In the coal-rich county of Northumberland, North East England, reclines one of the largest human sculptures in the world – Northumberlandia.
Northumberlandia is a park of grassy undulating hills and swirling walkways. It somehow resembles the Chocolate Hills and the Rice Terraces of the Philippines. When viewed from afar or from a vantage point, the park transforms into a colossal figure of a reclining woman who seems to enjoy the day as much as the tourists do. It really is a rare masterpiece to behold. It’s also a park worth visiting to contemplate the puniness of human existence or about the differences in people’s worldviews, if you want to go all philosophical about it.
Mining as a process is arguably one of two key foundations of modern society — the other one being agriculture.The same way we get crops and meat from agriculture, we get raw materials needed to create a whole range of products that we use from mining. Even during the stone age, people have been collecting stones and sharpening them to make various tools and weapons. Today, our demand for stones, metals, and other mined materials is higher than before due to the technologies we use — cars, computers, appliances, cell phones, houses, you name it. Virtually everything we use today need raw materials from mining — either as their components or as components of the machines that are used to make them.
Beyond this, mining can contribute to social development and development of science and technology, while mitigating its environmental impacts. Many modern mining operations contribute to national economies, community development, and environmental enhancement. Satisfying the needs of communities, following local and national regulations, while implementing environmental programs to mitigate and even improve the environment are the hallmarks of what is called “responsible mining.” Science and technology benefits from mining as well. This is because the challenges encountered in mining operations encourage creative thinking in order to come up with innovative solutions. Mining also opens up opportunities for more detailed study of the Earth especially the crust. These solutions can spill over to other industries and aspects of our lives. Society depends on mining on plenty of things.
Last March 2016, I flew to Puerto Princesa, Palawan as a guest speaker for an event promoting responsible mining, which was hosted by the University of the Philippines Mining Engineering Society (UP MINERS). I was asked to give a talk about the common misconceptions about mining to elementary, high school, and college students from various schools in Palawan (they probably numbered almost to a thousand, by my estimate! So, kudos to UP MINERS!).
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.
Studying the causes of mining disasters in the past will help modern mines avoid repeating them in the future.
History tells us that majority of mining disasters were due to insufficient monitoring for safety, ineffective or non-existent emergency response systems, and flawed engineering design of facilities like dams. Preventing similar accidents from occurring is possible with the current knowledge on relevant fields like safety, health, the environment, engineering, and disaster risk management. Knowledge on these fields must be applied to design safe mine facilities, utilize state of the art monitoring systems, and develop effective emergency systems.
In many of the birthday parties I attended, children would play a game where they would try to blow a plate or bowl of flour as fast as they could to completely reveal the coin buried below. At the end of the game, everyone watching would laugh because the contestants’ faces would be covered with flour.