Modern societies are dependent on mineral-based products. Energy technology, Information and communications technology, consumer electronics, infrastructure, logistics and food production all increasingly rely on an ever-widening array of minerals and metals. For example, production of a personal computer or a smartphone needs over 40 elements. Rapid replacement of internal combustion engines by electricity based technology in the car industry and widening application of wind and solar energy may cause a massive demand for mining of metals such as, lithium, cobalt and rare earth elements. The use of many of these hi-tech metals will vastly increase quantities in the future, and mining of primary resources is the only way to produce them. Minerals also provide the materials to build homes, schools, hospitals and infrastructure. Minerals and metals are essential for generating and supplying “renewable” «green» energy and low-carbon production technology. Even wind generation requires huge amounts of traditional minerals and metals including aggregates for their concrete anchorage, copper for the motor windings and transmission cables and aluminum for their construction material. Minerals and metals are also fundamental to make societies more resilient to climate change because of their use in the technologies mentioned earlier.
Mineral and metal consumption strongly correlates with economic growth and urbanization. Three billion additional people will likely move to cities by 2050. Improved recycling, resource efficiency, better product design and new materials will reduce mineral and metal consumption per capita, but mining of primary resources will continue to play an important role in the future in building sustainable societies.
Geology defines the occurrence of mineral deposits so mining is geographically constrained, but the use of the products of mining in down-stream industries or as final products often takes place in continents and countries different from the location of the mine. Therefore, mining communities do not necessarily appreciate the importance of mineral production for the welfare of people living in other countries, particularly if there is no tangible sharing of those benefits.
Mining cannot choose locations that are logistically, socially, environmentally or politically optimal, appropriate or ‘friendly’. This means that companies may have to deal with circumstances that could pose ethical challenges including: the relationship with local communities, position in the landscape/environment, relationship with local and national governments, weak governance and associated increased risk of corruption and bribery. It is necessary to deal with these challenges in a responsible way. This also means that geoscientists and engineers will need to build their capacity and skills on how to deal with local communities and related social issues.
There is no doubt that mining can bring positive benefits to the host countries but these can come at a cost to the environment and local communities if relationships, resources and operations are not managed properly. The fundamental aim must be equitable distribution of the benefits of development and minimization of the negative impacts on people and the environment. Responsibly navigating this field requires a strong ethical compass.
Arvanitidis N., Boon J., Nurmi P. and Di Capua G. (2017). The White Paper on Responsibile Mining. IAPG – International Association for Promoting Geoethics.
The paper will be also presented in the sessions on geoethics at EGU 2018 and RFG 2018.ACCESS WHITE PAPER ON RESPONSIBLE MINING