24 New Species and Po$$ibly Gold

Carrie Morris sent me this news from Suriname: Scientists Find 24 Species in Suriname (NYTimes).

The expedition was sponsored by two mining companies hoping to excavate the area for bauxite.‘ The study was financed by Suralco and BHP‘s Billiton Maatschappij Suriname subsidiary.

Atelopus ebenoides marinkellei The new species of Frog, Atelopus ebenoides marinkellei.

I found the New York Times piece to be unclear, although a more cynical reader might find it intentionally evasive. In one sentence the article states that the two mining companies were ‘hoping to excavate the area for bauxite‘ which is the raw material used to make aluminum and also Suriname’s biggest export. But later in the article it quickly mentions that Suralco ‘has a government concession to explore gold in the area‘. For this piece to be useful to the average reader who knows very little about Suriname it is important to know what is at stake here. Is this area seen simply as a continuation of a current revenue stream, or revenue stream plus the possibility of huge NEW profits. Either way we should be worried, but some clarity would be helpful in analyzing the situation.

This story is particularly relevant given America’s sudden revelation that it’s lifestyle is unsustainable and is destroying the planet. Methods of economic growth were fiercely debated when I visited Suriname in the summer of 2005. From what I could tell there were two major positions. One group, aligned with the U.S. notions of market liberalization, believed that Suriname should open up its nearly 80 percent rain forest coverage to exploration and mining. One justification for this is that small-scale miners from Brazil and Suriname are already at work in the rainforest, and use shoddy techniques which are creating large mercury pollution problems.

The other camp has seen the failure of the neoliberal model by looking at both the U.S. unsustainable economy and at the affect that liberalization has had on its neighbors to the South. This camp wants to see growth, but slowly, and retaining as much of the rainforest as possible. I was impressed by the rigorous analysis of many of my colleagues in Paramaribo. They knew that under late capitalism the only way they could grow their economy and stay green was through green tourism or letting drug companies come in and try to make drugs from undiscovered plants and animals. This was seen as both slightly imperialistic, and highly unlikely considering that the country does not currently have the infrastructure to put even a modest green tourism plan into affect. Also, the impression on the ground was that Suriname would see very little of the profits from drug companies, and that the intellectual property generated by this endeavor should not belong to the drug companies but to the country.

surifrog.jpg

There was a seething anger at the U.S. administration for not having signed the Kyoto protocol. But on top of that I heard some very interesting suggestions that the U.S. should PAY Suriname to KEEP its rainforest untouched. While this could in fact be the result of a cap & trade approach to carbon, the person I spoke to was not talking about markets. She believed that because the Suriname should not suffer because the U.S. decided to clear cut its own country, harvest all of its coal, and get much of its Bauxite for Aluminum production by flooding parts of Suriname. Her thought was that the U.S. has a moral and spiritual obligation to pay for Suriname to stay green. Some interesting ideas, that clearly will not get her far under our current neoliberal technocracy. Maybe someday if we internalize environmental costs in a serious and robust way and implement some alternative system of exchange such as Paul Hawken’s Natural Capitalismwould her arguments be realized.

So the question is why would Suraclo and BHP Bilton (which, incidentally stood for Broken Hill Proprietary Company before the merger with Bilton) NOT exploit the region for gold and Bauxite? What are the local or international policies or incentives that would prevent them from destroying this vital resource (rainforest/carbon sink/habitat to undiscovered animals)? To be fair, I could not tell from the article why these companies would sponsor an expedition that would prevent them from entering an area. Were these expeditions a national legal prerequisite for any extraction? The article does not say.

This story needs much wider circulation because Suriname is NEVER covered in the U.S. media.

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