Posted by: pascoesabido | December 3, 2008

Open letter to the Guardian

This is an open letter written to the Guardian on November 20th, questioning the environmental impact of Chinese investment in the extraction of Latin America’s natural resources. It was not published:

Dear Sir,

As China cements extensive free trade deals across Latin America – primarily for natural resources (China’s Influence, November 19), why are alarm bells not ringing? This is an environmental catastrophe on a monumental scale.

Their main focus lies with agriculture and raw materials, i.e. nickel, copper, iron ore and oil, the delivery of which will further decimate fragile environments. Up and down the continent, from the Andes to the Amazon, China’s industrial growth is taking precedent over local sustainability and climate change.

Clearance for agricultural purposes (cattle, Soya, sugar cane), already cause 90% of all deforestation in the Amazon. In the month of April, Brazil alone lost a rainforest the size of Los Angeles. Meanwhile, mining that occurs across the continent – mainly in mountainous regions but also in the rainforest – pollutes on every level: water, soil, air, visual, and noise. The carbon footprint it leaves is enormous, from highly intensive extraction through to transportation; further stimulation along current lines would be a tragedy.

$2.2bn have been paid by the Chinese to extract 7m tonnes of copper from a single Peruvian peak, but this deal is only one of many, and further exploration is underway in Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela. Stores of crude oil have already been found under large swathes of forest, and more are predicted. Glaciers are another hapless obstacle to mining ambitions, as are protected habitats. Regulation, whilst in place, is too weak to be enforced, and leaves mining and extraction companies with little to fear and no concern for environmental accountability.

The tender of contracts on the free market guarantees this degradation, as the lowest bidders will be those who cut the greatest number of corners, not those who incur greater costs whilst attempting to safe guard the natural environment.
For any change to begin, re-involvement from both the USA and the EU in Latin America is essential, whilst engaging both the Chinese and local mining companies must be a priority. A consensus must be found and incentives to do the right thing offered. This is a huge challenge facing Barack Obama, and one he must meet. With so much to offer, Latin America is already being plundered, but the legacy of destruction stretches far beyond the Rio Grande.

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