There's No Future in Technology or Sustainability Unless These 4 Things Change
There's no future in technology or sustainability without mining. Unless some things change, the industry won't be able to meet global demand over the coming decades.
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It's a bold statement, but it's true: Without mining, there is no path to sustainability. The resources required to support modern life and the production of new technologies will come from responsible mining. Thus, mining will ultimately drive the global movement to meet sustainable development goals focused on improving the quality of life for all people. It's a tall order, but it's not impossible. However, some things will have to change to meet the ever-increasing demand for natural resources:
1. Lack of education
There's a massive disconnect between the public's perception of mining and its desire for progress. People want electric cars, clean energy and new smartphones every year. You can't have these without raw materials, which come from mining the earth. To meet the future demand for materials like copper, cobalt and lithium, mining outputs will have to increase by up to 500% over the coming 30 years.
Mining is necessary for our survival but dangerous if not done correctly. The mining industry has made great strides in recent decades to improve its operations and increase overall efficiency to ensure the safety and well-being of people and the environment. However, uninformed public perception and over-politicization can lead to counterproductive policies and regulations. The result is endless red tape that prevents the development of new mining operations that the world greatly needs. It currently takes over a decade just to permit a new mine in the US. We can't afford such crippling delays, which are born from ignorance rather than informed decision-making. Promoting education and advocacy for better understanding of mining's role in sustainability is key.
Mines create jobs and fuel the growth of local economies, not only for the lifecycle of the mine but for generations. The key is ensuring stakeholder participation at the community level that is supported by sound governance and strong institutions. With greater public support, mining can continue to advance and become the catalyst for the truly sustainable development of our societies.
2. Poor policies
The delays caused by poor policy are bad enough, but the current political and regulatory climate surrounding mining has even greater negative impacts on a global scale. Because it is so difficult to mine legally, we now see widespread illegal mining operations worldwide. These operations are extremely harmful; they destroy pristine natural locations, disregard environmental concerns, risk global stability and are rife with human rights violations.
Even when politicians understand the issues around mining policy, the political backlash of supporting a more pragmatic approach makes them hesitant to act. This hesitation is understandable, but it puts political interests above the well-being of their constituents. Mining has become a political football for both sides of the aisle, and this cannot continue. We must review government policies regularly to ensure this industry can continue to support modern life now and in the future.
3. Not embracing the future
Mining also needs to fully embrace emerging technologies, such as machine learning and Artificial Intelligence, to optimize water and energy use, minimize waste and support further exploration. It will continue to be more difficult to extract the materials we need, as the most easily accessible resources have largely been extracted. We'll have to dig ever deeper into the earth for the resources we need, and as we go deeper, the environment becomes more hazardous for humans. That's where AI, machine learning and autonomous machines can mitigate risk and improve efficiency.
We are innovating, to be sure — one good development is our ability to extract minerals from mining waste, for instance.
4. Forced labor
Forced labor in mining is a horrible reality, specifically in countries with less-than-stellar human rights records. With the advantages that low labor costs bring, certain nations have allowed predatory actors to gain access to the market of mining, processing, smelting and refining of our natural resources. Children, the poor and other disadvantaged populations are most at risk.
Developed countries have to take a strong stand against these practices. Only by working together can we end these inhumane practices for good and ensure mining operations are done responsibly in all corners of the world.
We have a powerful incentive to improve mining operations. The future of mining is bright, but that will come with work. If we want to keep providing the building blocks of modern civilization, these things need to change. The benefits are beyond question — we can elevate the poor through minerals and metals, giving them access to electricity and clean water. It's possible to eradicate poverty without giving up civilization while still pursuing clean energy goals. Above all else, health and education are most essential for the sustainable development of humanity. They are the foundation for healthy civilizations, and mining can help us get there.