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Happy Dog Takes on the World

Our next event for Tuesday took us to the Happy Dog at 58th and Detroit, where we had been for Dyngus Day on Monday, for the monthly Happy Dog takes on the World gathering brought about by a collaboration between the Happy Dog, the City Club of Greater Cleveland, the Cleveland Council on World Affairs (CCWA), and International Partners in Mission. Of course we got there early to enjoy a good vegan dog with onions, sauerkraut, and roma tomatoes for dinner. We chatted for a moment with our friend Mr. Grant Goodrich from Team NEO and then sat down and shared a table with some other friends from the CCWA including Ms. Maura O'Donnell-McCarthy, Mr. Neil McCarthy, Ms. Heather Hodges and Ms. Melanie Furey who just obtained a job there a few days ago.

The program for this evening was titled "The Social and Environmental Impacts of Mining in Latin America" which featured Dr. Michael N. Melampy, Ph.D., ecologist and Professor of Biology at Baldwin-Wallace College and Mr. Steve Cagan, a photographer who is working on a project to expose the impact of gold mining in El Choco, Columbia. The program was introduced by Ms. Hodges who said that with Earth Day coming up on April 22nd, it is appropriate to have such a presentation at this time.

Dr. Melampy focused on Ecuador and said that until the late 1960's-early 1970's its economic thrust was agriculture but around that time things shifted over to mining which caused a lot of deforestation and destruction to the environment. People were hopeful that this would stop when Mr. Rafael Correa became President of Ecuador in 2007 but he ended up supporting more mining and oil exploration. Dr. Melampy was fair to President Correa and said that there has been more badly needed social spending since he took office but deplored his harsh treatment of environmental activists. Dr. Melampy hoped that President Correa would eventually back away from the unsteady mining/oil economy and move toward a more sustainable tourist economy.

Mr. Cagan talked about the history of the El Choco area in Columbia which was once beautiful with rainforests. The people who lived there seemed to find the right balance between farming, fishing, hunting, and panning for gold in ways that did not threaten the environment. All of this changed when illegal machinery was allowed into the region to dig up large parts of the area in search for gold. Soon there were 800 pits in an area about half the size of Ohio and the people turned away from their old way of life to start panning for gold in these craters which brought easy money at the expense of culture and the environment. Mr. Cagan compared this to the California Gold Rush of the 1800's where people dropped everything and made the hunt for gold their top priority. After talking to his friends in this locality, Mr. Cagan honestly believes that peoples' lives are not any better. What's more, he is afraid that Columbia will soon go the way of Ecuador and be opened to International Mining Companies and become indebted to them.

Dr. Melampy and Mr. Cagan both wished that they could be more optimistic about the futures of Ecuador and Columbia but indications are that things will not be getting better in the near future. When someone asked what business is it of us in the United States to be involved in the environmental affairs of another country, both Dr. Melampy and Mr. Cagan rightly pointed out that the environmental provisions in international trade agreements such as NAFTA undermine local control. We were glad when Dr. Melampy also pointed out that people seek to immigrate to the United States from Ecuador because the economy is very unstable in Ecuador thus jobs are very scarce.

Dr. Melampy and Mr. Cagan concluded by urging the attendees to educate themselves on these matters and give their business to places like the Home Depot which has a good policy regarding from where it obtains its lumber. They also urged the attendees to support such environmentally/socially aware groups as Oxfam, the Sierra Club, and the Interreligious Task Force on Central America (IRTF) which we also support. On an upbeat note, they reminded everyone that public and media pressures caused significant changes in the diamond trade.

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