by Carolyn Crane
Pima County, Arizona
Last Saturday, I found myself on the old Thurber Ranch outside Sonoita, Arizona, listening to a presentation about a proposed open pit copper mine. The site-coordinator, Dennis Fischer, gave an excellent presentation. He is truly a wealth of information, and he carries that knowledge around with him in his head. He referred to study after study, named fact after fact supporting his project. The studies he mentioned were conducted by the University of Arizona, Tucson. Rosemont Copper, he said with some pride, has forked over $4 million for studies so far. I raised my hand, and he nodded to me. “Have any studies been conducted that were not paid for by Rosemont Copper?” I ventured. He looked a little bewildered by the question at first, but then perked right up. “One, a fifteen thousand dollar study by Pima County,” he said. “If I were you I’d believe our four million dollars worth of studies.”
Back in 1980, a 17 year old freshman on the San Francisco State campus, I asked another question of an older student near me in the old cinderblock HLL building where the liberal arts students met. “Why are some buildings so new, and some buildings so old?” I asked her. “Honey, “ she said, “Wake up. The science buildings are new because corporations fund their construction, and then fund the experiments and studies that happen inside.” To be honest, her answer confused me. A little over twenty years later, in the same town, I listened to Dr. Vandana Shiva address a capacity crowd. She lamented over the corporate control of our seed, among other things. Then, she told us there was another grave danger that we as U.S. citizens thought little about: the fact that we had handed over our public universities to corporate influence and funding. She spoke of Dr. Ignacio Chapela, a biology professor at neighboring UC Berkeley, who continued to fight this trend as well as the corporate domination of our seed. I ventured over the bridge and met Dr. Chapela at a construction site on campus where he was protesting with his students. Their complaint: the building being constructed was financed with corporate dollars, as would be the studies conducted within. In The Future of Food, a film by Debra Koons Garcia, Dr. Chapela shows us the modest studies he conducts with the relative pennies he gathers from the public sector, and how limited non-corporate biological research is in the 21st century.
A few weeks ago I attended a food and farm conference in northern California. Dr. Will Winters, a veterinarian and natural food activist, joked that if you gave him $100,000 to conduct a study, he could come up with whatever conclusion the donor wished. Indeed, statistics can be manipulated every which way; we learn this in the critical thinking class I teach. Mr. Fischer from Rosemont Copper seemed unaware of this, proud of his company’s bought-and-paid-for research, and proud of the fact that they were putting at least one graduate student through school. Maybe he is naïve, or maybe he thought we were. Or maybe he’s like most U.S. citizens and doesn’t think it matters. The thing is, though, corporate influence over and control of U.S. universities isn’t Mr. Fischer’s fault. It’s ours.
The official opposition to Rosemont Copper is a Tucson-based non-profit corporation called Save the Scenic Santa Ritas. Recently, on its group page on Facebook, an opponent of the mine was bemoaning the fact that Rosemont Copper is owned by a publicly-traded Canadian corporation, Augusta Resource. He was asking how Arizona could sanction a copper mine to a foreign corporation. I wrote back with a three word answer: World Trade Organization. Just because it’s happening “doesn’t make it right,” he countered. That’s true. Conversely, just because it isn’t right doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Thanks to WTO policies, corporations now have more legal rights than countries, let alone counties and towns, and the most powerful financial engines in the world are corporate rather than national economies. This transfer of power accelerated in 1944 with the signing of the Bretton-Woods agreement that created the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Corporations now control the information that passes through our universities, our access to seed, and in many cases our books and antiquities, as our libraries and museums are increasingly privatized. Corporations control our food supply, our power supply, our money, and even our prisons.
In The Matrix, an agent tells Morpheus that humans are not mammals as we believe we are, but actually a virus that has destroyed the earth. I’m not quite dark enough to agree with him, but I do believe we created that virus, and that virus is the corporation. Along with our immediate ancestors, we are the Drs. Frankenstein, and corporate personhood is our monster. In this brave new world we’ve created, consumerism is our soma. As our nation recovered from World War Two, our citizens lined up for their daily doses in supermarkets and malls, glad for the convenience and ease the corporations gave us. Before we knew it we were slaves to that system, and we still are today. Few knew way back then that our comfort came at the expense of those in the global south; blissed out, the average U.S. citizen didn’t ask questions.
Today, we have only to look at Tunisia and Egypt to see how possible it is for citizens to demand systemic change. What ingredients need be present? To me, the formula seems to be that about half the country must have nothing left to lose. Here in the United States, I’m not sure how far we are from that. Since the corporations now have almost all of the money, they make our soma in China so we can still afford it. Their slick promoter, the Chief of State, promises us change if we will only continue to have faith in the corporate state.
