Text presented at the CEDEUS (Centro de Desarrollo Urbano Sustentable) International Conference:
Sustainable Urban Development, Concepts and Methods
Campus Lo Contador, Providencia, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Wednesday 22 January – Friday 24 January 2014
Planning in the desert: sustainability and mining, actors and cities
This investigation is about the Antofagasta region and its sustainability: can this region be sustainable?
A starting point is recognizing some of its remarks:
- Dependence of natural resources
- Cultural uprooting
- Specialization and transience
- An extreme environment
This is a region that has lived upon the sign of what the greeks called the aletheia, the disclosure. In this case, the revelation of its rich assets hidden below the surface of the desert.
Which has created a life of encampments, company towns and seaport harbours. Temporary settlements and dwellings built and dismantled once and again regarding the cycle of mines and its promises of wealth.
It is worth then to resume how do we define sustainability, a concept that has experienced an evolution since its introduction in the 1970s.
First approach: it was about environment and the biophysical and chemical records of human activities. There is a significant amount of indicators and standards of intensive use around the world, an important number of them introduced in our country on behalf the mining industry.
A second view focuses on society and the development of skills to measure itself with sustainability (Fricker, 1998). It reveals here the notions of a sense and a meaning for what it is being built as society, a project that develops itself in time asuming an intergenerational nature, incorporating institutions, economy, society. A link is stablished between sustainability and planning.
At the present, in a third approach, what is looked forward is the integration and the capacity to put in accordance economy sectors, the administrations, actions from different origins and territorial scales, in a comprehensive way, to build a strategy that converge in a culture of sustainability, while culture is conceptualized as the way a community of conscious actors seeks to interpret, simbolize and transform its environment. A main tool to the task is the idea of plan and planning, as a common reading of the future.
In this interpretation, it is posible to recognize the link between sustainability and planning as well as the need of generating a culture that allows change towards more sustainability.
In history and nowadays in the Antofagasta region takes place a great scale facilities unfolding –extractive and industrial, transport and delivery, roads, harbours, airports, aqueducts and mining produce ducts, among others- which accounts for substantial investments modulated in time. This means that there is planning. The question is: who plans in the desert?
First option is that it should be mainly performed by the State
In Antofagasta the public sector did plan and build huge public works, the seaport in the decades of 1920 to 1940, along with the best architecture built there -the Modern Movement introduction in the country is strongly linked with public works-, searching to turn this ports into real cities. Besides planning the development of the country as well, explicitly in the period that goes from the 1940s to the beginning of the 1970s. It was the chilean state manner of the import substitution industrialization.
This kind of stamp doesn’t exist any longer.
What we have at the present time is an aggregation of private decisions that generates economic growth. It is the neoliberal state. That does not plan but (de)regulates so that private decisions have a wider acting space.
The state, asuming that its role is subsidiary, doesn’t identify economic sectors to lead that growth, which turns to be private iniciative (Meller, 2013).
It’s the neoliberal ideology and the predominance of the market, in the context of the structural trilogy in Chile:
i) free markets
ii) external opening
iii) the only engine of the economy is private sector
So there is no such thing as a nation’s view of its own development nor long terms perspective because there is no need of them (Meller, 2013). The strategy is that the market determines where to assign resources, so that growth is guaranteed. The country goes where the market decides.
The current chilean state does not plan, except about what could be functional with the directions set by the private sector. This neoliberal State has a role different from the promotion of development or sustainability
Then the secod option is that the mining companies are the ones that perform planning. Which they do for sure but it is not their mission the sustainable development of the operational territory that allocates them, but they plan their own bussiness. Of course they must accomplish domestic norms and pay the taxes and royalties stablished, and permanently look for legitimate an activity that impacts on the territory and the communities within it, this is the social and legal license to operate on local, regional, national and global levels.
