill the gorillas for bushmeat. The Initiative in 2004 by RAID and Friends of the Earth US to render chemical North-American multinationals accountable didn’t succeed. The priest Vincent Machozi was shot dead on 20 March 2016. He was denouncing the mass killing of the Nande community, the main ethnic group in Beni-Lubero territory. This community continues decrying the ongoing arbitrary killings and land dispossessions they endure. However, the multiple issues around coltan mining remain hard to challenge due to the politically precarious situation of the country and the persistent refusal to face the problem by the international community.

In Colombia, in the Puinawai National Park 8

The department of Guanía lies at the eastern end of Colombian territory bordering Venezuela to the east and Brazil to the south. There are other conflicts over coltan in Venezuela south of Orinoco (Teran 2018). This is a territory mainly inhabited by Indigenous communities. In 2009 the discovery of a gigantic coltan deposit near the border with Colombia was announced. Merchants, speculators and armed groups arrived in the area around a new business. The boom of coltan in Venezuela awoke the interest in Colombia. Ingeominas (Colombian Institute p. 594of Geology and Mining) gave the permits to extract the coltan in 35,000 ha between Vichada and Guainía.

What the processing plants do is crush coltan and extract tantalum and niobium, with which capacitors and chips are made for cell phones, computers, iPods, mp3, GPS, console games, satellites, remote control weapons, high-speed magnetic trains. The importance of this mineral explains why the government of China had its eyes on the deposits found in this region in Colombia, which is an important National Natural Park known as ‘Puinawai’ with the presence of Indigenous communities.

As the mining of this material was not regulated in the country, the merchants took refuge in false records to buy and sell the product. By barequeo in rivers and slopes they collect the ore, which is then taken to Bogotá, where a ton can cost between US$ 40,000 and 60,000. It was said that merchants pay a tax to the self-defence groups and guerrillas in some of those areas. Between 10 and 25 tons of coltan could be exported monthly.

Barequeo is understood in Colombia as the washing of sands by manual means in order to separate and collect metals. Coltan is collected in the open, without penetrating the subsoil and it does not require intense mining work. Part of the current exploitation is being done in Indigenous territories where the State is officially not present. This mineral has been controlled by illegal armed groups and drug lords. A black market is growing in the area. In Venezuela, it is alleged that the Army is also involved (Teran 2018). Miners are violating national and international rules set by the United Nations and by the US government. The Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 prohibits US companies from buying illegally obtained natural resources or in areas controlled by criminals or terrorists.

The mining area is seen from the air as a patch where the topsoil of the jungle has been removed near a sacred mountain, Puinawai Hill. Since the smugglers invaded the territory of the Indigenous community, the community has denounced illegal mining but also takes part in the mining. One of the problems that prevent control in these areas is that there are titles legally granted that are being used as havens. In January 2011, Rodríguez Forero (who holds a legal title granted by Ingeominas) began filling out tax forms for the purpose of exporting tungsten to Strassen, Luxembourg, owned by Traxys Europe SA. His title corresponds to the area closest to the Guaviare River and the Puinawai National Natural Park, where mining activity is prohibited. But just by passing the river it can be sheltered with a title of Vichada, where no parks or Indigenous territories restrict mining.

In mid-June 2012, the national government of Colombia announced that 72,000 ha of territory in the department of Guainía were declared a strategic mining reserve and there would no longer be indiscriminate exploitation, apparently leaving this important mineral in the hands of the State. But it should be borne in mind that the external demand is strong.

JADE

In Myanmar: Great Human and Environmental Cost 9

Jade is a gemstone whose price may reach US$ 3,000 per ounce. It is used in jewellery, an industry causing environmental impacts under dire working conditions. The industry seems to fuel the ethnic conflict in Myanmar which is one of the main producers of jade in the world. It is estimated that around 70 per cent of the world's jadeite comes from Myanmar. One of the p. 595main production sites is located in Hpakant, in Kachin state, an area where an ethnic conflict between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Myanmar army has been running for decades.

