Our paper draws on research in two sites where large goldmining projects are located - Misima and Lihir islands in Papua New Guinea. We examine the socio-economic context in which criticisms of environmental degradation arise. We discuss the social and political meanings embedded in local demands for compensation for environmental damage, drawing attention to the disparities between local Melanesian conceptions of the environment and global, Western ideas that inform international environmentalist criticisms of mining. We dispute the 'romantic primitivism' of some environmentalist discourse, using the work of ethno-ecologists and case studies of specific incidents on these islands, contesting the view that there is a natural conservationist ethic in Melanesia. The image of the 'noble primitive ecologist' that some environmentalists appeal to, would in most circumstances be rejected by Melanesians as racist and paternalistic, but is embraced as a strategy in conflicts with mining companies and when making legal claims for compensation. Alliances formed between landowners, environmentalists and western lawyers against mining companies such as BHP and Rio Tinto are based more on shared political ends than on the epistemological consistency of their perceptions of environmental damage from mining. Local Melanesian communities claim sovereignty over all resources and their compensation claims for environmental degradation constitute a new form of resource rent.
|Publication status||Published - 2004|