To Mine or Not To Mine – Is That The Question?

Conservation and mining go hand in hand like mash potato and vinegar. Both parties seem to be at war over which is right and wrong. However, a friend and conservationist told me yesterday that their opinion on “digging holes in the ground” has changed lately; I’ll explain why later.

Believe it or not, civilisations have been extracting metals and stones from the ground since prehistoric times. The Egyptians fascination with large green malachite stones led them to quarrying for Turquoise and eventually Gold! Colours of this kind of beauty were hard to resist as they frequently bathed themselves in it. In Europe, the famous Silver mines of Laurian supported the Greek city of Athens in its glory days. There was Flint in England, Lead deposits discovered by the Romans, Iron found in the Philippines and Copper in the Americas. The list goes on. Although, are we at a stage where we are over exploiting? Does the global population of 7 billion people make it completely unsustainable? Here is just a small list of a products which require extracted minerals.

  • Plastic packaging
  • Cars
  • Computers
  • Phones
  • Cutlery
  • Fertilisers

The depressing part of this story is that some of these elements within products go straight to landfill after it’s been used. All because of a major design flaw. the-chemical-elements-of-a-smartphone-v2

Take for example, the iPhone, which is made up of 43 different elements. A few of these are Indium, Tin and Silver. All very rare minerals, which is why it saddens me how this product can’t be recycled. I’ve tried pulling and breaking it apart with a hammer in the past and only succeeded in separating it into two pieces. Perhaps Apple are due an award for built-in obsolescence and anti-recycling. Congratulations you lazy genii!

It is an understatement to say that this modern era depends on rare minerals far too often. Our daily lives contribute to the destruction of our planet without even being conscious about it. Too many of us wake up pressing buttons on devices that scream out your favourite TV melody or a ticking noise that would frighten Captain Hook. Some of these people would say we should stop mining all together or state that “all plastics and metals can be recycled”. I have to admit that I was one of those individuals, so too was my environmentalist friend but she accepted that we have to sustain huge quarries if we are to keep updating this technology.

Back to my original question – should we be mining or should we not?

Realistically speaking we have to continue searching for new and important minerals. However, we should definitely be mining less. The key to doing this is by getting the public to do their part, which means buying less, using alternatives and recycling. I feel that some individuals put the blame on others for the mining madness when we should really be looking at ourselves. We – the consumers – are the ones who force demand, therefore we have the power to control the industry. It’s quite simple. If you’re not a fan of groundwater pollution, erosion, loss of biodiversity or sinkholes, then you can choose not to throw away your broken phone. After all, the Egyptians survived perfectly well without Whatsapp.


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