Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Mining and you

Try going a day without any goods or services that don't require or depend on a product that has been mined.

From your inner-spring mattress to your car (or even your bike), computer, cellphone and medical equipment; the activities that make up our day and enhance our lives are in most cases only possible because someone, somewhere, has mined something.
 Gerry Browlee writes.

The following is a public service broadcast (with subtitles in Foreign, added to forestall  allegations of colonialism):


Grace Dalley said...

The bit missing from Brownlee's explanation is how these substances are of course always mined form National Parks and other areas of pristine natural splendour.

Just how thick does he think we are?

PS love the video :-)

KJ said...

I still don't know what to think about the mining. I would really have to see the scale of the operations, procedures and actual location before making any judgements on the subject.

Weekend_Viking said...

Speaking as an evil geologist who has in the past happily mined other people's national parks (Australia, Chile), I can hardly have any moral objection to mining ours.

Of all the places I've rolled the bulldozers and drilling rigs, NZ environments are younger, more robust, and tend to recover quickly (noting all the 19th and mid 20th century mining sites in NZ that are now bushgrown tourist attractions, excepting those that are now the ecological wastelands known as farms...). The environments I've mined in Australia are far, far more sensitive and take hundreds to thousands of years to recover, but don't matter because everybody hates the outback and can't see it.

The 7000 hectares proposed is what, less than one grazing lease, or maybe a couple of dozen dairy farms, and of course, as 99 out of 100 prospects never get mined, then the actual area mined would
probably end up being a couple of hundred hectares. Mind you, anyone who mines the area behind Thames is askn' for it, as it would almost certainly aggravate the debris flow hazard on the town by several orders of magnitude, and it _would_ hit the hospital first.

What beggars me is how people think tourism in NZ is sustainable, given that our 100%pure image is imaginary (we've only been here 1000 to 200 years(pick according to whakapap there) and have less than 5 million of us, but we're still the most altered ecology in the OECD) and given that the tourist industry is driven by shipping the buggers here through the stratosphere burning megatons of kerosene and dumping the resultant CO2 and nitrous oxides directly into the upper atmosphere.

So, yeah, I'm for mining on a case by case basis, regardless of where the ground is.

Chad Taylor said...

Mr. W. Viking - Yours is by far the most interesting opinion I've read on the matter. Pop quiz: if you could mine anywhere in NZ - same sized mine as the one proposed - where would it be, and why?

Grace Dalley said...

Hi, W_V! I think you make some fine points about the unsustainability of air tourism to NZ, and about how much we humans have already laid waste to NZ's environment.

However I don't think we need tourism to justify protecting the few really amazing bits we have left. You say the environment can recover, and I'm sure that's true, depending on what you mean by "recover". If the landscape is reshaped and polluted, and species are destroyed, it will never go back to its original state; and for full forest regeneration, hundreds of years are required.

So if anyone wishes to join me, I shall be chaining myself to a tree. :-)

Weekend_Viking said...

Chad: It's not an easily answered question, as before you mine, you have to find something, and thus where you mine, where, will depend upon what elements you're after. Principally, I'd go for the west coast, some bits of fiordland/NW Nelson along the Dun Mountain complex, and some bits of the Coromandel that aren't Thames. The Coromandel is heavily ecologically damaged already - most of the forest there was severely damaged by 19th century fire and logging/farming, so small volume mines are not going to be destroying large areas. However, the main target there is porphyry copper and hydrothermal gold, both of which tend to be hosted in very weak, acid rotted old volcanic complexes, so there are major slope stability problems and erosion problems (Hence avoiding Thames, as regardless of the rich prospect, disturbing the catchment the prospect is in will hit the town with bad debris flows.)

The least ecologically damaging mining would probably be on the previously mined/logged/farmed land of the Coromandel and Gt Barrier; However, these are the most publically politically incorrect, as his Lardship Brownlee is discovering.

Weekend_Viking said...

Grace: I grew up on clearfelled, coalmined and quarried land that looked like this in 1880: http://tinyurl.com/yejcucv , but instead of the duckboards and shellshocked soldiers, the photos of Staveley I remember had two blokes, a horse and a coal wagon on a tramway, and _fewer_ trees.

Today, you can't see thirty feet for beech, broadleaf and rata there, many of them a century old. Only trained archaeologists can spot the mines, and even then half of them only when I point them out to them.

If you _dont_ farm and graze it after mining it, you get passable regeneration in NZ in about fifty years, and pretty much complete within 100, and this is from 19th century techniques where nothing was done for regeneration. These days, it's even better.

(As an aside, I give me 500 years and geology, and I can remove most evidence of human occupation visible from orbit, and in 500000, everything but toiletbowls in the Outback or Saudi Arabia. We don't make anything permanent.)

So, I'll be drilling holes and bulldozing trees so you can have your toothbrush, toothpaste, electricity and computer. Enjoy.

Grace Dalley said...

OK, W_V, you will see me at the picket line.

Grace Dalley said...

Also: mining companies are not here to provide a public service, they exist to make money. And the companies who turn those raw materials into consumer goods also exist to make money, and they only make money if they convince us that we need or want their products.

One of the problems with industrial, globalised, capitalism is that the general public is often unaware of where raw materials come from, how and under what conditions they are made into consumer goods, and what the environmental and social costs are.

Of course we like having all the consumer goods we have, but that's because the *real* costs are not factored in, and we can remain blissfully ignorant, becuase mostly *we* don't pay those costs.

Digging stuff out of the ground for it to be made into stuff we throw away is not sustainable. I hope that as a species we can find better and saner ways of living well.

Hope you're with me on that, W_V.

Weekend_Viking said...

Grace: Sustainability isn't possible at the same time as having consumer society, because every made object you've ever used either incorporated mined materials, or was made with mined materials. The sustained industrial development of the past two hundred years, and the past fifty in particular, has lifted more people out of poverty than anything else, _ever_. Humanity has been mining in one way or another since the mesolithic, and has been exhausting resources since then as well. One may also note, as you seem not to like capitalism, that it, like democracy, is the worst of all forms of economy, _Except for all the others we have tried_ (paraphrasing Churchill, there.)

Grace Dalley said...

Hm, obviously the industrial revolution could not have happened without the power derived from fossil fuels, and much of the developed world is still reliant on them...but they're going to run out before very long. Regarding metals: I think we're going to see a LOT more recycling, since these are also a non-renewable resource, and mining is going to become increasingly more costly and less rewarding.

The trouble with gloablised free-market capitalism is that it is only constrained by short-term profitability. This is fine if it's working within constraints which ensure long-term environmental and social safety.

Regarding the reduction of poverty, well that's a very complex issue. Industrialisation has greatly reduced self-sufficient subsistence. Unfortunately for a large portion of humanity, subsistence has been replaced with virtual slave-labour in factories and producing cash-crops. Is that really a reduction in poverty?

Worth bearing in mind that since the industrial revolution, human population has exploded, so there are a lot more of us to share our diminishing resources. In 1750, world population was 791 million, and now we're at nearly 7 billion. These are challenging times to live in, and we'll need all the ingenuity we can muster.

Grace Dalley said...

Oh and W_V, it's not that I'm not grateful for my computer, internet connection, toothbrush, etc.; but humans are coming up against the limits to growth, expansion, and exploitation, and I think the sooner we accept that, the better.