Forced confinement in an uncomfortably small space often sparks at least a perfunctory commiserative comment to your fellow inmates.
A brief word or nod of agreement from a seatmate followed by a return to their book or paper will likely silence any further attempts at conversation for the duration of a plane ride.
Occasionally these opening statements do spark interesting conversations, which then invariably seem to help push the jet to its destination more swiftly.
On one leg of a recent spate of holiday flights the seat lottery strapped an engineer into the aisle seat next to mine.
This fellow had worked at mine sites around the world over the course of his career. His experiences sparked a round of anecdotes on our mutual travels.
He clearly won out in the end on the basis of the sheer number of countries he had worked in.
Engineers, and people generally in the earth sciences, have over the last couple of decades developed a growing awareness of and advocacy for the environment.
Environmentalism is certainly no longer the monopoly of social science and humanities types. This fellow fit the bill.
When I learned of his travels to Peru, I mentioned recent concern expressed about a Canadian mining venture in the central Andes where high levels of lead from a smelter had caused an epidemic of lead poisoning.
He trumped my tale by recounting his visit to a site where exposed tailing piles at a mine not far from Lima leached an impressive quantity of acidic, orange-red runoff.
This toxic waste flowed into a tributary of the Rimac River and right on through the heart of the country’s capital city.
He capped our conversation with an account of a short contract he had had in the Czech Republic.
On his first visit to the mine he noticed a strong odour coming from one of the stopes. The former state bureaucrat who had managed take over control of this recently privatized mine said that he ran the sewage from a nearby municipal waterworks, which he also now owned, through the mine then out into the local river.
My travel companion told the owner that this was a real problem. The former bureaucrat-turned-entrepreneur took him a few kilometres upstream to where an aluminum smelter was dumping its sludge into the same river from huge pipes.
The newly minted mine owner said that his waste didn’t compare to that at all. My fellow passenger said that he was happy to leave that mess behind.
Essentially, though, we can’t leave messes behind any more. There is no behind. The faraways and out of sights are now at our front door.
We, as humankind, are belatedly recognizing that our irresponsible actions have costs that we or our descendants will all pay for one way or another.
Whether it is at BYG’s Mt. Nansen site here in the Yukon or at a diamond mine in Sierra Leone, the impacts on the human and physical environment can no longer be ignored.
They must be weighed into the economic equation of the viability of any mining venture now in order to make sense and cents.
Have a look short Development and Peace issue sheets Riches that Impoverish and Corporate Social Responsibility on their website www.devp.org for further information on their Life before Profit campaign.
Upstairs at the Alpine Bakery (411 Alexander) this Friday, January 12, 2007 at 8 p.m. the film Sipakapa no se vende (Sipakapa is not for sale) will be shown.
It will be the first of a winter Social Justice Film series.
This film depicts a Guatemalan community’s response to a Canadian mining project’s threatened impact on it.
I hear a speaker might introduce the film with a reflection on a local parallel to this cautionary story from Central America.