Dr. Defne Gönenç*
Elections in Canada are over.
Current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s liberal party has won a 2nd
term – although Trudeau will lead a minority government this time. Trudeau’s
environmentalism has received – a more or less - passing grade at home due to
his efforts to restore protection of Canada’s natural habitats and carbon
pricing policies. During his victory speech in Montreal, Trudeau cheered the
crowd, claiming that they will “continue to fight climate change”.
Nevertheless, Trudeau’s environmentalism has very different connotations in
Turkey. Alamos Gold, a Canadian Gold Mining Company is implementing two gold
mining projects at Ida Mountains (known as Kaz Mountain in Turkish), in
Çanakkale region in the north-eastern Turkey. The area is home to precious
forests and unique biodiversity. It is also a sacred human heritage site
because the mountain is very significant in ancient Greek mythology. Also known
as the “Mountain of the goddess”, Ida Mountains were where Zeus and Hera got
married, and where the first beauty contest of the world took place. Today
tough, another contest, one between capital and life is taking place where
mining project owners play the “gods”. Unfortunately, Trudeau’s
environmentalism is not strong enough to prevent the environmental destruction
in this precious region. Therefore, the event does not only showcase how
capital accumulation impulse knows no environmental limits but also how
international media is popping up “”world leaders” who are not likely to generate
significant change in the world as we know it, but only who would help to ease
the current widespread dissatisfaction with it, with their “liberal appearance
Alamos Gold acquired Ağı Mountain and Kirazlı mining projects in 2010 for $90 million, and since then, has been conducting feasibility and environmental studies in the region. On its website, Alamos Gold describes the project to be a “low cost, low capital and low technical risk” one which is expected to return an average annual production of 104,000 ounces of gold over a 5 year mine life. The projects are contemplated to be open-pit production, a mining technique which has proven adverse impacts on the environment (Alamos Gold, 2019).
The company obtained the environmental impact assessment report in 2013 where it was claimed that it would cut 45.650 trees. Following to that, the company launched its operations despite local protests. It has been cutting trees in the region since 2017 (Bianet English, 2019). However, when TEMA Foundation (an environmental civil society organization in Turkey) figured out that the number of trees cut were around 195.000 through satellite images during the summer 2019, the protest movement has enlarged significantly. The government has opposed the findings of TEMA and claimed that 13.400 trees were cut down (BBC Türkçe, 2019). In such a political environment, the company defended itself by contending that it was not the company but the government who cut the trees, and that the company already paid for the reforestation activities (Solhaber, 2019).
This discursive combat which was undertaken about the number of trees cut has led to a societal awakening. As a result, large protests have begun to be organized. The movement has received support from tens of thousands of people in the country. Since July 2019, a few dozen environmentalists have established a permanent camp site in the area for vigil action. In addition, Izmir Bar Association sent a letter to Trudeau and the leaders of other political parties in Canada asking for their support.
Environmentalists mainly oppose mining activities at Ida Mountains due to forest and ecosystem destruction as well as the cyanide use for extraction of gold in the projects. They are also particularly worried about the risk of water contamination by heavy metals. Nevertheless, there are also some others, living in the nearby villages, who have switched their positions due to the employment opportunities at the mine. Despite their previous opposition to the mine due to environmental concerns, after finding a job at the mine, they have given their support to the mining activities (BBC Türkçe, 2019).This clearly illustrates how unemployment and impoverishment might push people to change their ideologies and environmental attitudes. Hence, it is imperative to underline that mining activities and the corresponding opposition take place within the prevailing power relations which are defined largely by the capitalist dynamics of the day. Hence, environment is not an issue isolated from politics.
In fact, the environment, both because it provides raw materials for the economy and because it is the living space of all of us, is central to politics. Due to the forth industrial revolution, and the intensification of robotics (Baldwin, 2019), coupled with the consumerist culture, the pressure on raw materials is expected to increase significantly in the near future. At the same time, an important point to keep in mind is that robotics have already started to sweep some of the jobs from the market. Under these circumstances, what is expected is, on the one hand, continuous and potentially increasing number of mining activities, on the other hand, a booming world population who is struggling to secure employment. Hence, it will only become easier for mining companies to convince local people through the argument of “provision of jobs” in the future where many more people will experience unemployment or insecure, short-term employment. Therefore, the issue of environment, far from being apolitical, is at the centre of it, and shaped by the demand for healthy living spaces, respect for nature and human life as well as employment conditions of the day and global market relations.
So, what does Trudeau’s win in Canada mean for environmentalism in the world? It means that a moderate environmentalist at home may mean an environmental destroyer in another part of the world. This is certainly not because of himself but because of his environmentalist actions’ dependency on the dynamics of the lobby power in his own country. In other words, the issue of environment constitutes one of the core issues of contemporary capitalism, and although the issue seems to concern “local spaces”, it ties people from different geographies together. Under these circumstances, a right entry point to the debate can be to raise awareness about the current situation at Ida Mountains among Canadian society.
Alamos Gold (2019). Official Company website. Retrieved from https://www.alamosgold.com/mines-and-projects/development-projects/kirazli-turkey/default.aspx (19.09.2019)
Baldwin, Richard (2019). The Globotics Upheaval: Globalization, Robotics, and the Future of Work. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
BBC Türkçe (2019). Kaz Dağları Tüm Yönleriyle Tartışmalı Maden Projesi. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler-turkiye-49245614 (19.09.2019)
Bianet English (2019). How Many Trees were cut Down on Ida Mountains Because of Gold Mine? Retrieved from http://bianet.org/english/environment/211368-how-many-trees-cut-down-on-ida-mountains-because-of-gold-mine (19.09.2019)
Solhaber (2019). Alamos Gold’un CEO’su: Ağaçları Biz Değil Hükümet Kesti, 5 Milyon Dolar Ödedik. Retrieved from https://haber.sol.org.tr/turkiye/alamos-goldun-ceosu-agaclari-biz-degil-hukumet-kesti-5-milyon-dolar-odedik-268124 (19.09.2019)
*Yaşar Üniversitesi Akdeniz Araştırmaları ve Gözlemevi, Uzman
Eklenme tarihi: 24 / 10 / 2019
Haber Okunma: 815