One time as I was scrolling through my news feed on Facebook, I came across a picture of a group of people protesting against mining. The placards that they were holding read “Kalikasan at tao, o mapanirang pagmimina?” (“The environment and people, or destructive mining?”). The protesters believed that mining is anti-environment and anti-people.
However, contrary to what the anti-mining protesters believe, mining actually supports human society. And with the ever advancing mining technologies and environmental policies, mining becomes more and more environmentally-friendly.
Unfortunately, misconceptions about mining are far too common. Here are five common misconceptions and the reasons why they’re wrong.
Misconception 1: We don’t need mining.
False. We need mining to sustain and improve our quality of life.
Virtually all infrastructures and products that we use today need raw materials from mining – from extensive solar farms to minute batteries, from large sports arenas to smart portable devices, from the cars we drive to the clothes we wear, from the laptops we use to the food we eat. Almost all of these either contain raw materials from mining or were manufactured using tools and equipment that contain raw materials from mining.
Here are a few examples of infrastructures and products that contain materials that came from mining:
Our modern society depends on the raw materials that can only be recovered through mining. Without mining, we won’t get the same quality of living that we experience now.
Misconception 2: Mining doesn’t help alleviate poverty.
False. A responsible mine generates employment and contributes to the local economic growth.
A typical large-scale mine needs to employ hundreds to thousands of people to work in a wide range of activities. Among the employees, a technical group will be in charge of planning and supervision. In the field, many employees and contractors will be assigned to drive trucks and operate large excavators that dig soil and rocks. A group of employees will be in charge of implementing environmental protection and enhancement programs like reforesting mined areas. Another group will implement projects to ensure that the communities will get a fair benefit from the project. Some employees will work in the offices to handle administrative tasks. The mine will also hire people to work for general services like making sure the mine camps are well maintained. Of course, security guards will be needed to protect mine property and ensure the safety of the employees. A mine needs a great deal of manpower because of the diverse set of activities needed to keep the mine working.
Some businesses in the local communities will earn more when the mine buys their products to support the mining operation. Other businesses that couldn’t directly sell their goods to the mine would indirectly benefit from the increased spending of the mineworkers. This domino effect of economic benefits starting from the wages of the mineworkers down to the increased demand for goods unrelated to the mine is called the multiplier effect . The multiplier effect increases the overall economic condition of the region.
Several studies that were published in mineral economics journals show that many large-scale mining operations generate significant employment and contribute to the economic growth of the communities. One study found that an iron ore mine in Northern Sweden opened up significant employment opportunities to the locals and the regions near the mine. Upon analysing three mines, another researcher concluded that local employment from each of the mines is significant and contributes to the economy of the communities. Evidence that economic growth from the mining industry benefits the lower income classes was shown by another research. The researcher added that “…if natural resource development is the only means a country has to create growth, then it is better doing that than not doing it. ” A case study of Landau Colliery in South Africa shows that “…within a context of transformation and required social and infrastructural development, the mine has achieved positive contributions in terms of procurement, employment, human capital development, social, business and community development, and economic contributions (contributions to government revenue, GDP and exports, and the host economy).”
Misconception 3: All mines leave the environment devastated.
False. Mined out areas can be rehabilitated.
Many closed mines have been successfully converted into novel landscapes like forests, parks, and tourist spots. These include the Rio Tuba rehabilitation project  in the Philippines, the Eden Project  and Northumberlandia (featured image) in England , Britannia Mine Museum,  Sudbury Neutrino Observatory , and The Butchart Gardens  in Canada, Yubari Coal Mine Museum  in Japan, Lake Ore-Be-Gone  in the US, Dalhalla Opera  in Sweden, Park City in Utah , Lusatia Lake in Germany , and Questa Mine Solar Farm  in New Mexico. These projects tell us that successful mine rehabilitation is possible.
However, despite these successful rehabilitation stories, a great number of closed mines still don’t get rehabilitated [37, 38], especially due to the loose or non-existent environmental laws in the past. This is why governments are now developing fair but strict mining laws that will ensure that mines minimize the environmental impacts and rehabilitate mined-out areas.
In the Philippines, the primary law that regulates mining is the Mining Act of 1995. Among the numerous provisions that enforce sustainable mining, this law requires that mines:
- Implement annual environmental protection and enhancement programs, which include planting trees, treating mine water before discharge, and using engineering measures to minimize dust generation.
- Rehabilitate the mine site upon mine closure and convert it into a forest, agricultural land, park, etc. that is economically and environmentally sustainable.
Though we still have a long way to go when it comes to minesite rehabilitation, successful projects tell us that it is possible. And with the development of strict but fair environmental regulations, sustainable mine rehabilitation will soon be the rule and not the exception.
Misconception 4: Agriculture and mining don’t go together.
False. Agriculture and mining work together to sustain and improve society.
The raw materials for all the products that we use either come from agriculture or from mining, hence the adage, “If it can’t be grown, it must be mined.” We get food, oil, fibers, and medicinal plants through agriculture. Without agriculture, we won’t have a continuous supply of food to eat, clothes to wear, or medicines to take.
Mining is just as important as agriculture. We get metal and stones from mining that we need to make products like tools and equipment that improve our quality of life. Without mining, we can’t make the tools to cook food, make clothes, or develop medicines. Even producing agricultural products will be much slower, if not impossible, without the right tools and machinery.
Hartman, author of Introductory Mining Engineering began his book by saying that mining may well have been the second earliest endeavor of mankind – next to agriculture. “The two industries ranked together as the primary basic industries of early civilization,” Hartman wrote. “If we consider fishing and lumbering as part of agriculture and oil and gas production as part of mining, then agriculture and mining continue to supply all the basic resources used by modern civilization.”
Agriculture and mining work hand in hand to sustain and improve society.
Misconception 5: There’s only irresponsible mining.
False. While there are irresponsible mines – oftentimes illegal – there are also legal, responsible mines.
These responsible mines follow the law, consult and give fair benefits to the communities, and operate at the minimum possible environmental impact. They also take steps to maintain safety in the workplace and in the communities. When accidents happen – despite efforts to prevent them – responsible mines accept accountability, take immediate action to solve the problem, and immediately inform all stakeholders about it. After mining is completed, they rehabilitate mined-out areas for new environmentally and economically sustainable purposes like agriculture or recreation.
Examples of mines that demonstrate responsible social and environmental practices can be found in a report prepared by the International Energy Agency. These practices include employing at least 60% of the locals, supporting research programs and education, implementing social development projects, consulting with indigenous communities, applying novel environmental-protection methods like capturing methane (potent greenhouse gas) from coal beds to use as fuel, using new technologies that reduce freshwater use, and rehabilitating previously mined areas.
Responsible mines follow the law, benefit the communities, take action to minimize environmental impacts and maintain safety in the workplace and communities, accept accountability for accidents, and rehabilitate mined-out areas.
Mining works hand in hand with agriculture to sustain and advance modern civlization. All the products and infrastructures that we use today contain materials that came from these two endeavours.
Mining can benefit society with minimal long-term environmental impact. Several studies show that mining can contribute to socio-economic progress. In addition, rehabilitation of the mine area for a new economically and environmentally sustainable purpose have been successfully done in the past.
Advocating against mining is like advocating against the foundation of modern society. It is not the solution to poverty and environmental degradation. Instead, we should push for responsible mining that optimally contributes to socio-economic growth and effectively implements environmental enhancement and rehabilitation programs.
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Featured image of Northumberlandia
Taken by Glen Bowman. https://www.flickr.com/photos/10978503@N00/8086868264