3 May 2016
Dumping mining waste in Norwegian Fjords?
The Norwegian Government has permitted Nordic Mining ASA's to start mining rutile in Vevring and Naustedal, and subsequently dispose of waste in Førdefjorden. This has created some controversy as local and state authorities have approved the plans while environmental organisations and affiliated interested groups have opposed this decision.
Activists have voiced their disagreement and over 100 people were removed and fined by the police due to a demonstration which involved activists chaining themselves to Nordic Mining's equipment. These interest groups' main claim is that mining activity and marine waste disposal will have a negative impact marine life native to Førdefjorden. Havforskningsinstituttet (Institute of Marine Research) have in part supported such claims and advocated that waste disposal in the fjord poses a substantial risk to the marine ecosystem in Førdefjorden.
Naturally, Nordic Mining claim that their current plans are acceptable and that new industry is necessary as a shift from petroleum activity, creating new jobs and further develop a mineral industry in mainland Norway. The Norwegian Environmental Protection Agency, prior to allowing planned mining activities in April 2015, had turned down the proposal in 2014 due to environmental considerations.
This is a typical dispute between economic (in a narrow view) and environmental interests. The answer is not necessarily based on whether one adheres to one camp or the other as it is natural to want both, however achieving them both is impossible due to opportunity costs. Therefore we must ask ourselves how much we are willing to “sacrifice” of one in order to acquire the other and then compare it to the options presented to us. Yet, even if this was clear we should also keep in mind the natural bias towards everything which is easily quantifiable, such as the economic gains from new industry. It is important to recognise the problems of attempting to always put another “price tag” on our environment. If not, we may fall into a vicious habit of always prioritising GDP growth for the next IMF or World Bank report, rather than the environment which we will have to endure until the next space shuttle to Mars.
Bottom LineEconomic activity taking place in any environment will have several stakeholders, however in the context of the natural environment or nature we should be cautious and guard against a bias favouring "easily" measurable economic activity and thus neglect other services provided by natural capital.
* Please comment on these posts from my environmental economics students, to help them with unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data, etc.