Accepted paper:

The Glacier had No Name: Gold Mining and Climate Change in Kyrgyzstan


Amanda Wooden (Bucknell University)

Paper abstract:

The Kumtor gold mine in Kyrgyzstan has been a large income earner for the country since it began production in 1997. The Canadian operating company was an early result of Kyrgyzstan's neoliberalization, obtaining the mine contract one year after the Soviet Union breakup. It became a disputed site after a 1998 cyanide spill near Lake Ysyk-Kol. The Kumtor mine also is the only open-pit mine in the world actively removing glaciers to access gold. The ecological impact of the Kumtor mine and the economic ramifications of closing, selling, or nationalizing it dominate national political discussions in Kyrgyzstan. This mine is also important as a technology test site in the climate change era, for mining where glaciers recede in northern and alpine sites around the world. This paper explores how mining at the Kumtor site in Kyrgyzstan became a national issue centered on the loss of glaciers and how in turn this awareness led to the emergence of climate change in public discussions. Discourses of climate change intersect with, shape, and are shaped by place-based identities in some of Kyrgyzstan's extraction zones (e.g. Crate 2011; Withers 2009). This work explains various competing narratives about nature, mining, and Kyrgyzstan's future, and argues that glaciers have become political actors in Kyrgyzstan. This paper engages with critical geography and anthropology literatures on extractivism, corporate social responsibility and neoliberalisms, geographies and politics of place, and the post-human turn. The present work meets Benson and Kirsch's (2010) call for scholarship engaging critically with the role of corporations and their exercise of power, Thieme, Bedi and Vira's (2015) call "for more nuanced accounts examining corporate-led development" (p. 218), and Crate's (2011) demand for work about climate and culture that is "cross-scale, multistakeholder, and interdisciplinary."

panel ENE-05
Political Economy of Mining and Energy in the Post-Soviet Space