On the basis of a deep review of their processes, the mining industry has generated a corporative policy (Mining, minerals and sustainable development, MMSD, 2002) to face the issues related to environment and communities, with the outcome of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), involving a number of iniciatives (donations, funding, financing, colaborations, and the like), which can be a real and substantial contribution to the human surroundings in a large range of aspects. But still sustainable develoment of a region isn’t a corporate responsibility.
There´s to be seen what happens with CreoAntofagasta, an experience led and funded by BHP Billiton, that undoubtedly assumes a wider prospective (see http://www.creoantofagasta.cl for further information). But it is to be said that there´s no chance to replace the public role and liability in this matter.
We have seen that nor the state nor the private mining companies have an agenda that considers a sustained planning process in the direction of sustainabilty.
At this point, what I was looking for was an ideology of sustainability able to confront the deregulating, privatize-driven and market-centered neoliberal ideology. It was said that we needed to meet a sustainable culture that would open space for the contemporary approach: an integrated, comprehensive, long range sustainability concept.
We can attend to the links between culture and ideology, concepts that are useful for this analysis.
Culture was defined as the way a community of conscious actors seeks to interpret, simbolize and transform its environment.
We understand ideology close to the definition of Therborn (1980) as a part of the human condition through which human beings live their lives as as conscious and reflexive beings, action starters in a structured and meaningful world. Ideology is a mean for the operation of that conscience and significance.
It is not my intention to go further in this aspect, just to say that basic clues that link both concepts are conscience and the skills to transform.
With this definitions and confluence between culture and ideology, I looked forward for the actors, subjects of any of the alternatives for sustainability in Antofagasta.
I wanted to know if, in their speeches and understanding of the world, from the positions and roles they hold, beyond their institutional, corporative or social belongings, there is an ideology of sustainability.
Ideology is uderstood as a dialectical relation, involving:
i) the submission of the subject to the King, the social order and the like, fastened to an agenda and restrictions, but also
ii) the qualification to act, in order to change and perform concrete actions, a creative actor of history.
This questioning dialectics happens in a territory with scarse urban tradition. As I said, it has been a life of encampments, company towns, of conmutants, temporary inhabitants to which life happens in other places: main investments, family improvements, the future lies elsewhere
It is in the city where the most valuable interactions occur, the place to find associative links, creativity, innovation. An urban offer, with life quality, adequate goods and services, able to attract and retain qualified inhabitants, seems that hasn’t been posible, yet.
In this transit from company town, cities in the region are still learning to stablish its citizens.
So, we have a natural resources gifted region, uprooted, a desert, the dryest of the world. Its main tendencies look to rush the exploitation of those resources to export as quickly as possible the income generated. We have already characterized the institutional scenario.
Far from sustainability.
All actors declare that they want sustainable development: mining companies with their corporate policies, the State in its declaration of public policies, civil society in its speeches. There`s hope for sustainability!
It is in the actors that we may find the possibility of change, as far as they hold an ideology of sustainability, able to confront neoliberalism.
The dialectics between submission and qualification, questions subjects and makes them face and recognize:
i) what exists, and what does not: to find identity, certainty, knowledge:
ii) what is good, that structures desires and evaluates them, the ethics;
iii) what is possible, to measure consequences of change, hopes, risks and fears.
To asume a compromise, you have to know what exists, to define if it is good or not and then be convinced that there is a chance of changing it. The step that completes this reasoning is the decision to act in consequence. This is a complete conscience, that closes a possible fragmentation.
What does the evidence collected with the interviewed actors shows us?
1. The predominance of a short range and biophysical environment obsessed vision of sustainable development
“Here they are fulfilled all of the highest standars on environment and, of course there are effects … but you have to break eggs to make pankakes, have you not?”
“even to think on a chain of future actions is a main abstraction effort for any human being and thinking about sustainability planning is a most ambitious matter”.
“Is there a plan, a long range comission, are ther people thinking about this region? I believe there`s no one doing that kind of thing”.
