Wednesday October 05, 2016

Mining Science

Children playing in tailings downstream from the Ok Tedi Mine in Papua New Guinea, 2009.

Children playing in tailings downstream from the Ok Tedi Mine in Papua New Guinea, 2009. (Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

Listen to Full Episode 53:59

Cultural Anthropologist Stuart Kirsch spent decades working with native peoples living along the ok Tedi River, in Papua New Guinea, trying to oppose the social and environmental threats posed by an enormous open-pit copper mine situated near the river's source. He tells Paul Kennedy about what they learned in the process of taking on a multi-national mining giant; and what the people of PNG taught him. **This episode originally aired March 24, 2016.


"How is it possible that despite spending tens of millions of dollars on environmental research and monitoring, the consultants and other scientists employed by the Ok Tedi mine failed to predict the impending environmental catastrophe, or even to accurately report on it while it was occurring? Their failure calls into question the way science is deployed by mining companies, and by extension, how corporations strategically exploit science."

The Ok Tedi copper mine in Papua New Guinea is at the centre of one of the worst environmental disasters in the world. Tailings from the mine have polluted the Ok Tedi River, and devastated a huge area of previously pristine and virgin jungle. People in the tribes who live along that river will never be the same. Their home was once a rich a verdant paradise. It now looks more like the surface of the moon. In a recent lecture at Memorial University of Newfoundland, anthropologist Stuart Kirsch discussed the questionable science that the mining industry uses to justify their destructive activities. 

Stuart Kirsh is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbour.  His book, Mining Capitalism: The Relationship Between Corporations and Their Critics, is published by the University of California Press.