Toward the end of the Rosemont Copper tour, we traveled to the site of the mine, and we stood in the center of what would be the open pit, its floor two thousand feet below us. On the way back, one passenger asked Mr. Fischer, “Will this be on the ballot?” “This is not a popularity contest,” Mr. Fischer responded emphatically, even repeating the sentence. “We are making sure all our “I”s are dotted and our “T”s are crossed.” He was highly confident that the corporation’s perseverance and bankroll along with Pima County’s economic desperation would result in the mine moving forward.
When its citizens don’t take it seriously, democracy does indeed become a sick sideshow, today a blockbuster movie financed by the same corporations though the conduit of the lobbyist and the safeguard of the superdelegate. What should be considered an important public referendum on an irrevocable environmental act is marginalized to “a popularity contest”. Fischer said that with the help of its buddies at University of Arizona, Rosemont Copper is already moving the agave plant from the mining site, legally required of them because the plant feeds the endangered Lesser Long-Nosed Bat. Save the Scenic Santa Ritas and Pima County seem committed to fighting to the end with the meager resources available to them. As the economy in south eastern Arizona gets weaker and weaker, the public looks more favorably on the $900 million dollars Rosemont Copper will bring to the area.
Several years ago, I met with Maude Barlow in Canada to discuss the WTO, corporate domination, and the environment. She quoted fellow Canadian David Suzuki and referred to his metaphor about the lily pads on the pond. They multiply exponentially, she explained, and a pond only half covered one day can be completely choked the next, no longer able to sustain life. That was the state of the global environment, she said. It’s hard to say if this is true, since we’ve by-and-large lost our independent scientific research. In the years since I met with her, clearly more lily pads have accumulated on the pond. In any case, mining projects of any kind can’t help the fragile state of our environment. Most people don’t care, just as long as they get their soma.
In 2010, the country saw an important shift: for the first time in our history, more dams were removed than built. Why? Because independent science, funded mostly by nonprofits such as SRYCL (in my home town) have proven that not only are the fishes suffering by not being able to swim upstream and spawn as they once did, but the actual health of other native animals and of the land itself are being impacted by the fishes’ absence. The dams are also coming down because government agencies don’t have the money to repair or maintain what they once constructed. A mine seems to me to be analogous to a dam, something man-made that wildlife needs to adjust to, a structure whose presence holds hidden, long-term ramifications.
I live where the foothills meet the Sierra, and not far above us the forest has been clear-cut by a corporation called SPI. Every weekday each summer we watch the 18-wheelers haul timber down our road, often at break neck speed. Their habitat destroyed, deer, mountain lions, and black bears encroach on residential neighborhoods. Deer are hit daily by motorists and moved to the side of the road to feed the buzzards. Still, no significant movement has been organized to tell SPI they’ve destroyed enough habitat and made enough money. One brave friend of mine started clocking their trucks with a speed gun and reporting the offenders to the corporate office in town. A few citizen meetings were held. But each and every resident did not camp out on the road and tell SPI once and for all: No! With the lily pads filling the pond, this may be the level of action required. We don’t take the necessary steps to destroy the monster we’ve created simply because only a few of us see things this way. Most of us are in a survival mode of a more superficial nature: holding down enough work and buying enough things to continue the life style that has forged our identity as Americans.
I don’t yet have a final position on the Rosemont Mine. First I need to do more research, get my hands on what are apparently several independent studies, although Mr. Fischer only knew of one. I need to check facts and logic. (My feelings about environmental protection probably won’t be Arizona’s, either. Just today the Tucson Daily Star reported that Republican Senator Sylvia Allen has taken on the EPA, saying that Arizona shouldn’t waste its money protecting its citizens from the bogus threat of global warning and high levels of carbon dioxide emissions [http://azstarnet.com/news/science/environment/article_52343bbc-4bbc-5002-bef6-a24fd248b600.html].) Arizona citizens may want this mine, which is supposed to be the most eco-savvy mine every constructed in the state. Much more on that later.
But one thing I know now is how the scenic Santa Ritas got in this mess, and why they will probably end up—along with the Lesser Long-Nosed Bat and other wildlife—being less important than jobs and profits. We as U.S. citizens sold them out to the virus we created. So please, let’s stop whining. We did this. We only have ourselves, our complacency, and our addiction to consumerism to blame.
The scenic Santa Ritas. This is the view from the center of the projected pit.