The business has been buoyant, fuelled by Chinese demand, a country where jade has mystical meanings. In 2016, the United States lifted a ban on the jade imports that were in place since 2008 after the military junta that ruled the country stepped down, but it reimposed it one year later due to the abuses against Muslim rohingyas in another area of the country. According to a report released by Global Witness in 2015, the industry is controlled by the “[old junta] military elite, US-sanctioned drug lords and crony companies” while “very few revenues reach the people of Kachin State […] or the population of Myanmar”. Thus, Global Witness pointed at the families of former dictator Than Shwe and generals Maung Maung Thein and Ohn Myint as some of the key actors in the industry.

The value of the industry was about US$ 31 billion in 2014. The jade industry has been linked to a number of social and environmental conflicts. Some of these impacts were summarized in a letter sent to then-President Thein Sein in October 2014 by almost 5,000 residents of Hpakant detailing the abuses of mining companies, such as harm related to the use of dynamite. People also have lost their properties, and some of them their lives, due to the landslides provoked by the mining activities. One of these landslides killed 17 people in May 2018 in Wak Khar village.

In November 2015, many miners perished when a 60-m-high mountain of earth and waste collapsed, burying the huts where the workers slept. In another accident in July 2020, many people were killed by a landslide triggered by heavy rain in Hpakant. According to media reports, the miners were trying to find jade stones among the rubble discarded from lorries when the mudslide happened. The Myanmar Fire Service Department announced that 162 bodies had been recovered from the landslide in Hpakant, the centre of the world's biggest and most lucrative jade mining industry. Hpakant is an area in Kachin state, 950 km north of Yangon. Apparently, a 305-m-high cliff wall collapsed onto a tailings pond at a suspended mining site. Meanwhile, the Myanmar Gems Enterprise issued a directive to jade mining companies to suspend operations for three months during the monsoon season.

Miners are mostly daily labourers, many of them migrants. The trade is also driving ethnic tensions with the Kachin Independence Organization, and its army branch, the KIA. “Jade is the main source of income for the KIA/KIO. This makes the battle for control of jade revenues a strategic priority for both sides in the conflict”, says Global Witness. Nevertheless, the KIO lost control of the Hpakant district in the 1990s. After 17 years of ceasefire, fighting broke out in June 2011 between the Kachin Independence Army and the Myanmar Army, displacing an estimated 90,000 people and killing hundreds.

Global Witness also mentions Wei Hsueh Kang, a drug kingpin and long-time financier of the United Wa State Army/United Wa State Party (UWSA/UWSP). In 2016, the government announced that renewal of gem mining licences would be suspended until a new law on gemstones was passed. In 2019, the parliament approved a new gemstone law while in 2021 a military junta took power in Myanmar again. This will have an effect on the jade industry.

Jade in Guatemala 10

Jade has been appreciated in Mesoamerica since before the European conquest. Local communities denounce illegal jade mining companies, some of them protected by the National p. 596Police. Since 1950, sporadic deposits of jade were identified in Sierra de las Minas in the Department of Zacapa, and from that date on artisanal mining groups began to extract the stone. In 1998, the first complaint of illegal extraction on a larger scale was made. According to the Turcios Lima Foundation, the illegal extraction was directed by Marcos Wang, a Taiwanese who through his organization El Crucero S.A. exported the gemstone to Taiwan and China without permission from the Ministry of Energy and Mines of Guatemala.

In December 2012, the first illegal container of jade was seized but the person responsible was released on bail. The problem continued and has been denounced by local populations, artisanal miners and other companies that extract jade on a smaller scale and are licensed by the MEM. In February 2015, peasants from the El Arco community obstructed the passage from early morning with the aim of preventing the entry of jade contraband trucks. A week earlier, two young people from the El Arco community were murdered; the perpetrators were hitmen of the illegal extraction company. The neighbours, in addition to being annoyed by the extraction of the precious stone that is heritage and of great wealth for Mayan history and culture, also denounced that for extraction at this scale the forest is cut down and earthworks are carried out which damage nature. And because of its location, it affects the buffer zone of the Sierra de Las Minas protected area and the Teculután River basin.

On 22 April 2015, an organized community group stopped removing a 5-m-high jade stone. The truck in which it was transported was abandoned in the area. Investigations linked Roxana Baldetti (former vice president of the nation) as one of the alleged owners of illegal jade mining companies. A deputy (Regina Guzmán) along with her husband were allegedly also involved with a company called Jade Kingdom. Thanks to the lobbying of both parties in Congress, jade was a mineral to which the percentage of royalties in the 2015 Budget Law was not increased. The neighbours affirm that the illegal extraction companies are guarded by the National Civil Police (PNC) and that there has been an increase in violence that has left behind dead people.

