A proposed mine would poison a water table and threaten to destroy a bio-reserve.
By Marc Choyt
The Campaign Begins
When I learned last July of a proposed gold mine just south of my home in Santa Fe, I brought a group together and started a campaign. Earthworks offered support early; and last week, we published a study, Public Risk, Private Reward: an analysis of the Ortiz Gold Mine proposal. This report was part of a broader strategy—it followed my editorial in our local paper in September and the Stop Santa Fe Gold Facebook page. We needed to frame how public risk outweighs economic benefit.
I also made sure people knew I am a real Santa Fe jeweler and business man, a winner of sustainability awards. The selling of the opposition to a gold mine had to be rational, focused mainly on human impact, and tied to the bottom line. In a drought stricken region, the mine may consume the annual water supply of up to 7,000 homes, drain acid into the groundwater for generations and create a massive tailing heap.
Yet this argument was not what drove me to initiate meetings, organize, write about the “Selling of a Gold Mine to Santa Fe, New Mexico,” squeezing countless hours into my life which was already maxed out. What motivated me to work so hard happened in the span of a few minutes several years ago.
Water, Wildlife, Flora, View
Unlike most of the mountains around where I live, I have not hiked the Ortiz—access is difficult. Yet I was in the desert one May, west of the mountains at dusk, facing the Ortiz. The full moon rose up, a yellow skirt of light nestling in the luminous peaks. It was one of the most beautiful moments in nature I’ve ever experienced. Moon, mountain, night sky, clouds etched a blessing in my heart that even now ripples inside.
So, naturally, when I heard a company wanted to carve a 1,250-foot pit into the center of this mountain to bring wealth for shareholders in Australia, I had to act.
The poisoning of water tables and surface ugliness were also motivating factors, but I was equally concerned for the 285 vertebrate species documented in the adjacent bio-reserve. When I was writing my initial editorial, I chose what to mention strategically: Swainson’s hawk (bird lovers), cougar (sexy and romantic), deer (hunters), roadrunner (baby boomer cartoon appeal). Forget the songbird, Plumbeous Vireo, and gnat (genus Culicoides). Botanicals, such as the Beard Tongue Penstemon did not even make the list.
The Right to Exist
I wanted to use all 600 words that launched the public face of our campaign to simply write about beauty, the flora and fauna, all this life that has as much of a right to exist as we do. Two hundred eight-five vertebrate species. Choosing what species to name was an ecological version of Schindler’s List because, essentially, our loss of habitat is a kind of biodiversity holocaust: the moment of terror, the tiny scream, of a white tail jack rabbit (Lepus townsedii) with its babies when its home is crushed by 20 feet of metal and tire.
These beings are less than a statistic:
"The death of one man (HABITAT) is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic." – Joseph Stalin
This habitat does not even make it in the bean-counting stat world.
The Double Face of Gold
In this great and mysterious web of life – unfathomable complexity of relationships are reduced to the monotheisticly-worshipped bottom line, or in the slightly less palatable version, the triple bottom line. The problem with economic thinking based solely on any line is that the life force, the green fuse, the relationships evolved synergistically over hundreds of millions of years on a mountain that was once under the sea has made gold the foundation of modern capitalism.
Yet gold is also the alchemists dream, representing the transformation of human consciousness, spiritual essence and divine radiance, a sacred substance that human beings have managed to turn into one of the most nefariously gut-spilling genocide producing commodities on earth.
We Are Not the Chosen Ones
Call me an extremist hippy tree hugger guilty of spotted owl idolatry, or worse, because I say that our species is not the chosen species, but equally important to other species. We are all in relationship with each other. We live together or die together. The sampling analysis and hydrology reports do not account for the great mystery in the Ortiz Mountains, how this Zion dallies with sun, cloud, fauna and flora.
One plus one, in context to the infinitely complex polytheistic relationships in the soul of the world, does not equal two. Raping gold from this mountain, scattered with petroglyphs and ancient sites from the neighboring people may ripple out in unexpected ways.
Yet beauty, great mystery, numinous stories carefully passed down over generations is not an effective way to sell the opposition of a gold mine to Santa Fe or the world. Better to fuse the Cartesian-based argument with the neo-cortex lizard-survival brain in an anthropocentric economic-jobs-water-future development with a palatable sprinkle of environmentalist (enough to reach the people who are green so long as it doesn’t hurt) framework—and turn self-reflective.
I’ll personally sink into the ever-widening paradoxes – my lifestyle is part of the problem – recognizing I am intimately related (in this great circle of life) to even those I completely oppose: the large-scale mining beasts.
This writing, the campaign, my life, is merely part of what the great Leonard Cohen described as, "an anthem of forgiveness/ a manual for living with defeat." I can rationalize that this campaign is a tiny breakthrough in the environmental movement, far less important than a sound of the desert pocket mouse’s (Chaetodipus penicillatus) breath being squished under tons of rubber. It is probably the first time an ethical jeweler has ever initiated, organized and led a community’s opposition to a gold mine.
Related: Selling of a Gold Mine to Santa Fe, New Mexico