Waste and destruction is how we mine the world

Humans have this fantastic ability to lie to ourselves and others. We enthusiastically embrace the very opposite of the truth and call it the truth. Right now, as we face multiple environmental crises, we are enthusiastically trying to convince ourselves that doubling the behavior that caused the crises will solve the crises. If we double the quantity of mining we’ll save the environment, the crazy thinking goes.

Want to reduce global heating? More mining! Want to reduce biodiversity loss? More mining! Want to reduce soil loss? More mining! Want to reduce plastic pollution? More mining! Want to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous overuse? More mining! Want to reduce freshwater loss? More mining! Because more mining is green and clean and circular and sustainable. When in fact it’s the exact, total opposite. But this is the logic when you are part of the Growth Death Cult.

“The problem in general is not to find ore, minerals and so on,” mining expert Pietro Jarre tells me. “The Earth’s crust is rich in that. For instance, along the seaside near Genoa, there is an historical village, Varigotti. Beautiful, touristic, it is sitting on the largest titanium reserves in the world. The problem is not to find ore. The problem is to mine it and survive the consequences in terms of environmental impact, social impact and so on. Mining these resources in a sustainable way is very, very difficult. It’s almost impossible, in my experience.”

Mining is always devastating to the environment, and the most dirty secret of mining is “decommissioning, closing and so on,” Pietro points out. “There are thousands of mines closed around the world. There are hundreds if not thousands of tailing ponds which have been abandoned. A tailing pond should be cared for for hundreds of years.” It never is, of course. These toxic tailing dumps are left to fail and destroy the groundwater and everything around them.

“I think that we should stop thinking that these are technical problems which require technical solutions,” Pietro states. “These are political, economic and social problems which require political, social and economic solutions. We really need to change gear and to stop using the amount of materials we use. We need to stop buying the new smartphone every two years. We need to stop using more data. Because in the end, like in mining, most of what we do is waste.

“Of the data we produce every day, how much is waste? 90%? 95%? 99%? 99.9%? Yesterday, during a conversation I heard someone say: ‘Oh yes, I switch on a video but then I do other things in my house while I listen to the video.’ And I thought, if you need to listen, why on earth are you switching on a video? An audio is much more environmentally friendly than a video. In every single house in Europe you go, there is a TV which is permanently on, at eight in the morning, at midnight. That is a habit that we need to stop. And so in mining, like in using digital technologies, we really need to learn, to learn back, because we used to know it. Just a few hundred years ago, we used to live having a much smaller environmental footprint. I think that’s the real hope. I see that my sons, my niece and my nephew start to really think in a different way: ‘I’m using what I need.’”

We don’t have an energy problem.
We do have an energy consumption crisis.

Pietro Jarre: No such thing as sustainable mining

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