One of the arguments used in support of copper-nickel mining in Minnesota raises the heartbreaking issue of child labor in artisanal cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The argument goes something like this, “would you rather have children mining in third world countries or have these minerals extracted here in Minnesota where we will get it right.”
Cobalt is used in batteries to power everything from the laptop I am using to write this post to the growing number of electric cars on our roadways. It is also one of the minerals PolyMet is seeking to mine near the BWCA and within the Lake Superior watershed. Whether we mine cobalt or not, it will have little impact on the number of children working in foreign mines. What will reduce the forced labor of our children is the enforcement of international laws to protect them from exploitation. News stories outlining the plight of child miners are beginning to to have an impact. Apple is no longer buying the mineral from the largest supplier of artisanal cobalt mines. Other major corporations say they are working to ensure their supplies come from reputable sources free of child labor.
As it was with conflict diamonds, we must demand our products are manufactured with resources free of child labor and with the full backing of corporations willing to take a stand for human rights including clean water and air.
And that brings me back to the false argument in support of mining non-ferrous metals in Minnesota’s water rich environment. Sulfide mining has never been done anywhere in the world without compromising water and people’s health.
What we need are good paying, sustainable jobs. We need investment in green energy technology, the build out of our broadband network throughout our rural communities and affordable education and healthcare for all. These are the progressive pillars that must be constructed to rebuild our communities ravaged by boom and bust economies.
I agree that copper-nickel, cobalt and other non-ferrous metals are strategic national resources. But I also believe they must be left in the ground until we are certain that they can be extracted without harm to our environment and our health.
Water is life.