A famous German humanist scholar, mineralogist and metallurgist Georgius Agricola (1556) said;
“People were always divided in their opinion about mining, as some praised it highly while others condemned it fiercely.”
Agricola reports that enemies of mining in his time deplored not only harmful effects on the immediate environs but even moral aspects – they accused mining of advancing greed. Today, this remains one motive of opposition to the industry, but a fundamental rejection of any extraction of minerals is more common. The main reason that mining visibly uses the land and often leaves a profound and enduring change.
Certainly, there are often sound arguments against mining at a specific location. Compromises should be sought, however, because mineral deposits cannot be installed at arbitrary places. Their locations are predetermined by nature. Examples are sand and gravel deposits in river plains. Today, these raw materials are so scarce in many regions that they have to be protected against other claims (e.g. housing developments). Yet, everyone consumes minerals and mineral-derived products for homes, heating, transport, computers, medicinal use and numerous articles of daily life. Mining provides these minerals. Recycling replaces only part of primary production.
As a percentage of the total area, land use by mining is very small and only locally visible. Biofuel agriculture, solar and wind energy plants require much more land. Indeed, they create additional demand for minerals (e.g. fertilizer, metals for machines and processing plants, and transport). Toxic elements, such as arsenic and cadmium, are essential for sustainable energy production, for example in photovoltaics. In many cases, even low-footprint technologies such as geothermal power plants have serious problems with waste, such as brines, salt, and toxic and heavy metals (most notably arsenic, mercury and radionuclides). This demonstrates that there are no simple solutions for a sustainable economy without mining. On the contrary, it is undeniable that the conservation of our quality of life and development for the major part of humans who still lack the most basic necessities for a life of dignity requires both mineral raw materials and an intact environment.
Impact of mining on the environment
Mining without an impact on the environment is impossible, but the industry strives to minimize negative effects and improve the welfare of affected communities (“green mining”). Some mining operations create an enriched landscape of constructed ecosystems, which provide humans with a variety of services (e.g. food, flood and erosion control, areas for recreation and aesthetics, and clean water). Examples include lignite and clay pits, which bequeath beautiful new lakes. Hard rock mines and quarries may grow into rare islands of nature in a sea of human occupation. Many of these sites support rare and threatened species from archaea and bacteria to plants and animals, helping to preserve biodiversity (Batty 2005).
Reversing mineral extraction, mines also have an extremely important role as deep disposal sites for the safe storage of society’s unavoidable toxic and radioactive waste. Chemically dangerous waste is usually stored in worked sections of suitable underground mines. For highly toxic and radioactive waste, the construction of dedicated underground disposal mines is the best solution for protecting the biosphere. Underground disposal takes lessons from nature that has preserved high concentrations of hazardous solid and gaseous substances in the form of mineral deposits over many millions of years (e.g. sulphide metal ore, natural gas, uranium and even the remains of natural nuclear reactors).
The World Commission on Environment and Development (“Brundtland-Report”, Brundtland 1987) extended the concept of sustainable development to non-renewable resources. Clearly, few mineral resources fit into the concept of sustainability, as it was formulated 300 years ago for the management of forests, “that the amount of wood cut should not exceed the growth rate” (Carlowitz 1713). Such exceptions may be salt, magnesium and potassium harvested from seawater. Most metals and minerals are non-renewable and their use should be managed according to the following rules: i) Consume as little as possible; ii) optimize the recycling rate; and iii) increase the efficiency of using natural resources, especially of energy. The original concept of sustainability considered mainly the interests of later generations. In the Rio Declaration (UN Conference on Environment and Development 1992) the concept of intrageneration fairness was added, to allow for the interests of the living generation of mankind.
In fact, the world population’s rapid growth and demands for a better life enforce a continuing expansion of raw materials production. Yet, every individual extractive operation must have the acceptance of public opinion. To reach that aim, all stakeholders must profit and the mine’s social as well as the natural environment needs to be improved. The radical call that sustainability requires immediate termination of mineral exploitation is, of course, social and economic nonsense (Gilpin 2000). Let us use needed resources in the interest of living humans, and let us trust in technical and economic inventiveness to provide for later generations.
Why do people resist mining?
There are several reasons why people might resist mining activities. Some of these reasons include:
- Environmental concerns: Mining can have significant negative impacts on the environment, such as deforestation, water pollution, soil erosion, and the destruction of wildlife habitats. People may resist mining activities if they feel that the environmental costs outweigh the potential benefits.
- Health and safety concerns: Mining can also pose health and safety risks to workers and nearby communities. People may resist mining activities if they feel that the risks to human health and safety are too high.
- Social and cultural impacts: Mining can have significant social and cultural impacts, such as displacement of indigenous communities, loss of cultural heritage sites, and disruption of traditional ways of life. People may resist mining activities if they feel that their cultural and social values are not being respected.
- Economic concerns: While mining can bring economic benefits, such as job creation and increased revenue for governments, some people may resist mining if they feel that the economic benefits are not being distributed fairly or that the costs of mining outweigh the benefits.
Overall, people may resist mining for a variety of reasons, including environmental, health and safety, social and cultural, and economic concerns. It is important for mining companies and governments to address these concerns and engage in meaningful dialogue with affected communities to ensure that mining activities are carried out in a responsible and sustainable manner.