No such thing as ‘green’ mining

They say that we must mine our way to a ‘green’ and ‘renewable’ future. To save the world we must massively increase mining so that by 2050, we will be mining a Mount Everest every year. Every single year, mining out of the Earth the mass of a Mount Everest, 90% of which immediately becomes waste.

“I have stood on the edge of a mine in Arizona, a copper mine called the Copper Queen, which is adjacent to a fairly small city called Bisbee,” scientist Josh Lepawsky said to me. “It’s an open pit mine. When you stand on the lookout, I mean, it is an overwhelmingly vast hole in the ground. It’s a reverse mountain. It’s hard to grasp the scale.”

“Bisbee, the town itself, decades after the mine has closed, is dealing with the toxic consequences of that mining. In very everyday ways. People not being able to plant food gardens because of the toxins in the soil. The dust in the town is also a problem because of the toxic chemicals that are resident in the soil as a consequence of what is called the overburden of the mine.”

“Industrial scale mining as we know it now is not sustainable,” Josh states. “It is not something that can go on indefinitely in the form it currently takes. It has major implications for how ‘we’ order and organize our lives. The key is how to live with sufficiency. We have to learn to live with substantially reduced material and energy throughput in the systems.”

“These electric vehicles, I think it better to think of them as computers on wheels, rather than cars in a more traditional sense. I don’t think electric vehicles are a bad idea inherently but they’re not going to solve the climate emergency for us. Mining comes with harms that are not just related to carbon. There are toxic harms, social harms. Thinking about electric vehicles as renewables and the broader discourse of ‘green’ consumerism, or ‘green’ capitalism, if it is premised on continued growth then it is inherently unsustainable.”

If we want a future for ourselves and our children, then it is a future that is radically different to the one we live in now. It is a future where we truly respect Earth’s materials, where we reuse them and repair them. Where we carefully only choose materials that are reusable and repairable. It is a future where we are always thinking about energy conservation, where we are always seeking to eliminate waste.

It is a future of walking and cycling cities, where we spend more time alone with our bodies, or just with friends (no phones), or just with Nature (no phones). We will be growing more of our own food. We will be walking to the shops. Our children will be walking and cycling to school. It’s a good future, a healthy future, a future that can be full of happiness and fulfillment.

An old word will return to our vocabulary. When given an option to do something, to buy something, the question we will ask is:

Is it wise?

Josh Lepawsky chats with Gerry McGovern

Podcast: World Wide Waste
Interviews with prominent thinkers outlining what can be done to make digital as sustainable as possible.
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