The Five-Percent Solution

Happy Armistice Day, as we used to call it. I had a great uncle in the American trenches at 11:11 a.m. on 11 November 1918. (Although, I wouldn’t “have” him as an uncle for another 42 and a half years.)

That was the “war to end all war” and/or “keep the world safe for democracy.” We missed both targets, failed to learn the lessons and were back at it with far more destructive technology just 21 years later.

The sense I got from my Uncle John was that we (or at least he) believed his war’s sales pitch. A college history professor was of the opinion that the US entered the war because the House of Morgan made so many loans to the British government that a German victory would take down the US economy, which sounds closer to the truth.

Current wars still have rhetoric about democracy, etc. but the frosting is getting thin. The first gulf war was about oil, the Iraq invasion and occupation were about oil, the Afghan war is indirectly about oil. Where and over what will the next war be?

No predictions here, but I recently saw several stories about the extractive plunder of Papua New Guinea. (Quick, without looking at a map, where is Papua New Guinea a/k/a PNG?)

Papua New Guinea occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea (the other half is Indonesian territory) in the southwest Pacific. Its government is remarkably corrupt and bent on throwing open the doors to every extractive industry. Result: orgy of pillage we have not yet seen in the century, but it’s still early.

Late last month, Greenpeace released a report on how PNG is not ready to participate in the new paradigm of using forests as carbon storage regions, as the PNG government is still allowing the wholesale cutting of ancient hardwoods. Lagging in most of the enviable metrics, PNG is a world leader in converting carbon-storing ancient forests into greenhouse gas emissions via land use change.

That report was referenced a day later in an article in The Ecologist about PNG being the only nation on Earth to allow the strip mining of its deep seas. Within PNG’s territorial waters, a mile down (about the depth at which BP drilled the Macondo well), lie hydrothermal vents, where heat from the Earth’s core is released. Ecosystems created by these vents are the only ones that do not rely on photosynthesis. Many scientists believe such ecosystems are where life first evolved.

The PNG government is going to allow a Canadian company – Nautilus Minerals – to take the top 20-30 meters off the seabed, pull it to the surface, separate out the copper and dump the slag back into the ocean. Marine conservationist Rick Steiner estimates that PNG will see somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million in royalties on the $1 billion project – about five percent.

Copper is in demand; the surging new economies of India and China vy for control of them with western nations like the US and Canada. (Smell another war coming?)

Within hours of seeing the Ecologist piece, I read about another western corporation rushing into the Papuan void. ExxonMobil is building a 450-mile-long natural gas pipeline to connect PNG sources to Asian markets. The New York Times reports Exxon promises the project will yield $30 billion for PNG and that the walking around money developers are passing out among the native communities is already poisoning the atmosphere.

“More than 60,000 people own land where gas will be either extracted or transported,” the Times reports. “To get their agreement, the government invited 3,000 to a meeting last year to hammer out benefit-sharing agreements.” (Three thousand is five percent of 60,000. Hmmm. There’s that percentage again.) “The government intentionally held the conference on an island to ward off gate-crashers, though 2,000 uninvited landowners eventually flew over, said Anderson Agiru, the governor of Southern Highlands Province….And still thousands, who remain unsatisfied, have streamed to the nation’s capital, Port Moresby, to try to get their cut. ‘They tell us they are busy or to come back the next day,’ said Jim Tatape, one of hundreds of angry landowners milling around recently in front of the Department of Commerce and Industry, waiting to see anybody inside.”

Don’t know about you, but that sounds to me awful like the runaround the native Americans got back in the day.

© Mark Floegel, 2010


  1. Michael Peters
    Posted 11/12/2010 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    Check your facts: the excess water is returned, via a mile-long pipe, to the ocean floor, not waste slag.

    Poor article…

  2. floegel
    Posted 11/16/2010 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    Michael –

    Thanks for writing. Your comment said, “Check your facts: the excess water is returned, via a mile-long pipe, to the ocean floor, not waste slag. Poor article…”

    You seem to be referring to this sentence in the Ecologist article: “He also cites the effects of increased light and noise in the deep ocean environment and the toxicity of the dewatering plume [the process of removing water from the mined deposits] to deep-sea organisms, which will not be able to differentiate between food and junk sediment.”

    In my remark about the waste material, I was referring to a sentence one paragraph lower: “Of particular concern are the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste that will be produced by the mining process, which Steiner compares to that of a ‘giant underwater tractor’ and which will be pumped onto deeper seabeds nearby.”

    Not that the dewatering plume would be a treat for the environment, either.

    Your mail did, however, give me pause and I looked for references to the disposal of sea bed mining wastes and found very few and those few were vague. Clearly, better journalism is called for.

    Thanks again for writing.


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