1990s >> 1992 >> no-1060-december-1992

Gold-Seeking Guru

The 1992 Schumacher Lectures held in Bristol in October set out to explore the link between “good work, good business, good economics and a spiritually informed world view”. One of the advertised speakers was Sir James Goldsmith (in fact, he only sent a video message) who was presented by the Schumacher Society as one of “four great thinkers and activists who look towards a sustainable future based on spiritual and ecological values”. The image that is created of him is that of a businessman and industrialist who has given up his business interests to devote himself to changing human values and creating a better world and who has a particular interest in environmentally-sustainable land use.

Certainly, James Goldsmith gives millions of pounds to the Green movement including organizations like Friends of the Earth. In the 1970s he financed an anti-nuclear campaign against the nuclear plant at Windscale. Nuclear power was, he declared in a recent interview reprinted in Resurgence magazine (no 152), “hopelessly uneconomic, terrifyingly dangerous and insecure”. In the early 1980s he helped his brother Edward Goldsmith launch and finance The Ecologist magazine. Then in 1990 in a flamboyant gesture, he sold his timber interests, the profits from which had largely enabled him to build up his spectacular fortune in the preceding decade, to Lord Hanson. In return he acquired Newmont Mining which owns mostly goldmines. He declared on giving up his timber assets that he would devote the rest of his life to protecting the environment and in particular to persuading businesses and governments to end the destruction of the Amazonian rainforest.

But environmentalists beware! Despite what the Schumacher Society has to say about James Goldsmith—and it is after all one of the leading ecological associations in Britain—his credentials as a great environmental thinker and activist do not bear close scrutiny. The large amounts of money which he dishes out to the Green movement along with the glib, superficial pronouncements he makes on a variety of subjects from communism to Buddhism, farming and sustainable land use amounts to little more than sophisticated greenwash. He is one of those members of the capitalist class who recognize that if they are to hold on to their power and wealth, they must appear to take into account the well-informed and vociferous demands of the growing environmental movement. They must discredit the views of those people in the movement who point to the profit system as one of the main perpetrators of ecological destruction and unsustainable resource use. He attempts to buy off the more naive participants in the ecological movement by appealing to their recognition of the need for global solidarity which is unfortunately coupled with a refusal to grapple with the political reality of the class-divided system under which we live. In the interview reprinted in Resurgence magazine he stated:

  I believe business is vital—and a free market extremely important—because you need prosperity to clean up the scars of the past and because people who arc reasonably prosperous can think six months, a year, ten years ahead.

But it is the activities of Newmont Mining in which he holds a 42 percent stake that reveals the full hypocrisy of his position as a promoter of ecologically sustainable land use and his commitment to creating a better world.

Profits from pollution

In September this year, two environmental and human rights groups, Minewatch and Survival International named Newmont and one of its subsidiary companies. Dawn Mining, as being among the top ten violators of Native American land. Both companies are at present in dispute with at least two Native American communities whose survival has for centuries depended on the ecologically- sustainable land use which Goldsmith claims to be such an expert on. In Nevada. Newmont Mining has polluted ground water with cyanide and heavy metals from five goldmines on its Carlin Trend concession. The Western Shoshone tribe who are in dispute with the US government over the ownership of this particular area have commented with dismay at this desecration of land which they have looked after so well for so long according to their spiritual values:

   It is the Western Shoshone belief that Mother Earth is a living being, she is alive in her own way. not as we humans are but in a different way.The blood that flows in our veins keeps us alive. The water that flows in our Mother Earth are her veins and keep her alive. This water must be kept clean and pure so that all life upon Mother Earth is to continue for the future.

(Statement issued by Western Shoshone . National Council, August 1992).

In Washington State, Dawn Mining Company which is Newmont’s 51 percent-owned subsidiary plans to use low-level radioactive waste to fill a huge pit on its uranium mine and mill complex, part of which is on a Spokane Indian Reservation. Both members of the tribe and the Washington State Health Department have demanded that the company use clean soil instead. The company is bankrupt and claims it cannot afford to make the site safe unless it is paid by other US states to take their unwanted radioactive waste. If the site is not cleared up soon there is a danger that 400 million gallons of contaminated water may begin to leak from disused mine pits into nearby rivers.

While Goldsmith pontificates about the environment and spiritual values, Newmont mining continues on its profit-seeking rampage around the world. In Peru, Newmont owns a 10.7 percent share in the South Peru Copper Corporation (SPCC). At two mine sites in the south of Peru, SPCC’ is responsible for seriously depleting water resources, poisoning rivers and coastal waters and causing serious respiratory illnesses among the local people.

In Australia, the company suffered a slight setback when another of its associate companies, Newcrest, along with several other mining companies came into direct conflict with the Jawoyn Aborigines over a proposed goldmine at Coronation Hill in the Northern Territory. The Jawoyn are strongly opposed to mining in this region because they believe a dreamtime creation figure called Bula lives there. If Bula is disturbed, apocalyptic events will follow. According to the New Scientist (27 April 1991) the Aborigines also refer to the area as “sickness country”. It has high levels of radioactivity caused by uranium deposits close to the surface. Mining in the area could indeed unleash the destructive powers of the sleeping spirit. . . Certainly, mining the area would drastically deplete and contaminate the waters of the South Alligator River system which runs through the Kakadu National Park made famous in the film Crocodile Dundee. In June 1991, the Aborigines won their battle to get mining companies banned from the area by an opportunistic Australian Labor government anxious to capture the green vote over this most publicized issue in election year. But how long will it be before the ban is reversed or the companies find a loophole which will enable them to slip into the area?

Greed for gold

In the meantime, Newmont continues to prospect for gold—in Uzbekistan, in South and Central America, in south-east Asia and in Europe, with little care for people and environment. The company’s activities make Goldsmith’s words sound very hollow indeed. When in 1990 he swapped his timber assets for a mining company, he was simply exchanging interests that were decreasing in profitability and becoming too sensitive for a man concerned to maintain his green image for a more lucrative source of wealth and one about which there is considerably less public awareness. He has admitted that his sole reason for acquiring Newmont was the pursuit of profit when he said in 1991:

Gold and gold-mining shares will have their day and when they do everyone will want to buy gold shares,

(quoted in The Guru and the Gold, Minewatch dossier, 218 Liverpool Rd. London Nl)

Goldsmith is no different in spirit from that group of Europeans who first set foot on American shores—the conquistadores—who were also motivated by a greed for gold.

Any discussion about spiritual values and ecological sustainability should surely begin by referring to the experts in the subject—those people whose survival has for centuries depended on a profound respect for the earth and the finite nature of her resources, and whose customs and traditions reveal an intimate and scientific understanding of their environment.

Certainly, there is nothing ecologically sustainable about multinational mining as those who are first to be on the receiving end of its destructive processes point out. Many Native American communities, and indeed other indigenous groups such as the Jawoyn Aborigines mentioned above, have spiritual taboos relating to human activity which tampers with the land in the way that mining for profit does. Some such as the Navahos in Arizona arc opposed to digging up coal as they regard any mining as a sacrilegious and destructive act, but other communites in other parts of the world have engaged in small-scale mining activity, taking from the earth what is of use to them and with minimal damage.

Unless Goldsmith genuinely becomes part of the struggle to wrest control of the Earth’s resources from the minority who own and control them, in order to create a society of common ownership based once more on a sustainable use of resources, he will go down in history merely as one member of that class of ruthless profit-seekers who for so long have been responsible for the wholesale destruction of people and planet.

Kerima Mohideen