Resource Extraction: Can a Holistic Management Regime Avoid Short-circuiting Sustainability in Mineral Active Regions?

Resource Extraction: Can a Holistic Management Regime Avoid Short-circuiting Sustainability in Mineral Active Regions?

From Niger Delta Nigeria to Chaco Region of Bolivia; from Cabinda and Soyo regions of Angola to the mine hill adjacent to Lake Malo in DR Congo. They have one thing in common. Naturel Resources!

In this article, I will step away from the ‘resource curse’ hypothesis but dwell on the inseparable environmental problem associated with natural resource extraction. Natural resource exploitation will continue as long as there are resources to extract in other for states to meet their economic needs and provide energy and stock materials for industries. The exploitation of these profitable natural resources has engendered ambivalent views because of its omnipresent environmental and socio-economic implication. Mineral extraction in itself is not a bad thing, however, the configuration surrounding its exploitation and management can be problematic and complex. Natural resources hold the promise of wealth that can fuel economic development sufficient to liberate society from economic vulnerability and the constraints of nature if responsibly managed.

Ironically, such economic liberation is often gained through environmental and social change. The transformative process of mineral and energy resource extraction raises a huge public concern with space for policy instruments to manage the complex social and environmental cost of extraction. Therefore, policies for allocation of appropriate costs and gains of mineral extraction including capturing, distributing of resource gains, and determining the conditions under which extraction should take place should be pivoted on the economic, social and environmental tripod, hence the sustainability construct.

Despite global sustainability aspiration to disembark from the diesel-driven vehicle for electric vehicles, we must ensure that one man’s sustainability is not another man’s unsustainability. I have always wondered what the sustainability catch-phrase means for Ayibaebi in Niger Delta Nigeria or for Kulomba in DR Congo in the grand scheme of things when oil, coltan or cobalt mining leads to armed conflict, environmental degradation, use of child labour, consequently short-circuiting sustainability.

Therefore, to achieve sustainable development, there is a need to discontinue the current reductionist approach which has an emphasis on conventional economic rationality and embrace a systems approach that is holistic. It is striking that a good proportion of policy discourse in the public arena on mineral extraction and sustainable development shows the implicit acceptance and lack of criticality in testing many of the assumptions of sustainability while failing to operationalise macroeconomic constructs of sustainability (ecology, equity, futurity) into tools for environmental management (Bridge 2004).

Figure 1. Reconnaissance visit to the Niger Delta Nigeria. Source: Author. Circa 2017

Resource-based economic development can set in motion a virtuous or vicious circle of socio-economic development or retrogression respectively depending on the framework and management approach deployed. Therefore, in addressing the complex problem associated with mineral extraction, there is an overarching need for retrospective understanding, scenario analyses and futures thinking as to understand what has been done, what is being done and what should be done to ensure the sustainability of finite mineral resources and their region of extraction.

It is equally important to acknowledge that economic processes are entropic and many regions of mineral extraction have witnessed a breach of the sustainability principles and epitomise conformance to the laws of classical thermodynamics in which energy and matter which are neither created nor destroyed are withdrawn, transformed to a different form and to a different region to stimulate and produce more complex social and economic organisation and consequently accelerate systems entropy in source region as exemplified in the socio-environmental liabilities and underdevelopment (Bunker, 1985). For many of these resource-rich regions, there is the outflow of resources without a commensurate inflow of resource benefits to the region whilst the natural resource base declines correspondingly, a pure violation of sustainability principles.

Figure 2: Picture contrasts the fates and fortunes of two regions

Therefore, governments which are the custodian of the natural resource must set up a vehicle through which the resource wealth can be transmitted to future generations and should craft policies to ensure the exploitation of natural resources can be leveraged to move communities from the valleys and oceans of poverty to the mountain tops of prosperity. By so doing, we can ensure development will create real improvements by meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their needs.

References:

  • Bridge, G., 2004. Contested Terrain: Mining and the Environment. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 29, 205–259. doi: 10.1146/annurev.energy.28.011503.163434.
  • Bunker, S. (1985). Underdeveloping the Amazon Extraction, Unequal Exchange, and the failure of the Modern State. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Downey, L, Bonds, E and Clark, K (2010): Natural Resource Extraction, Armed Violence, and Environmental Degradation. Organ Environ. 23(4): 417–445.s

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