02 May 2012

Commodity Fetishism, Cyanide, and Gold

In Na Nong Bong, the hazards of mining and the TKL mining company have reached the people. They can no longer use rain water or river water because it is too contaminated to drink, but many of the households cannot afford bottled water so they must drink and bathe in the hazardous water. This has occurred because of a gold mine located one km away from the community on Phu Thap Fah Mountain. Why is this gold necessary? Its use within technology and consumerism must be important enough to pursue despite the dangers that mining presents to Na Nong Bong and other marginalized populations. 
Prior to arriving in the Na Nong Bong area, my peers and I learned a great deal about the mining process in Thailand, specifically the gold mining process. At the present time, Thailand only permits open-pit mining, the extraction of minerals from a large man-made pit, rather than traditional mining which is more expensive and hazardous to laborers. There are multiple extraction methods for gold, but the one used most frequently in Thailand is gold cyanidation. This process involves soaking ore in cyanide until the gold is leached out, this cyanide is then stored in tailing ponds which can often leak into soil and nearby water systems. This toxic process incurs environmental and health risks that affect the communities surrounding the mine sites.
The mining process is problematic on all levels, but is seen as a necessary evil by anyone that uses technology. The sentiment that if modernity is to be maintained then we must extract minerals from the earth at an ever increasing rate is unsustainable and unconscionable. There is no way to maintain this level of modernity without critically endangering natural resources and marginalized populations.
The injustice that faces Na Nong Bong speaks to a deeper issue than environmentalism, it is an illustration of the skewed priorities of our modern world. Consumerism is the insatiable desire for goods which is an unsustainable movement that is leading to the earth’s disintegration. If this were not frightening enough, the consumers rarely have the foresight or resources to research where the goods came from so informed decisions cannot be made. It is this willing and demanding blindness which drives commodity fetishism within our consumer culture.
All objects and goods are fetishized by consumers as most people do not know where their dinner came from let alone their cell-phone. Consumers are ignorant of the social and environmental implications of an object. It is made up of resources, and resources were used in its production; the extraction of said resources and assembly of the object takes human labor. All these variables contribute the real cost of an object, but that real cost is rarely charged and so the consumer buys what they think is a replaceable object. It is this planned obsolescence that drives the demand but truly the object is irreplaceable in its global impact.
The willingness of mining companies to ignore human outcry proves that demand on these products outweighs the moral implication in their use. It proves that there is very little thought put into the consumption of minerals. There has been no effort on the Thai government’s part to curb TKL’s cyanide extraction or their plans to mine Phu Lek after Phu Thap Fah has been drained of gold. TKL leaves its tailing ponds unlined, free to leach into the water table, and this sort of cost-cutting occurs because there is no consumer asking “where did my gold jewelry come from and were any people hurt in its creation?” No, those questions are not asked by consumers, because if they were, the consumer would not exist.

Taryn Orona
Beloit College

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