PRECIOUS WOODS: THE MOABI TREE IN CAMEROON 11

This topic would deserve a whole book. Mahogany springs to mind, in Brazil. Rosewood from Madagascar was mentioned in Chapter 13. I shall use as an example the trade in precious woods from Cameroon. Since the 1950s, unsustainable logging in Cameroon threatened rainforest biodiversity and the Indigenous communities’ survival. Timber exploitation in Cameroon began with German colonization. It grew rapidly after the Second World War. In 2002, annual production was around 2 million m3 over a surface area of some 300,000 ha. It was destined for the luxury goods market due to its high quality. It is, if one may say so, an abundant preciosity bound for extinction or at least for scarcity. The weakness of State controls or rather its complicity in the timber trade meant that exporting was problem-free. If from the start of the 1900s deforestation was totally unchecked, later the exploitation of forests targeted only the most expensive. Six varieties account for nearly 80 per cent of timber exploitation: The Ayous (Triplochiton scleroxylon), Sapele or Sapelli (Entandrophragma cylindricum), Azob (Lophira alata), Limba or yellow pine (Terminalia superba), Tali (Erythrophleum ivorense) and Iroko (Chlorophora spp.).

A particularly exploited species of timber for its economic value is the Moabi (Baillonella toxisperma), a tree important to women forest dwellers due to its versatility in providing p. 597medicines, oil and other vital goods. It is also a sacred tree. Moabi fruits are eaten, the bark is used for medicinal purposes and cooking oil is extracted from the seeds for sale and domestic use. Timber from the moabi tree is particularly valued on the European furniture market. Harvesting it for this purpose has caused the extinction of the species in parts of Cameroon. Moabi seeds contain oil that is so highly valued that it is rarely traded or found in markets. The women who are its primary users prefer to keep it for their own consumption. Regrettably, the short-term profit gained by logging holds sway over its long-term, oil-producing value (Figure 26.3).

A moabi tree (Public domain).
Figure 26.3

A moabi tree

Source:  Public domain

From the days of colonization until now, almost all the timber felled in Cameroon has been exported to Europe. The main importing nations between 2000 and 2005 were France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Between 1990 and 2005, Cameroon lost 13.4 per cent of its forest cover, around 3,300,000 ha. A report from the European Union released in 2015 denounced the many irregularities of the timber industry in Cameroon. For instance, two French timber multinationals, Rougier and Pallisco respectively own 625,253 ha and 388,949 ha whereas according to Cameroon law forest properties cannot exceed 200,000 ha. Both companies, as well as many others, have ironically been granted FSC certification.p. 598

Even the removal of just a small number of tree species causes severe disruptions to the affected ecosystems. Another side effect of forest exploitation has been the development of a large-scale trade in bushmeat. The local communities of Indigenous Bantus and Pygmies depend on the forests’ ecology, not only for their food but also for the collection of raw materials, the production of natural medicines and the key role that the forest plays in maintaining traditional practices and cultures. The loss of their territorial sovereignty affected and diminished access to these resources, causing an increase not just of monetary poverty but in terms of the satisfaction of livelihood needs, and also territorial and socio-cultural sovereignty allowing better chances for life. Poverty is multidimensional. “Development” consisting of wood export does not lead to a good living and freedom.

In February 2000, Pallisco began illegally logging moabi trees in the Kélempeing community forest without consent. A group of women villagers, locally known as the “courageous women” and headed by Koko Sol, immediately reacted to the sound of chainsaws by blocking the machines from the trees, threatening to burn the equipment and chasing away the workers. Four villagers later came to the company's sawmill to claim damages for the trees. The villagers never received any compensation and there were no legal successes against Pallisco. Another incident occurred in 2002, when Italian logging company Fipcam similarly illegally encroached upon Bapilé village's forest land, opening a road on the village's sacred cemetery. Five women tried to stop the logging upon hearing the sawing noises. The entire community then joined the women for a month-long occupation and blockade of the forest. The police threatened the villagers and dispersed them, and no compensation was given for the 300 lost moabi trees.