There are costs to be paid:
“Mining provides jobs, services and … it also takes years of life and life quality as well … the same boss that taking away sustainability is feeding you … it is the fate of this region”
2. A permanent doubt about human capital in the region and the possibility of arranging a critical mass, apt to the challenges:
“to research and innovate to increase productivity, whatever bussiness you are talking about … definitely there is no capacity in Antofagasta, that is clear enough, a lot has been done and we have advanced so much but there are no abilities”.
“Association skills to create linkages between public and private, yes but that has to go along with the generation of a critical mass … of quality intelectual production, and a citizens critical mass, the only capable of pushing forward such a process”
“The key is the generation of a regional conversation to create shared visions and to make regional leaders to understand that the future of the region depends upon them fundamentally”.
3. Actors reveal diverse interests
“Who is going to think…?”
“We have the obligation to … imagine where should things go … show trends, opening spaces for the rest of society to start acting in that direction”.
“The company develops a good citizens practice, a social work towards its employees and the community, with whom aquires a respect, a positive relationship”
“You are exploiting the mines, you are paying taxes … everything is within legal boundaries so far …But nevertheless we wnat to look forward, we want know what’s going to happen with all this and we want to do it together with you”.
4. Asymmetry as a constant that has configured the region in almost all dimensions
“The desert throws away, it pushes you out, except if there is a very big wealth, as there is here, that is why there’s people here… With out it, what would be here? … Nothing at all”.
“The large private mining in the north of Chile … can do a lot, but a lot more and if we want to make this region sustainable, it must do much, much more, really a lot more. All that it is done by now is very little compared with what it could be done together”.
“there are many difficulties on proposing a frontal strategy that goes to put rules to the private sector … Sustainability is nonetheless an empty concept, which it is not possible to fill with contents in such an easy way…”
“they (the companies) do not see the territory but their investments”.
“Mining is a productive sector too invasive and not only with physical environment, it predatory with other resourses, per example, with hydrological resources, but not only with this aspects but also with people’s life quality”
“Being Antofagasta a rich region (quotation marks, please…) in relation with what it contributes to national product, it is not that it doesn’t get any reward on that … definitely what is left for the region is not much, but the problem is that it is less than what people in the region believes it should be”
“this is an unitarian country, it is a sole nation and things are shared out as I’m explaining to you, the share is not on behalf of what each one produces, but on what each region needs, which is totally other thing. This generates a bif frustration”.
It does not seem to be clear signs of a sustainable development driven path.
The massive mining activities induce a short term orientation, concentrated in investment returns.
Main cities (Calama and Antofagasta) grow without an explicit future image –the aggregation of private initiatives creates random urban forms) with low quality of life in qualitative terms. It is not a favorable and suggestive urban field to put forward knowledge and innovation.
In terms of the analysis of the presence of an ideology of sustainability and its capacity to affect that of neoliberalism, the questions made about knowing what exists, identifying what is good or not about it, defining what is possible to do and take the decision to act, get fragmented answers.
In the actors prevail a fragmented conscience, that does not complete the way from desire to action. Actors “express their desire” of sustainability, which identifies clearly what should be done but it is not, confronted to the assymetries described.
Finally, sustainability is a creation that requires knowledge and will.
That step missing could be found on social processes that should be introduced, and on new capacities that may be disclosed and brought together by new conceptions.
A starting point is to asume that sustainable development it is also a social and political challenge.
José Piga, Dr. Arch., January 24, 2014
(Please, visit http://www.cedeus.cl for information on Center activities and research fields)
Fricker, Alan, 1998, Measuring up to sustainability, on Futures vol. 30, Nº 4, pp. 367-375
Meller, Patricio, 2013, La viga maestra y el sueldo de Chile: mirando el futuro con los ojos del cobre, Uqbar Editores, Santiago de Chile.
MMSD, 2002, Breaking new ground. The report on the mining, minerals and sustainable development project, Earthscan, London.
Therborn, Goran, 1980, The ideology of power and the power of ideology, Verso, London.