How to Stop Illegal Gold Mining in the Rainforest

29 Jul
I saw this article (link below) the other day and was dismayed since I have been twice to the Tambopata region of Peru and love this part of the world:
Peru Scrambles to Drive Out Illegal Gold Mining and Save Precious Land
How can we stop the illegal gold mining in Peru? I believe we need to approach any issue from a systemic point of view. Laws are never one hundred percent effective even if a government has the resources to enforce them. The underlying problem must be solved rather attacking its symptoms. In order to do so in this case we need to ask ourselves the question: “What would motivate a person to labor at an illegal activity in a hot mosquito infested environment?” The answer is that gold miners simply want to support their families in a dignified manner and they have been marginalized by the rest of society. Society has two choices: 1) spend massive amounts of resources stuffing their prisons to overflowing and taking care of the children they have effectively made into orphans and wait for the next inevitable manifestation of the underlying issue, or 2) deal with the underlying social issue and watch as the problem dissolves.
In this case, how does a society go about correcting the marginalization of a group; a group whose current level of functionality is to labor at pulling a mineral out of the mud and destroying a precious resource as they do so? How do we increase their level of functionality? How might they become an asset to society rather than a destroyer of a resource? How do we help them become physicians, technicians, inventors, entrepreneurs and researchers? The answer is Education, Education, Education and Support. It is obvious that I have written ‘education’ three times. Here is the basic detail of the answer:
  • Universal access to higher education (even for those in small towns). This will increase the level of functionality of those who currently have no choice but to make an attempt at a living any way they can.
  • Education regarding the harmful effects of gold mining to the environment, the forest and the children living downstream. It is likely that many of the miners are unaware of the effects of mercury (children are the most vulnerable).
  • Education about the fragility and value of a fully intact rainforest
  • The international community must for now, support individual government’s efforts at enforcing their environmental laws and educating the public.
 Any economist will tell us that there is no free lunch or free education either. It does cost society (all of us) but providing an education does not produce a net deficit but a net benefit to all of society. Those educated will go on to add to the bottom line as they prosper and they will share the cost of educating the next generation and so on. This makes it worthwhile from a purely economic standpoint let alone that of the alleviation of suffering. And the economic benefit only gets better as one looks at what we will no longer have to spend, billions to enforce ineffective laws and incarceration.
These ideas are just a start. What would other smart folks add to it? Let’s start a dialogue and maybe an online brainstorming session and see what we can come up with. You will find me happy to add your constructive comments and ideas here and of course show credit where due.
Note: the photo at top was shot at the Inotawa lodge in the Tambopata region of the Peruvian Amazon; the same general area the article discusses.
For more photos of this region of Peru please visit these photo blogs:
Inotawa Lodge Tambopata, Peru 2013
Inotawa, Tambopata Peru 2015
Tambopata Research Center – Refugio Lodge, Peru 2015

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