CONCLUSION: “MERE PRECIOSITIES”, SAID WALLERSTEIN

Let us go back to the older generation of authors in World Systems Analysis such as Immanuel Wallerstein, Samir Amin, Andre Gunder Frank, Giovanni Arrighi, born between 1929 and 1937 in whose steps we are walking. All had established roots in Africa or Latin America. They studied international economic exploitation and economic cycles but did not yet count currents of trade in terms of energy and material flows. They were more expert on social, political, economic and financial aspects than in industrial ecology and the study of social metabolism. They wanted to understand the accumulation of capital and the concentration of political power and forgot to some extent the dissipation of energy and materials. One attempt to bring together some of these theorists with a slightly younger generation of students of social metabolism (including Bunker, Hornborg, John R. McNeill, members of the “Vienna school” of Marina Fischer-Kowalski, Helmut Haberl, Helga Weisz, and others including myself) led in 2004 to an extraordinary conference at Lund University organized by Alf Hornborg, and later to a book “rethinking environmental and economic history” (Hornborg et al. 2007).

The EJAtlas broadens EUE theory as developed by Bunker (1985) and Hornborg (1998), by considering the resistance and political agency of local populations and entire nations. Many thematic chapters could be written looking at conflicts on specific commodities. Take copper for instance, a bulk commodity whose global extraction from mines amounted to an estimated 20 million metric tons in 2019. The history of copper from the late nineteenth century to today is marked by conflicts on pollution and also social strife. A new one might be in Afghanistan, with Chinese investment in the Mes Aynak deposit, 40 km southeast of Kabul.p. 599

Or take rubber, for instance, which became a critical raw material for industrial economies. At several points in this book Chico Mendes’ defence of rubber trees in Acre, Brazil, in the 1980s appears. He represented villagers in the Amazon making a living by harvesting the latex from the isolated trees of Hevea brasiliensis. Around 1900, the demand for rubber had led to plantations in Indonesia, Malaysia and also West Africa. Rubber as a bulk commodity also led to large-scale forced labour and manslaughter in the upper Amazon and in the Congo basin. There are many accounts of the tragedies – such as a moving film by Nuria Frigola and Rember Yahuarcani, El canto de las mariposas, on the suffering of the Witoto people between Colombia and Peru when Casa Arana (the Peruvian Amazon Company) ruled over the area

In the EJAtlas, we see evidence for the distinction in world systems theory between trade in preciosities versus trade in bulk commodities as it was proposed by Wallerstein (1974, 1989). His argument was that one could distinguish trade in bulk goods and trade in preciosities because the former but not the latter was necessarily based on unequal exchange. If we look at flows of energy and materials from the global South to the global North, this certainly applies. The global North cannot live without the cheap imports of energy and materials.

At the beginning of European colonization, imported goods were silver, pepper or bird feathers. But soon the slaves from West Africa working at low cost in American plantations and mines became a substantial source of human energy. Cheap exports of cotton from the US and elsewhere to the UK were essential for the industrial revolution (Beckert 2014). Palm oil also was useful, and guano from Peru. Interestingly, some preciosities changed status and became staples. Others are essential inputs to production processes. And others remain as genuine “useless” luxury goods that nevertheless may destroy local environments and populations. The local ecological impacts of precious exports of rosewood, shrimp, ivory, tiger body parts or rhino horns are grievous compared to the direct irrelevance of such trade for the importing countries’ social metabolism.

Stephen Bunker (Bunker 1985) did pioneer research showing how core nations imported at cheap prices physical wealth from politically powerless regions leaving social and ecological degradation in their wake. In this exploitative process the raw materials and the embodied energy are relocated from periphery to core, empowering the latter and weakening the former (Davidson 2018). Assume two countries or two regions one of which is a net exporter of materials (in tons), energy (in Joules), water incorporated into the materials, and also hours of work and hectares of land. The second country is a net importer of all this. This is more or less the relation between Northern Africa and the European Union. Or South America and the rich importing world (Infante-Amate et al. 2020, 2022; Alonso-Fernández and Regueiro 2022). Research that takes as a unit tons of materials (including the “energy carriers”) shows the existence of ecologically unequal trade. For instance, Pérez-Rincón for Colombia (2006).

