Mining Industry Sets Sights on Northern Europe's Fragile Wilderness

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Mining Industry Sets Sights on Northern Europe's Fragile Wilderness

Mining boom hitting a "point of no return," Finnish government official says

Is the sun setting on Lapland's pristine natural beauty — on which the region's tourism industry depends? (Photo: Visit Finland)

Europe's fragile northern wilderness, along with the Indigenous people and animals that live there, are under imminent threat from the international mining industry, the Guardian reported Wednesday. 

Species such as the lynx, bear, wolverine, wolf, and reindeer risk being harmed, as do the Lapland and Sami indigenous communities that depend on clean waters and intact habitats for subsistence fishing and game-hunting, as mining companies develop northern Finland, Sweden, and Norway in search of metals and mineral deposits.

Environmentalists say permitting is lax and supervision is practically nonexistent, making the risk of contamination and pollution run high.

The Guardian reports:

The polar mining boom, which mirrors the oil industry’s search for oil and gas, is heating up as climate change makes new areas and sea routes accessible and world prices of iron ore continue to soar.

So far in 2014, 349 applications for mining permits have been made, of which 243 have been for Finland. Over one-eighth of Finland, an area twice the size of Wales, has now been designated for mining and hundreds of applications for exploration licenses have been received by the government.

According to some studies, the Arctic holds over a fifth of the world’s untapped, recoverable oil and gas resources, as well as major reserves of rare earth, coal, uranium, gold, diamonds, zinc, platinum, nickel and iron ore.

Government officials appear to be cognizant of the inherent risks, but whether they can stand up to international mining interests remains to be seen.

“The number of mining permits in Lapland is now so big that we are approaching a tipping point, a point of no return,” Tero Mustonen, lead author in the Finnish government’s Arctic Biodiversity Assessment and president of Finland's Snowchange Cooperative, told the Guardian. “If and when the current mining exploration and development plans lead to actual mines we will be in a situation where most of the fragile, sub-Arctic catchment areas, animal and plantlife and terrestrial ecosystems, adapted to the Arctic conditions, cannot withstand the impacts.”

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