Comments Off | Visual Research
Small-scale gold mining in Suriname goes back as far as the early 1700s, when the first five ounces of gold dust were exported to the Netherlands. However, the industry did not really pick up as a viable means of making a living until over a century later, when developments to support the industry began to take root. Then in the 1970s and 80s, a veritable gold rush took place, as minimal regulations on mining allowed for necessary funds to support the guerrilla activity of political upheaval, and isolated rainforest communities needed a way to import food, supplies and equipment.
The gold industry—particularly small-scale mining, which is understood to be “characterized by a labor force that is not formally trained in mining and uses rudimentary techniques for prospecting, extracting, and processing of gold”—is good for the economy, and provides much-needed work opportunities for the Surinamese people. Some living in the Maroon communities and the large numbers of Brazilian immigrants benefit, at least monetarily speaking, from the entire mining service economy. This includes not just the miners themselves but also the “women who sell food and cigarettes in the mining area, the owners of small stores, cooks, carpenters, sex workers, and transport providers, among others.” The industry supports the economies of several small forest villages that have few other options for creating income.
Despite certain economic advantages, gold mining is severely problematic for almost every other sector of life in Surinamese communities, as it has adverse physical, health, and environmental effects for all those connected to the mining industry and beyond. Small-scale mining causes serious land degradation by creating swamps, open craters, and major pollution through the use of oil and toxic substances. Large amounts of standing water create fertile beds for disease-carrying mosquitoes, and a severely lacking public health system allows for frequent malaria transmission.
In addition, the mining system creates significant amounts of water pollution, forcing villagers to travel long distances to source clean drinking water. This also significantly reduces the availability of fish, which generally serve as the only means for protein. Furthermore, small-scale miners use a technique that involves mercury, meaning that about 10 to 20,000 kilograms of mercury are released into Suriname’s air and ecosystem on an annual basis. Because the majority of workers are young men, the sex industry is rampant in mining areas, leading to widespread sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS.
There are also socioeconomic issues that come along with the instability of the mining industry. With very little regulation and control in place, incomes are variable and unreliable, and rampant crime and violence lead to both chaos and insecurity.
The active players in this debacle are:
+The wider gold industry
+The miners themselves
+Miners’ families + communities
+Indigenous peoples and Maroons that are not involved in mining
+Natural environment + ecosystems
So is the trade-off worth it?
While the financial benefits associated with mining disappear soon after mining activities have ceased, the negative environmental, health, and social implications remain long after miners have left the area. How do we weigh the cost-benefits of a system that provides financial resources, but simultaneously manages to destroy and deplete so many paramount factors of life? Overall, it seems as though gold-mining in Suriname is not sustainably life-giving, unless the industry makes some radical changes in its behavior.
Comments Off | Design Strategies
I see kids like this all the time in Portland OR. Crusty Punks. Gutter Punks. Freegans. Walking around in a monotone pack, usually with a scruffy dog who doesn’t know any better. (Dogs are wonderful companions in that way.)
I’m always interested in their story. Not that I ask. The layered gray clothes, half shredded and overly worn, always intrigue me. I start thinking about the amount of time and what circumstances got those clothes to look like that. And then this leads to the people themselves.(warning some graphic images here – add related) Many scenarios play through my head. Random evening news teen statistics and my mother’s childhood warnings discussed in our awkward but important talks ranging from drugs too sex start to influence the story in my head. I look into their faces and realize that they are close to my age. I wonder if was their choice or another unfortunate predicament.
For some reason I want to believe it’s their choice to live that way. And I’m like “Good for you, F the system!”, and all. There seems to be reactive anger in this choice though. Even a defeatist point of view. By their physical appearance alone, they are making a major statement about the state of our culture and society. Time and experience are values regarded higher than money. Visually the monotone appearance is that of unity through the choice of what the norm would call struggle. It’s a return to our roots in a way. This perspective is all hopeful and positive though; something I see beyond their worn appearance when I look into their youthful faces.