Thus, we analyzed the PTB of five South American economies since 1990 (Samaniego et al. 2017). Notice that the measurement of physical flows in tons, and the concepts of PTB and PTD (physical trade balance and deficit) come after 2000 from the Vienna school of Marina Fischer-Kowalski, Helmut Haberl, Fridolin Krausmann and others. In South America exports were consistently much larger than imports. Export prices of primary goods increased but by 2013, export prices had declined and the exports could no longer pay for imports. Countries started to show commercial trade deficits (in money terms). The optimism generated by the improving terms of trade in South America at the beginning of the twenty-first century was premature. First, there were PTDs even in the boom years; second, the deterioration in the p. 600terms of trade after 2012 was accompanied by a counterproductive deficit in the monetary trade balance. This can lead to greater external debts or to outflows of currency reserves, and it can also create pressure to increase physical exports. These deficits also tend to be compensated by increasing the deficit in the PTB, which can lead to enhanced environmental pressures and therefore to local protests.

Looking at it from a Northern point of view, to finance the net imports the importing countries must impose or achieve price relations by which a physical unit of imported materials is cheaper than one physical unit of exports. This is easy to get through forceful political colonial relations and the imperialism of free trade. The asymmetric global transfers of embodied labour are not the only relevant metric. The international division of nature is not less important than the international division of labour (Yasin 2017). Recent quantitative research shows that transfers of embodied labour are an important component of ecologically unequal exchange, along with large asymmetric transfers of other embodied resources such as energy, materials and land (Dorninger et al. 2021; Hickel et al. 2022). Regardless of the concrete materiality of what is exchanged, ecologically unequal trade requires asymmetric biophysical transfers that occur as a result of how commodities are priced on the market. The asymmetrical transfer can also happen by force (Dehm 2022).

The Science of Commodities

What we now call industrial ecology is closely related to ecological economics and it is not to be found in the occasional ecological glimpses in Adam Smith, David Ricardo, John Stuart Mill, Marx, Walras, Marshall, Pigou, Keynes or more recentlly Samuelson, Arrow or Sen. An early exception was Jevons’ book on coal of 1865. Economists had little to say about the ecology of humans. We should look at Geddes or Soddy one hundred years ago or to R. U. Ayres, Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, Herman Daly, K.W. Kapp fifty years ago as precursors of today's ecological economics (Martinez-Alier, Schlüpmann, 1987; Franco, Missemer, 2022). The new fields of study called ecological economics, industrial ecology and political ecology share the socio-metabolic view of the economy. This was practised in Italy by Giorgio Nebbia (1926‒2019), a professor of Merceologia. What in Italian was called Merceologia in German was called Warenkunde, the science of commodities, similar to today's Industrial Ecology. Wikipedia explains: “‘Warenkunde’ ist ein Fach, das ursprünglich Grundlagenwissen des Handels beschreibt. Es geht zurück auf den Göttinger Professor Johann Beckmann (1739–1811), der den Begriff ‘Waarenkunde’ prägte und darunter die neuen und bisher unbekannten Waren (z. B. aus anderen Erdteilen) erklärte und bekannt machen wollte, die später als Kolonialwaren bezeichnet wurden”. So, Warenkunde is a science dealing with international trade and the new commodities in that trade, known as “colonial commodities”.

This started with the silver from Potosi and Zacatecas and the pepper brought to Europe by Vasco da Gama from Malabar, the timber from Scandinavia, the cotton and sugar of colonial America, the guano and cinchona of Peru and the nitrate from Chile. Also, the oil, gas, coal, iron ore, bauxite, copper, soybeans, palm oil, cellulose, platinum and palladium, as well as the new metals for solar electricity, nickel, the cement produced with sand and gravel, the ilmenite, rutile, zircon, the petrochemicals and plastics. They come from the peripheries to the metropolis, extracted by human work (slaved, forced or “free”). The rise of capitalism in the global North depended and depends on colonial and imperial appropriation of commodities. Today's Kolonialwaren are not merely silver, gold, coffee, tea, pepper, diamonds, jade, p. 601emeralds, cocaine, bird feathers or furs, they are also very substantial bulk commodities such as coal, oil and gas, iron ore and copper exported from the extraction frontiers (Moore 2000) in an ecologically unequal trade.

