The California goldrush of the latter part of the 1800s, and later in Colorado and other western states, is a prime example of many things. Man’s quest for treasure. Man’s need for adventure. Man’s ability to overcome extreme odds. And the thought that the American West was a vast land, where a little destruction and poor caretaking of the land would never matter. Prospectors searched high and low for “color”, that they happily chased into the hillside and into the mountains, leaving scars of the rock they pulled from the earth, and the tunnels they would abandon. Some struck wealth, to some degree or another, and some never found their goal. Some panned for gold in the rivers, hardly leaving a mark, and letting nature mend their subtle damages. This is what I still see in some remote parts of the world. Some call them small miners, and some refer to them as artisanal miners. These people accomplish some amazing feats, and some still use technologies from the 1800s. But they also create horrifying environmental damage to streams, rivers, and mountainsides. Many use mercury and cyanide, and freely release those toxins into the environment, only to poison their neighbors.
While I understand their need for material gain, their wonton disregard to the health of the planet is painful, at best. This was the American west nearly 200 years ago, and to some degree, just a few decades ago. And also on some reality TV programs that are exciting and intriguing, but also exhibit actions that would land others in court or even in jail. They evade the law through their secretive actions and because the state personnel are under-funded and under-staffed. But they are nothing like modern mining companies, and they give real miners a very bad name.
Modern mining companies take care of the environment, and are stewards of the land. Yes, the land is changed forever, but in a way that can be usefully re-adopted by nature. The health and well-being on the miners is also at the forefront of all modern mining companies. Modern mining companies care about the health and well-being of their employees, and go to pretty considerable lengths to protect them.
One of the main shifts in safety awareness was the shift to making the “safety journey” personnel. Taking it to the family level. One of my favorite reminders of safety, is a label on a mirror above a washroom sink, stating “You are looking at the person most responsible for your safety”. That brings it home. You are the person who is most responsible for your own safety, and what’s more, is that you can do something about it. See something and do something. The need for western expansion in the 1800s led to many actions and events. The idea of manifest destiny told Americans that they had a mission – a special job given only to Americans. This mission was to make the United States bigger so the “borders of freedom” could be open to even more people. Only they could make sure that people living in un-free countries across the world could learn how to govern themselves and live freely in America.
The phrase “Manifest Destiny” was created in 1845 by a newspaper writer named John L. O’Sullivan. Quickly, the idea became very popular (reference Wikipedia: Manifest Destiny). I have no idea how much the notion of manifest destiny drove the California gold rush, and the other mining rushes that followed.
I do know that the careless exploitation of mineral wealth in the past has led to much of the negative feeling many people have for mining in general. Know that those days are well behind us, and that the mining companies who now bring you everything that can’t be farmed or recycled are taking far better care of this big, blue spinning marble that we all have to exist on.