Ed Buryn’s book and guide Vagabonding in the USA written in 1983, as found in the Whole Earth Catalog under the Nomadic section, is a resource for people who are also interested in choosing the value of time over money through the transient lifestyle. The Catalog seems to make this point through out it’s pages. But the Vagabonding motive, unlike these contemporary crusty kids, seems to be more about exploring self through travel, not denying self by rolling over and getting fucked up all the time.
“The Internet enables me to make my living – any time and place – and share my life and ideas online like an open book.”
Now, this guy has his roots in hitting the road in a beat up VW like so many stereotypical sole searchers, but the fact that he’s making cash from wandering around as a lifestyle seems a little insincere if not a joke. Maybe, he believes he deserves it, having lived the life for so long. He also rides around in a Winnebago which he calls “My Destiny”. (Similar to this.)
Jessica Degroot’s message is a positive example that seems to be more fitting with the values learned from time spent in wanderlust. Here the values of community, people, and time over money, extend beyond self indulgence for the benefit for others. She says ”We really shouldn’t have to choose between career aspirations and family aspirations, but before more of us can do this, we need to continue to push for more flexible organizations, supportive public policy, and progressive conversations at home.”
I’m not advocating to be a stay at home family member, nor am I saying we should all hit the road and live the transient lifestyle. But there can be values learned from travel exploration that we can start to incorporate into our understanding of values and ways of life if done in a positive manner.
The Barter Network Handbook last published in 1983, is described by Stewert Brand in The Whole Earth Catalog as “Another one of those slightly fusty do-gooder manuals, but the subject is one that, like open air farmers’ markets…can do alot to connect a community. Sometimes you barter goods, but mostly people barter services; either way, you leave the IRS out of it. Village economics in an urban world, self-rewarding”.
Although this book is listed as out of print on Amazon, the notion of bartering has made its way onto the internet in a wide array of forms and in a range of communities. From this Boston Globe article from April 2009 “Some indicators suggest the number of bartering exchanges is increasing. Earlier this month, a popular advertising website, Craigslist, announced that its barter listings increased by 100 percent during the past year. A bartering website, www.u-exchange.com, which reports 60,000 members in 82 countries, said its membership has nearly doubled over the same time”
These online sites usually work with a credit based system; you can list your goods or service and determine the amounts of credits they are worth, you are then linked to a network of other individuals and businesses who want to barter. This way, you don’t have to make direct exchanges to get what you want, rather you earn or lose credits within the network you are part of! An old studio mate of mine used to exchange her stained glass for dog food through Greenbarter. The benefits of the barter system are numerous in that it is a flexible and customizable way to meet all the participants needs, a great example of the innovation possible is written about in this 2002 Seattle Times article that describes barter systems being used at small private colleges. “Six families have swapped their swine for scholarship, trading hogs that are worth little on the open market for classes on Lindenwood’s tree-lined suburban campus. They have filled the cafeteria’s freezers with fresh-off-the-farm sausage, bacon — even whole pigs, which are smoked on an outdoor barbecue spit before home football games.” The article goes on to describe another campus that is providing students who volunteer on campus and in the community with tuition rebates. As the economy declines and structures dissolve, it begins to allow old models to become viable and regain credibility. And, with the ever expanding net of the inter-web the options for barter become expansive.
I have often thought it would be interesting to organize regions within the US to exchange goods via barter with other regions within our borders, promoting economic security and internal interdependence, it may also serve as a unifying paradigm for regions that tend towards political animosity. The Northwest trading Blackberries to the Southeast who trades peanut oil to New England who sends Maple Syrup to the Southwest who trades chilies to the Midwest who sends Corn to the Northwest. People interested could join co-op’s specializing in this kind of exchange to ensure users were getting what they needed and bartering their surplus. This type of exchange could also be a major boon to government and community organizations trying to feed and diversify the diets impoverished citizens living in a land with a bounty of growing climates and food resources. That may just be the “the fusty do-gooder” in me but I think a barter based economy can be a more legitimate economy then one based on Mortgages-backed securities and derivatives.