These commodities are not produced merely by other commodities and human labour, they are really produced by current or by “bottled” photosynthesis and the carbon cycle, or by other biogeochemical cycles and processes. They enter international trade but also the trade facilitated by internal colonialism. The quantity of materials extracted and the volume of transport have never been so large as today. The waste is “exported” to the atmosphere and the oceans, or to landfills and incinerators in peripheral regions or countries. As regards CO2, there has been a great theft of the atmosphere and also a theft of the oceans and terrestrial sinks.

The existence of preciosities allows an objection to be raised to the main thesis of this book which is that environmental conflicts are mainly caused by the changing configurations of the social metabolism. What is then the place for conflicts that are marginal to the social metabolism? One conflictive trade in Andean countries is still to search for old preciosities in pre-Hispanic tombs looking for jewellery, pottery and textiles from before the European conquest. This archaeology is also practised in Egypt and elsewhere. It is largely irrelevant to the metabolism of both exporting and importing countries although local damages are indeed caused by mining for gold, diamonds and other gems, jade, or harvesting precious woods. This can be compared to conflicts on deforestation because of intensive extraction of cascarilla (Cinchona officinalis) in historical periods before 1950 which might be included among the early bulk commodities.

It could be argued that an imaginary “dematerialized” world industrial system using only current solar energy would decrease its use of fossil fuels and materials and nevertheless still produce capricious demands for environmentally costly precious goods. Conflicts would not be on bulk commodities, but on preciosities, some as cruel as ivory and rhino horns, sharks’ fins, or feathers plucked from beautiful birds. Imagine that people would spend the time lying in bed, eating and drinking little, going for walks on foot, recycling their night soil in small domestic food gardens, eating raw vegetables and nuts, and watching the screen of their phones or computers all day. Would they be dematerialized human beings not requiring bulk commodities and despising preciosities? Not quite. And not only because of their housing, heating (or cooling) needs, but also because of the materiality of the communications industry – the reliance of the media technologies on minerals such as lithium, coltan and others, the dumping of electronic waste and the use of great amounts of electricity (Parikka 2015).

***

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the countries of today's European Union depended on their own coal and biomass (wood) as energy sources. Now they have become large net importers of oil and gas, and resort to large-scale agrofuels imports from Brazil and Argentina. Taking all materials together, in the year 2000 the European Union imported about three times more than it exported This means heavy environmental impacts in the extractive regions, along with local resistance from communities whose livelihoods are threatened. South Africa exports coal, and Nigeria is also a large net exporter of energy as also northern Africa in the form of oil and gas. Bulk commodities are exported from Africa to Europe p. 602(including phosphorous) while the migration of human beings is forbidden causing thousands of deaths in the Mediterranean.

From the point of view of economic valuation (as distinct from ecological valuation) it is quite true that preciosities were and are good business. Thomas Hakansson (2004, in Hornborg et al. 2007) looked at the savannas of East Africa to explore the impact of the ivory trade on local ecology since the nineteenth century. Ivory is a “prestige good” with high value-to-volume ratio and negligible metabolic significance for importing societies. Yet, its extraction has had grave ecological consequences for the exporting regions. Another example is feathers sometimes imported from tropical countries. “The plume trade escalated from the 1870s through the early 1900s until the most popular species were hunted to the verge of extinction”. 12

Wallerstein (1974) dismissed luxury goods (“mere preciosities”, he wrote) as a source of historical economic changes and as an important factor in the arrival and development of capitalism. There were exchanges of “windfall profits” in the silver and silk trade between Europe and China. There were many other exchanges of precious goods in antiquity, in medieval times and in the modern times of incipient capitalism (Figure 26.4). But capitalism meant physically and also in economic value terms something different. “In the long run, staples account for more of men's economic thrust than luxuries” (Wallerstein 1974, p. 42). If we add p. 603to agricultural staples the fossil fuels, the large-scale metal mining and the sand and gravel mining, there is little doubt that Wallerstein was right.

The Llotja of València (the Commodity Exchange building, as tourist leaflets call it). Built between 1482 and 1533, also known as the Silk Exchange (Public domain).
Figure 26.4

The Llotja of València (the Commodity Exchange building, as tourist leaflets call it). Built between 1482 and 1533, also known as the Silk Exchange

Source:  Public domain

His argument is even stronger in terms of social metabolism, the “tons and joules” of industrial capitalism. Braudel included some accounts of energy in his last books, but the World System Theorists were not yet practitioners of ecological economics and industrial ecology.

