Commodities - the pitfalls of resource wealth

A note from the editor

Wayne Ellwood

Cycles of history, chains of dependency

Who’s heard of Harold Adams Innis? Put up your hand! Not many, I see. Well, no surprise there. The Canadian academic died in 1952 and his most influential work (on the fur trade and the cod fishery, two prosaic strands of his country’s economic history) was published in the 1920s and 1930s. Eventually, this research became the core of his ‘staples theory’, an analysis of how reliance on raw material exports can shape a country’s economy and its culture.

Dry stuff, I admit. But Innis’s relevance has not faded. Today it just has a different name. The phrase used is ‘resource curse’ and it’s a major source of political conflict, environmental destruction and social dysfunction. In this issue, we try to figure out what it means for those countries and communities caught in the ‘staples trap’.

Elsewhere in the magazine photojournalist Isabella Moore travels to Russia, one of the world’s biggest fossil fuel producers, where she talks to that country’s gay citizens about the fear of living in an increasingly repressive state.

Repression, of course, takes many forms in an era of economic austerity and globe-straddling digital surveillance. (Thank you, Edward Snowden.) What’s a self-respecting government to do without the latest in anti-riot gear and non-lethal ‘crowd control’ solutions? Anna Feigenbaum expounds on the profits to be made in policing dissent.

To paraphrase Aldous Huxley: we don’t learn very much from the lessons of history and that may be the most important lesson of all. Ah, brave new world.

Wayne Ellwood for the New Internationalist co-operative.

The big story

Demonstrators jostle in the streets of Rangoon, Burma, to protest the expansion of the Chinese-backed Latpadaung copper mine in the country’s northwest province. Thousands of hectares of farmland have been expropriated by the company and hundreds of villagers forced from their homes.

Demonstrators jostle in the streets of Rangoon, Burma, to protest the expansion of the Chinese-backed Latpadaung copper mine in the country’s northwest province. Thousands of hectares of farmland have been expropriated by the company and hundreds of villagers forced from their homes.

Photo: EPA/Alamy

The pitfalls of resource wealth

Natural resource wealth isn't always a blessing. As Wayne Ellwood discovers, sometimes it can be just the opposite.

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Commodities and dependency - The Facts

Commodities and dependency - The Facts

The facts and figures of commodities and our dependence on them.

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The Suncor tar sands site near Fort McMurray, Alberta. The project has wiped out thousands of hectares of boreal forest and has left a scar on the land so large that it is visible in satellite photos.Milesy/Alamy

Sticky business

Canada has put all its eggs into one big basket full of tar sands. That’s a major mistake, argues Andrew Nikiforuk – for the country and the planet.

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Tar sands development threatens Madagascar’s astonishing limestone forests, like this one in Tsingy de Bemahara National Park.Ben Stansall/Alamy

A tsingular beauty

Kara Moses reports on plans to dig bitumen in Madagascar.

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‘I lost my daughter because of a birth defect.’ Argentinean activist Sofía Gatica has been fighting the aerial spraying of toxic agro-chemicals.Eilís O'Neill

No joy in soy

Demand for genetically modified soy is changing the face of Argentina. And not for the better, says Eilís O’Neill.

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Matawa First Nations

Touch the earth

As reserves dwindle and demand balloons, resource companies are pushing into more remote regions and onto indigenous land. Jen Wilton tours seven hotspots where native people are demanding the right to decide what happens on their ancestral territory.

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Dayak leader, Gagay: ‘I want to sue the mining company for what they have done to us.’Glyn Thomas/WDM

King coal runs amok

Alex Scrivener guides us through the coal-ravaged landscape of East Kalimantan.

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Shereen El Feki

Let's talk about sex

Shereen El Feki uncovers a surprising truth about life in the Middle East.

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The latest model – what will riot police be wearing this year? ABACA ABACA PRESS/ABACA/Press Association Images

Meet the protest profiteers

There’s money to be made in crowd ‘control’, as Anna Feigenbaum discovers.

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Fifteen-year-old Sasha Calm is an openly gay teenager. He is currently being home-schooled. When he came out, he ‘became a second-rate person instantaneously,’ he explains. ‘Everyone around me started acting as if they suddenly had the right to humiliate and belittle me, laugh at me and call me names.’Isabella Moore

Russia's war on its gay citizens

Isabella Moore photographs those bearing the brunt of the latest crackdown on LGBTI rights.

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YES: Kitty Stryker is a queer porn performer and lecturer on sex work, consent culture, and intersectionality in sex-positive spaces. Her written work can currently be found in Hot and Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Love, Life and Fashion, and Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks.

Can porn be ethical?

Porn performer and lecturer Kitty Stryker and feminist writer and activist Louise Pennington go head to head.

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A traditional teahouse in Isfahan; jeans sellers in Isfahan; a street scene in Jolfa, East Azerbaijan province; women picnicking by the roadside in Shiraz (see main text); selling fish in Kermanshah.Photos (top): Patricia White / Alamy; (bottom left to right): HL Tam; Misha Kally; cordelia_persen; Ensie & Matthias; all under a CC licence.

Country Profile: Iran

The facts, figures and images of Iran.

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Western journalists rarely mention anything about hope, resilience or, dare I say it, even joy, in Central African Republic.

Letter from Bangui: Writing off Central Africa

Violence is only part of the country’s story, as Ruby Diamonde would like to remind Western journalists.

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