Need for sustainable resource development

As a New Democrat, I’m a proud supporter of the “sustainable development” of our natural resources.
If you are wondering why, then look no further than the massive ecological disaster that occurred last week at Imperial Metal’s Mount Polley open-pit copper and gold mine in British Columbia.
The United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) in its 1987 report, “Our Common Future,” defined sustainable development as: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Sustainable development is a principle which New Democrats and other political parties, corporations, and governments around the world have embraced.
Most proponents of sustainable development believe there to be four domains: ecology, economics, politics, and culture.
As it pertains to the sustainable development of our natural resources, it is primarily concerned with the environmental impact of our exploitation of natural resources like metals and minerals, forestry, agriculture, and fossil fuels.
As it pertains to ecology, the principle of sustainable development relates to the protection of human and environmental health, clean air, clean water, secure food sources, and the maintenance of biodiversity in the natural environment while our society engages in agricultural production, mining, transportation, and other related activities.
Some examples of sustainable activities in these areas include recycling, mass transit, crop rotation in agriculture, and the minimization of risk in natural resource extraction (such as the enforcement of environmental regulations or adherence to internationally-recognized standards for the processing of resources).
The Mount Polley disaster last week is a shocking reminder that in many ways, the sustainable development of our natural resources is not being embraced and practised by industry.
As a result, our resource extraction activities presently pose a serious threat to the health of our environment, indigenous people and their traditional way of life, and others living in the area of the extraction activities and beyond.
The extraction of copper and gold during the mining process creates a lot of waste. Some of the waste products from gold mining include arsenic, mercury, and molybdenum, which all are highly-toxic to humans, plants, and animals.
From copper mining, the waste often includes radioactive elements like uranium, thorium, and radium.
A tailings pond is one that either is naturally found near a mine or made by man, and is used specifically to store and contain these toxic elements so that they do not disperse into the environment and contaminate our land, soil, and water–beyond that pond.
The breach of the Mount Polley tailings pond last week is one of the greatest environmental disasters in Canadian history. It is estimated the breach resulted in the spilling of 10 billion litres of highly-toxic wastewater and 4.5 million cubic metres of contaminated sand into Quesnel Lake and the Fraser River.
Billions of litres of arsenic, mercury, and radioactive materials now are making their way through hundreds of kilometres of lakes, rivers, and creeks—and threaten the well-being of indigenous communities, towns, and delicate ecosystems throughout the B.C. interior.
In a statement, Imperial Metals claimed the water is mostly safe and shouldn’t affect the environment or human and animal populations nearby. You will have to forgive me for being cynical about this claim as the company was warned five times in the past several years about the rising water level and the level of hazardous materials in the pond.
The clean-up at the Polley site, if it is even possible, will be an immense operation. The first estimate of the remediation costs of a similar tailings pond breach in Tennessee in 2008 were estimated to be $600 million-$800 million and take six months.
After the six months, it was revealed that just three percent of the clean-up operation was completed.
New Democrats believe that as a society, we must take lessons away from the Mount Polley disaster. We must recognize the value of and create and enforce regulations that require–not encourage–the sustainable development of our natural resources.
As the Mount Polley disaster has shown, there is just too much at stake to ignore the risks any longer.