First, what is mining? Mining is the extraction of rocks (stone) or minerals from the earth. Some mineralized deposits are of economic interest to the miner or mining company.
Products recovered by mining include metals, coal, oil shale, gemstones, limestone, chalk, salt, gravel, dimensional stone, gravel, clay, gummy worms, etc. Okay, not gummy worms. I was seeing if you were paying attention.
Mining is required to obtain any material that cannot be grown through agricultural processes, or created artificially in a lab or factory (reference Wikipedia: Mining… except for the gummy worm part). Mining is one of the industries that our world needs in order for it to function the way it functions. Unfortunately, on occasion, mining also tends to give itself very public black eyes. For example, the scars that are left behind which can be unsightly if done poorly. There are the environmental accidents and disasters that give us all a bad reputation. There are dam failures and fatalities. And there are bad operators. Fortunately, there are fewer and fewer of those, and the mining companies themselves are largely responsible for the improvements that is taking place world-wide. On the other hand, so called “artisanal miners” can do some horrible damage to our planet.
But why do we need to keep mining, if we have all these worn out products that can and are being recycled? According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 30% of the electricity in the US comes from coal-fired power plants. Even I had no idea the number was that high.
So at least currently, we need to mine coal. But what about green energies. They can get us away from mining, right? Sorry, but no. For example, for wind turbines, we need limestone, aggregates, stone, clay, shale and gypsum for concrete, bauxite for aluminum, coal (its by-product, coke, is used to make steel), cobalt for magnets, copper for wiring, iron ore for steel, molybdenum (alloy in steel), rare earths for magnets and batteries and zinc for galvanizing. Other green energies have a similar laundry list. And since renewable energy is a growth industry, the rate of recycling just can’t keep up with the demand. There is a long list for smart phones too, like arsenic, copper, gallium, gold, magnesium, palladium, platinum, silver and tungsten (reference Minerals Education Coalition).
So, mining, who needs it? I guess we all do (with the exception of a very short list of vegan earthship dwellers). And believe me, many many many processes in the mining industry are improving for the better, and to make our lives better too. Most miners now operate with closure in mind, with an eye on sustainable development. I’d say that this is a lot of progress! Now, who needs mining?
I know. It ain’t perfect. But we aim to get it there.