Living things are more than the sum of their minerals


I tell you, that’s a beautiful fish. It’s a sockeye salmon, native to Washington state, British Columbia, and Alaska, a gorgeous anadromous beast that has to spawn in lakes of the Pacific Northwest. Huge numbers of them live in Bristol Bay off the Alaska coast, which is pretty much the center of their population range.

Now mining interests want to gouge out what would be the largest open pit mine in North America in their breeding grounds. They want to punch this monstrosity out in the middle of a wilderness, requiring roads and other infrastructure elements to be built first, and then they’ll sluice the poisonous wastewater and toxic mining tailings out into the Kvichak and Nushagak Rivers, and then out into Bristol Bay. All to recover gold and copper, at the cost of destroying half the sockeye population.

What price are we willing to pay for the privilege of poisoning the salmon?


  1. says

    On the other hand, this is just the kind of thing that might drive my father’s ashes into reconstituting themselves into a vengeful rampaging ghost of destruction.

    On the third hand, he was rather despairing of the state of the salmon in his last years, and this might just confirm his cynicism.

  2. says

    There are many things that make me despair for humanity. This kind of unmitigated greed — grabbing at profit and not giving a damn if it destroys everything in the process — is right at the top of the list. When these people find out that they can no longer have a salmon dinner because THEY KILLED OFF ALL OF THE SALMON it will be far to late for hand-wringing.

    Being an old fart, I am reminded of Reagan’s first Secretary of the Interior, James Watt. He had no problem selling off the nation’s natural resources and allowing horrific environmental abuses because Jesus was coming back real soon, and we don’t need to worry about future generations. I see that this attitude hasn’t changed at all in the last 30 years.

  3. yazikus says

    That is just terrible. I was recently listening to a bit on the radio about how the Puget Sound failed it’s water “report card” horribly. Also, there is that hanford problem. With all of it’s leaking into the Columbia.
    I was mushroom hunting a few weeks ago, and up near the watershed you could see that people had tresspassed (the Keystone Fairies) and littered, and done who knows what else up there. It made me really angry. Stories like this make me angry.

  4. congenital cynic says

    This is a no-brainer. You don’t develop the mine, if the price is the salmon.

    And of course they will try to spin it in such a way that they say there is no problem for the salmon. But I don’t trust them. It’s all about trust. I just don’t trust anyone in a resource extraction business.

    This, plus fracking, plus monsanto, plus other greed-based things, and we are fucked.

    When I was 21 and on the point of finishing my undergraduate degree I felt I didn’t want to have children because I thought the world was so fucked up that it would be tragic to bring people into this world with the view to what they would face. And that was 35 years ago. I ended up – through convoluted means – with more children than I ever imagined, and now I dread the world they face.

    Between the environmental destruction, global warming, the constant low grade state of war that the west seems to be involved in, and the insane right wing religious shitheads who continue to be elected to office in the US (self-declared exceptional country in the world), and a few other factors, I find myself despondent. Thank the FSM for fermentation.

  5. says

    And the “Discovery” Networks are full of shows where people waving flags and toting bibles go destroy entire valleys looking for enough gold to break even or even make a few hundred thousand.

    I had to laugh at one, where the bible-thumping, prayer-group-leading conservative stood near the huge US flag they had on their shed in the valley they had destroyed, clutching his glass jar of gold flakes and declared that “only in America, the greatest country in the world” would such a thing be possible for a guy like him.

    He was in Calgary.

  6. cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming) says

    We could be digging for the stuff in landfills

    Apropos of not much in particular, this statement (with which I agree) sent me googling to here:

    … and I had to play the periodic table how many elements can you name game.

    After a gimme for Astatine (half-life 8.1 hours; it’s Technetium’s twitchy I was never here cousin), I folded at Dubnium, with some bonuses from the lanthanides and actinides.

    Good job I’m not a chemist, eh?

    Oh, but do read the link. It’s interesting!