However, the distinction between “preciosities” and bulk commodities was contested by anthropologists (Schneider 1977) objecting to the view that exchanges of “preciosities” are not essential to the constitution of world systems. They argued that pure ‘prestige goods’, far from being superfluous, are on the contrary socially crucial as dowry for instance, or for the accumulation of purchasing power in gold ingots or jewels to be mobilized when convenient in capitalist systems. Exchanges of preciosities (gold and silver, precious gems and woods, jade, silk) were essential to economic world systems because preciosities play crucial roles in social life. Patron–client relations inside and across societies relied on “the power of the gift of preciosities”. Even if they did not comprise the mass of the population, they were able to mobilize surplus labour. For instance, slaves were bought with gold or other preciosities. To such anthropologists the World System Theorists would reply that the mass trade of slaves from Africa to America in the triangular trade of the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was based on violent force and on the bulk commodities traded such as cotton and sugar.

Some metaphysical Marxists seem to believe that the extractivist process around the world arises from lack of investment opportunities in the central economies because of a decreasing rate of profit. This is why they apply the word “extractivism” not only to extraction of energy and materials but also to privatization of public services, urban speculation and financial operations anywhere as a source of money making. I do not agree with this use of “extractivism”. I stay with the physicalist Latin American school of Eduardo Gudynas, Maristella Svampa, Alberto Acosta and Horacio Machado. Previous Latin American authors such as Raul Prebisch and Celso Furtado have already complained about the unbalanced terms of trade. The Chilean economist Jacobo Shatan (1998) counted in detail the tons of exports needed to pay for the external debt. Or vice versa, how the external debt became an instrument of unequal trade. This Latin American school defended politically and intellectually the doctrine of “ecologically unequal trade” for many decades.

Notes

1

The agony of the Atlantic Empress, a large sinking oil tanker in flames. Trinidad Tobago, EJAtlas.

2

Diavik Diamond mine by Rio Tinto and kimberlite waste issue, Northwest Territories, Canada (Ksenija Hanaček & Joan Martinez-Alier), EJAtlas.

3

Rio Tinto's Bunder diamond mine and murder scandal in Madhya Pradesh, India (Dalena Tran), EJAtlas.

4

Koidu diamond mining conflict, Sierra Leone (Patrick Burnett), EJAtlas.

Transparency International (2019). Blood diamonds and land corruption in Sierra Leone, 2 August.

Idris, A. (2019). Sierra Leone diamond mine: Legal action over land grab, Al Jazeera, 5 November.

Black, E. (2022). Sierra Leone lawsuit against diamond mine runs up against corporate opacity, Mongabay, 17 February.

5

Conga mining project, Peru (P. Chávez and J. Martinez-Alier), EJAtlas.

Jaria i Manzano, J. (2012). The Yanacocha Mine Case, EJOLT Factsheet 43, 9 p.p. 604

6

Open-pit gold mine in Conglomerate Mesa, California, USA (Ksenija Hanaček), EJAtlas.

Friends of the Inyo, Conglomerate Mesa.

7

Hume, N. (2019), There's no end in sight for soaring palladium prices, Financial Times, 2 October.

Palladium/Platinum mining, Taymyr, Arctic Russia (Ksenija Hanaček and Joan Martinez-Alier), EJAtlas.

Tesla battery metals from Nornickel, Talnakh, Arctic Russia (Ksenija Hanaček and Joan Martinez-Alier), EJAtlas.

8

Coltan in the Kivu Region, DR of Congo (Lucie Greyl), EJAtlas.

Coltan Parque Nacional Puinawai, Colombia (Mario A Pérez-Rincón), EJAtlas.

9

Land and human rights abuses in the jade industry, Myanmar (Laura Villadiego, Carro de Combate), EJAtlas.

10

Extracción Ilegal de Jade en Zacapa, Guatemala (Grettel Navas), EJAtlas.

11

Exploitation of Forests, Cameroon, (Lucy Greyl and Dalena Tran), EJAtlas.

WWF, More than 90 years to reach adulthood.

Veuthey, S., and Gerber, J.F. (2011). Valuation contests over the commoditisation of the moabit tree in South-Easter Cameroon, Environmental Values 20(2): 239–254.

12

Racing Nellie Bly (2019). Feathered Victorian hats decimated several species, 29 January.

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