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Christopher Pollon turns an investigative eye on mining’s impact on the clean-energy transition

Journalism grad’s latest book Pitfall focuses on the destructive legacy of mining across the global south
November 21, 2023
By David Silverberg

A man with a light grey hooded jacked and black pants stands in a field with snow-capped mountains behind him. He is taking notes on a pad of paper. Christopher Pollon has written about the threats to salmon populations, the surge of solar farms and accountability for devastating oil spills.

Two generations ago, the grandfather of Christopher Pollon, GrDip 92, was toiling deep in the gold mines of northern Ontario, his body dripping with sweat after every shift. He eventually developed silicosis, which is related to “black lung” that coal miners get, due to how the dark coal dust clogged the lungs of thousands of miners at the time. 

Decades later, Pollon is sharing a different story about mining’s legacy in his book Pitfall: The Race to Mine the World's Most Vulnerable Places (Greystone Books). The investigative book exposes how transnational corporations in Canada and elsewhere exploit the communities and environments of war-torn countries in continents such as Africa to reap the benefits of accumulating nickel, copper, lithium and other metals.

“Many Canadians don’t realize the degree of Canada’s mining power in the world,” says Pollon from his Vancouver home. “It’s what we’re known for outside our borders, for better or worse,” pointing to not just these companies’ immense wealth, but how extraction projects generate environmental degradation, as well as political turmoil in communities where massacres and assassinations stem from conflict over diamond mines, among other mineral resources.

What Pitfall also asks is, how much energy-intensive mining, fracking and drilling will have to occur before society shifts to a green economy?

A knack of environmental investigations

A man with short dark hair and scruffy face stands with his arms folded. He is wearing a dark t-shirt and is standing in front of a dark background Christopher Pollon, GrDip 92

That Pollon has produced a book on the darker side of mining shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who have followed the full-time freelance journalist’s articles and books on environmental justice and climate change. 

His first book, the 2017 investigation The Peace in Peril: The Real Cost of the Site C Dam (Harbour Publishing), reported on a staggering British Columbia-based project that would see a 60-metre-high dam stretch more than a kilometre across the main stem of the Peace River, creating a massive artificial lake and flooding the best topsoil left in the province’s north.

Coupled with stunning photos shot by Ben Nelms, Pollon explored the Peace Valley’s 11,000-year-history of Indigenous and farming communities, and how the dam threatens the future of both humans and animals in the region.

“This book was an opportunity to offer a last snapshot of the hundreds of kilometres of wild river and land that was on the cusp of being destroyed, and to create a final record of that place for posterity,” Pollon says. 

Beyond his books, Pollon’s reports have been published in The Globe & MailCanadian GeographicThe WalrusThe Tyee and Hakai Magazine. He’s written on the threats to salmon populations, the surge of solar farms and accountability for devastating oil spills.

Learning by doing

Pollon’s talent for writing first emerged through his fiction and poetry when he was in high school in Scarborough, Ont. In his final year, he decided to apply to Toronto Metropolitan University’s journalism program, was accepted but decided it wasn’t the right time to delve into the field just yet. Instead, he enrolled at McMaster University, earning a history honours BA.

It was then that he decided to give journalism a try, attending Concordia’s Graduate Diploma in Journalism program, a decision he would later come to treasure.

Book cover image of Christopher Pollon's Pitfall: The Race to Mine the World's Most Vulnerable Places Pollon's latest book, Pitfall explores how transnational companies exploit the environment and communities across the global south.

“I loved how that program was almost like a trade school, setting us loose early to report on local politics,” Pollon recalls. “We’d swarm candidates on election nights and it was so great to learn as we went.”

During his time at Concordia, Pollon realized something about himself: he wasn’t the kind of reporter to work for a daily newspaper, and he saw how the job market for that career path wasn’t as shiny as it used to be. While Pollon was working at the Kingston Whig-Standard during his final year at Concordia, the publisher announced sweeping cuts to the reporting staff.

“One thing I took home from Concordia journalism is how, when I approached [then-program head] Enn Raudsepp about how there weren’t daily newspaper jobs for us grads, he said that journalism was a game of perseverance, and those who had talent and skills, who persevered, would find a way to succeed, regardless of the shifts and changes of the day,” Pollon says.

Which is exactly what he has done, honing his journalistic beat to highlight the exploitation of the natural world. In fact, he’s already laying out the plan for his next major project, though remains vague on its details.

“It’s safe to say it will involve climate change,” teases the author, “and will require travel to multiple continents.”

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