A Reply to Dan Blondeau

When I sat down to reply to a comment from Dan Blondeau of Eagle Mine on my Mining Renaissance post, I found that I’d written what is, essentially, a new post. So I’m running my reply here instead of in the comments thread.

Here is Dan’s comment:

Louis and others commenting here – is there any way you would support mining anywhere? I highly doubt it. Large, long-life deposits are few and far between now. Smaller projects such as Eagle, Polymet and so on are becoming the typical scale of mining. Instead of just bashing the industry and focusing on events that happened decades ago, perhaps you could take a more positive and collaborative approach to your concerns. Thank you

Here’s my reply:

I take it that by “events that happened decades ago,” you are referring to the story told in my film 1913 Massacre. That story from what you correctly characterize as a bygone era of mining first drew me to the Upper Peninsula, and it would be dishonest or disingenuous to say that it doesn’t still color my thinking. But since completing that project I’ve tried to stay focused on what’s happening in the area now.

At the same time, the unresolved past and the present are not so easily kept apart. For example, the conversation after our screening of 1913 Massacre at the DeVos Art Museum last October went almost directly and without any prompting to the new mining up around Big Bay and across the Peninsula. I believe the film resonates with people in the UP (and in other parts of the country) not just because the immigrant experience it documents is the quintessential American experience, but also because the basic questions it raises are still very much alive today.

That aside, I am not sure why you read me as “bashing the industry” here. My post focused on sloppy and hopelessly compromised journalism. I don’t think of mining as something I would “support” or not support.  It would never occur to me to put it that way, and I’m not for or against mining per se. In some of my posts, especially those on Shefa Siegel’s work, I try to acknowledge mining’s crucial role in what Orwell calls “the metabolism of civilization”; and I’m trying to understand how bigger changes in the commodities markets and the global economic picture are driving the new mining around Lake Superior. But I also think it’s important to appreciate the real risks and the potential cost of copper and nickel mining operations in the Lake Superior watershed, and to question whether it really will create lasting prosperity for the UP or the Lake Superior region. Those are (for me) the big issues the new mining raises, and I think they are issues that any honest conversation about mining (or the development that mining brings) needs to take into account.

As I tried to suggest in my post, Kocazek just ignores them, and I wondered why she didn’t try to take them on – especially since she writes for a publication dedicated to water issues. And not just any publication: Circle of Blue, which was founded by J. Carl Ganter (who served as vice-chairman of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Water Security) and which has ties to – it is a “non-profit affiliate” of – the prestigious Pacific Institute.

As for taking “a more positive and collaborative approach,” I am all for it, or at least I am all for genuine collaboration. I don’t really know what a “positive…approach” would entail in this case apart from boosterism. As I say, I don’t consider myself a mining booster or a mining basher, but an observer, still (and no doubt always) an outsider, despite my many trips to the UP, exploring a place and trying my best to document what’s happening there. I’m open to having my views challenged and being shown where I am wrong or where there’s a better way to talk about or do things. (And for that reason I appreciate you taking the time to comment here.) I don’t think there can be any collaboration unless each party is willing and able to listen and – this is important – ready to yield to the other. In other words, listening goes beyond making concessions to the other in conversation: it means doing things differently in response to the other’s demands. (This is a theme I’ve been exploring in my posts on The Power of Asking, and one that I come up against over and over again when I write about mining issues.)

Am I often critical of what mining companies are doing in the UP and around Lake Superior? Sure, and I am troubled, as well, by the almost hubristic level of confidence the mining industry places in technology and engineering, even in the face of disasters like the Bingham Canyon collapse; its worrisome record on environmental and human rights issues nearly everywhere in the world mining is done; and the power and distorting influence it exerts on politicians and public debate – in the UP and elsewhere.

I still think there’s plenty of opportunity for collaboration and dialogue. If I did not, I would just call it quits; but giving up on dialogue is tantamount to giving up on people. In the area of human rights, for instance, I believe there’s still opportunity for collaboration around the Ruggie principles (despite the doubts I’ve expressed about them) and – in the Lake Superior region – around the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Rights. Both frameworks (as well as the work done by the Lake Superior Binational Forum on Responsible Mining in the Lake Superior Basin) are decent places to start enumerating in a serious way the responsibilities and obligations that mining companies have in a region where human rights concerns and freshwater issues are intertwined.

In fact, I think genuine and ongoing collaboration on these efforts is essential, because I don’t think the mining industry can do it alone, or is the appropriate party to set the agenda here.

6 thoughts on “A Reply to Dan Blondeau

  1. Dan

    Hi Louis, I saw your post on SWUP’s website. Unfortunately, they blocked me from their page so I cannot reply or comment. Transparency and openness at its finest. Regards, Dan


    1. lvgaldieri Post author

      I consider transparency and openness among the basic conditions of serious conversation. But it cuts both ways: people from Save the Wild UP can’t exactly comment on the stuff you guys put up on the Lundin Mining or Eagle site, either. So maybe your respective web sites are not the places to have meaningful conversations or even places to engage. That raises the question whether there are places to do that. I’ve been very critical in the past of the community forums Rio Tinto held, based on what I’ve seen and on my own experience as a facilitator; I think the power and the agenda was all on the mining company’s side, and when people are denied a real voice or feel patronized, they get their backs up. Things in the UP and all around Lake Superior (witness the Polymet hearings this past month) are not going to be resolved anytime soon, and the “public comment” forums seem to me a poor substitute for the kind of inclusive, careful, respectful deliberation that these big mining projects (and the development as well as the risks they entail) deserve. I’ve been following the mining indaba taking place in South Africa this week; maybe we need a Lake Superior mining indaba that brings all stakeholders together and gives everyone an opportunity to listen and be heard.


      1. Dan Blondeau

        Fair point on the website. We’re considering other means such as Facebook to communicate and connect with community members. Currently, we utilize out website, email newsletters and Twitter. Several years ago our forums would see several hundred people, while this past fall barely 50 combined from 6 communities came out. Each time we ask what community members would like to see different. Those opposed to the mine just want us to leave. Well, we’re here and we intend to run a safe and efficient mine. It’s time people put the years of conflict in the past and participate in a productive dialog. Thanks again, Dan


      2. lvgaldieri Post author

        The drop-off in attendance at the community forums is not all that surprising, but it’s troubling all the same. Maybe it’s time to scrap them and look for some better ways to listen to the communities around Eagle — even or especially those who, as you say, “just want us to leave.” After all, as you explain, you’re not going anywhere, and they’re certainly not going anywhere, so: there you all are. How does this standoff play out across the life of the mine? What risks does this breakdown in communications entail — for the life of the community, for success of the mining operation, for the long lasting prosperity of the region? I don’t think there are easy answers here — and I don’t think Facebook, Twitter, etc. will bridge these divides — but I would submit that these are all questions worth asking and trying to address in good faith.


  2. Pingback: Why A Lake Superior Mining Indaba Is A Good Idea | lvgaldieri

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