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Julie Becker: Alarm at the depths of irresponsibility

The banner on the cover of Time magazine in late April read: “Climate Is Everything.” Inside the issue, among a selection of viewpoints, was an essay written by economist William Nordhaus, “The Ninth Circle of Corporate Irresponsibility,” an excerpt from his recently published book, “The Spirit of Green.”

The book focuses on “green thinking” — on finding cures for some of the most serious economic and environmental problems around the world.

Nordhaus praises businesses engaged in socially responsible practices, but feels it’s fruitful to be aware of businesses that do the opposite. Businesses with little or no concern for legal, societal or ethical obligations. Those that pollute the air and the water, drastically overpay executives, avoid paying their fair share of taxes (or any taxes at all) and sidestep well-grounded regulations. Those that turn a blind eye to the consequences of their actions.



Among these businesses, he assigns the most egregious, those that deliberately mislead or provide false information, to the ninth circle of corporate irresponsibility, drawing a parallel to the ninth circle of hell in Dante’s “Inferno” — a circle designed especially for those who practice treachery and betray our trust.

According to Nordhaus, star candidates for the ninth circle, all “languishing in their ethical filth,” include Philip Morris, which made mincemeat of research showing the harmful effects of tobacco; ExxonMobil, which famously played down any awareness of climate change, then went on to fund climate deniers; and PurduePharma, which made billions from the sales of OxyContin while playing dumb to its addictive qualities.




The businesses cited above are all international in scope, but there’s room in the ninth circle for lesser-known corporations, as well, and I’m inclined to include Rise Gold Corp. in the mix.

Oh yes, Ben Mossman paints a glossy picture, promising a new golden era for our community once he and his cohorts reopen the Idaho-Maryland gold mine, shuttered since 1957. He promises to provide high-paying jobs and to restore prosperity to our region, but in truth, I believe he’s gilding over reality.

He’s told us that local residents don’t need to worry about having their wells run dry during the dewatering of the old mine tunnels. And really, he shrugs, it won’t be a big deal if they do, because trust him, he’ll make arrangements to hitch them up with NID. No problem.

So that takes care of water, but what about air pollution? How will our air quality be affected by the diesel exhaust put out by 20 ton open hauler trucks transporting mine tailings to the dump site off of Centennial Drive, spewing out toxic particulates along the way? Wonder how that will affect all the people with asthma in the area? Or if prevailing winds will send polluted air down toward the hospital or to nursing facilities on Dorsey Drive?

Part of the Centennial dumping site parcel is composed of wetlands and marsh, which will essentially be buried and obliterated under megatons of rubble delivered by the monster trucks. Ironically, the rumbling trucks will growl down Whispering Pines Lane past Peaceful Valley Farm Supply to make their deliveries. Imagine gardeners dreamily wandering around the nursery looking at native plants, suddenly zapped out of their reverie when a huge truck roars by. Peaceful Valley won’t be peaceful anymore.

Now in reality, the reverberation of truck deliveries could pale in comparison to the drilling, crushing and blasting that will take place at the actual mining site near the corner of Brunswick and East Bennett, where ammonium nitrate will be used underground to break up rocks in the tunnels, leading to earth-shaking vibrations that may be felt underneath the homes of local residents. Many of them long-time residents who purchased property in a bucolic area, never expecting that their backyards would border a 24-hour heavy industrial operation. Never expecting that their property values would plummet due to a severely ill-conceived plan to reopen a sleeping mine.

Ben Mossman likes to call opponents of the mine “alarmists.” But let’s be clear here. There is a vast difference between Chicken Little and the call to be legitimately alarmed.

Contrary to Mossman’s belief, we don’t need more gold dug up from below the ground, for with our history, our natural beauty and our thriving arts community, we have more than enough gold above ground. For the well-being of us all, let’s keep it that way.

Julie Becker lives in Nevada City.


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