    Scientists with the Global Phosphorus Research Initiative estimate that within 30 to 40 years there won’t be enough phosphorus from mining to meet agricultural demand, and predict a global peak in 30 years.

    Yet phosphorus is relatively easy to recover from water systems. Every year the global population excretes around three million tonnes of phosphorus in urine and faeces and highly populated cities have been described as phosphorus hotspots. If urine can be kept separate from the rest of the sewage, it can be applied straight to the fields. In some parts of Sweden, all new toilets must be able to divert urine for storage and use by local farmers.

  7. w00dview says

    But JOBS!

    And that line of bullshit gets swallowed up more easily in rough economic times. The other message of course is that the mining will be the ONLY source of jobs possible, no alternatives are possible. So sorry salmon, sucks to be you!

  8. adamreith says

    It is money in the ground, and just like every drop of oil and lump of coal, it will be dug up by the rapacious über chimpanzees that comprise the human race. Nothing will stop us chimps from getting at all that buried wealth, consequences be damned. It is what we do.

  9. says

    So they’re going to threaten $1.5 billion annual value for $100 million dollars of $500 billion of minerals once?

    How is this a good deal, exactly? That’s not even enough taxes and fees to mitigate the damage done, let alone replace it.

  10. grumpyoldfart says

    Once the mining lobby throws a few thousand dollars at the politicians it will get the OK to kill half the fish – and if it hands out a Christmas bonus the politicians will let them kill the other half.

    Of course the citizens could protest – but what are the chances of that happening?

  11. ChasCPeterson says

    fuck I melded threads.
    uh so

    Gold and copper?
    I use, uh, wires?

    never mind.

  12. says

    The big question I did not see in the Salon article to which this post linked: who is paying for the roads?

    Little known fun-fact: much of the timber clear-cutting or other exploitation of resources is barely profitable unless the public builds roads into the target land. If the loggers or miners or whoever actually had to pay for the roads in most cases the cost would prove prohibitive. Rent-taking at its best.

    I sent an e-mail to the address on the “Save Bristol Bay” site asking about this. I hope it proves helpful to them.

  13. Walt Garage says

    Mining is 100% environmentally safe and no one or thing has ever been injured by it. Damn hippies!

  14. spamamander, internet amphibian says


    Sockeye and Chinook/King salmon are just… not only are they an integral food source for wildlife and humans alike, but its a huge identity to this part of the world. Just… no.

    I’ll admit to a bias for the fact they’re terribly tasty as well. My dad makes the most fantastic smoked salmon… and teriyaki grilled salmon…

  15. says

    Yeah, the article said the whole thing was worth 100 million in taxes and fees.

    100 million could easily be squandered just on roads.

  16. Garrett Smith says

    Rest assured Discovery Channel will proudly glorify the mining in a new “reality” show, mindlessly running commercials for the show during their ever-less-frequently aired nature documentaries.

  17. says

    Put this on top of the stuff that’s happening in Maine:

    Governor LePage hired a chemical company, hydroelectric company, manufacturing company lobbyist as his head of the Department of Environmental Protection.

    Fuck this country. We care about the bottom dollar more than we care about anything else. If it kills people, kills animals, or kills the enviroment, who cares, it makes some corporation marginally richer in the end.

  18. says

    When these people find out that they can no longer have a salmon dinner because THEY KILLED OFF ALL OF THE SALMON

    There will always be nice, verrrrry expensive farm-raised salmon that the rich can buy in an exercise of conspicuous consumption.

  19. DLC says

    The soullessness of so-called enlightened self interest. The idea that the environment will be okay because people just want to make a profit, and don’t want to ruin the environment because it’s their environment too. But that just doesn’t hold up, when they don’t give a damn if they ruin The salmon spawning ground,make a few billion here and there, and leave a ruin.This is why we need an EPA with real teeth and muscle, instead of the weak ass crumbs we have now.