By Paul Brown
The collapse of the Soviet Union left Bulgaria achieving in the 1990s what the rest of the world is working hard to manage in the 2020s, a reduction in its carbon dioxide emissions of more than 45 percent.
But while a lot of inefficient mines and smelting plants have closed, the rump of the minerals industry survived. It is now expanding again, destroying pristine forests and wildlife and raising questions about Europe's policy of transporting ore across the globe for smelting and refining.
The lynx is one Bulgarian species in jeopardy from mining for gold and silver.Jonas Bengtsson / Wikimedia Commons
Vast quantities of raw material are transported by ship, but the emissions caused are not counted because shipping is not covered by the Paris Agreement of last December.
In countries across the Balkans the lure of high metal prices and the prospect of new employment are leading governments to ignore the heavy environmental costs of new mines.
In Bulgaria itself, for example, the collapse of inefficient mining and heavy industries led many to migrate to the cities, leaving the countryside with severe unemployment. More than one million emigrated to find new work abroad.
The knowledge that there are gold and silver deposits in the mountains has led to a new rush to open mines in pristine natural areas and a battle over whether Macedonia, Serbia and Bulgaria should foster agriculture and tourism or plump for the short-term gains of mining.
Climate change rarely gets mentioned in these arguments over the opening-up of beautiful forested areas and wildlife havens for mining. But the way the industry operates is adding dramatically to emissions of greenhouse gases.
This is because the banning of the use of cyanide means partly-separated silver and gold ore will be sent to Namibia for processing. Additionally, to feed spare capacity in European smelters for zinc and other metals, ore will be imported from South America.
The latest battle involves the impoverished and depopulated Trun border region of Bulgaria which contains a beautiful mountainous area, home to bears, wolves and lynx. Trun faces a difficult dilemma: to welcome or oppose plans for vast new gold and silver mines.
The mining area will come within 100 meters of the village of Erul, buried in the forested border with Serbia. Currently the village has 18 inhabitants.
Outside the tiny monastery next to the holy well, Archimandrite Joseph, the priest in charge, has no doubt that the mine will be bad for the people. "I am against the mine because it will destroy nature. God's garden should not be destroyed. We hesitate to build our houses bigger because it will damage the ecology, but the mining company wants to remove the whole hill."
The profusion of wild flowers, including many orchids, helps to make the area a Natura 2000 site, supposedly giving it special protection under European legislation. This has led the mining company, Euromax Services, to amend its original plans.
Instead of all being opencast quarries, three of the proposed mines inside the protected area will be underground, with three outside the Natura 2000 site still opencast.
The company's case is that the mine will provide 500 jobs in the impoverished municipality of Trun in which Erul lies, where by coincidence 500 of the population of 4,000 are unemployed.
The company is part-Bulgarian but the holding company, Assarel Medet, is incorporated in Malta. It has taken over an empty shop in the town and turned it into a well-furnished information center, where staff entertain local schoolchildren to geology lessons to educate them about the wonders of gold mining.
Elitsa Georgieva, the company's community relations chief, says it wants to take 750,000 tons of ore out of the mountain more than 26 years to extract the gold and silver. She says the 320-hectare tailings pond will be lined to prevent chemicals contaminating the water supply. In any case, she adds, the chemicals are not dangerous.
The proposed mine is on a ridge of mountains which have been exploited since ancient times, where the Greeks and Romans had extensive workings. The last mine in this area closed in the 1970s, but while gold remains at US$1,200 an ounce demolishing mountains to reach the ore is an economic proposition.
The company is currently paying experts to compile the environmental impact assessment required by law before the government will grant a permit to mine.
Rumiana Boyanova, aged 34, whose grandparents come from the district and who spends week-ends in the area, has formed a local resistance group.
"We have the cleanest air in Bulgaria, an untouched wilderness, with many rare and protected species. There are lots of interesting archaeological discoveries, Thracian, Roman and others yet to be properly studied", she said.
She does not believe the company's promises about recycling the water for the mine and fears the poisoning of drinking water and rivers.
"There is a much better alternative to mining in the increasing development of eco-tourism," Boyanova said. There is already an established local industry of picking wild herbs and hunting wild game like pigs and deer. "When the gold digging is finished in 20 years, we will be left with a moonscape."
Asked about climate change, she said that of course shifting 750,000 tons of rock would use vast amounts of diesel fuel and destroying the forests would release carbon. The company would not comment on climate change but said local environmental damage would be minimal. The concentrate containing the gold and silver will go to Namibia for final extraction.
Dimitar Sabev, a Bulgarian economist and journalist, who has studied the metal trade in Europe, said the new mine is part of a pattern of uncounted carbon emissions involving the transport of lead, zinc and copper concentrates from Latin America to the smelters of the European Union, Bulgaria's included. "This 10,000 km-long trade line across oceans is tax-exempt and free to create considerable emissions, since it is a several million tons load."
The controversial free trade agreement between the EU and Peru and Colombia, dating from 2013, cemented these fast-growing shipments.
"The least that could be said is that this trade is carbon-irresponsible," Sabev said. "I personally see here another manifestation of resource exploitation and profiting from others' underdevelopment. The environmental impacts remain hidden from the public."
He says work is still in progress on calculating the emissions involved, but ore transport from South America to Europe will not be less than 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide—which is not counted in EU inventories.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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World's Richest One Percent Are Producing More Than Double the Carbon Emissions as the Bottom 50 Percent
A new report from Oxfam found that the wealthiest one percent of the world produced a carbon footprint that was more than double that of the bottom 50 percent of the world, The Guardian reported. The study examined 25 years of carbon dioxide emissions and wealth inequality from 1990 to 2015.
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