Is Mining Sustainable?
It is an undeniable fact that virtually every item we use today is in some way dependent on materials extracted from the earth through mining. It is, however, equally undeniable that mining is destructive.
Open-pit or open-cast mining requires that large swathes of lands should be cleared of trees and other vegetation so that they can be dug up. Apart from the mining area, trees also need to be cut to clear spaces for the offices and living quarters of the miners and for access roads to the site. This necessarily leads to widespread deforestation.
Apart from destroying our sources of oxygen, medicines, food, and wood, deforestation also leads to a loss of biodiversity as animals, birds, and insects are deprived of their natural habitat.
The process of extraction of the valuable metals or stones involves the use of chemicals which are eventually discarded. Although these are usually channeled through pipes to nearby rivers, some still find their way into the land, thus poisoning it and rendering it unable to support plant life.
The chemicals released into lakes, rivers, or seas necessarily pollute the water and adversely affect aquatic and marine life. Some mining processes also require the use of large volumes of water. These are drawn from nearby sources, thus competing with the organisms that depend on water for their survival.
Given our dependence on the minerals mined from the earth, it is imperative that we find a way to minimize the negative impact of mining on our environment. Any solution should incorporate the concerns of all stakeholders, including the investors, workers, and the residents who may be negatively affected with the presence of a mining operation in their backyard.
Investments should be poured into the improvement of existing devices and methods as well as the development of new ones to minimize these adverse effects. Detailed and practicable programs for the reclamation of abandoned or mined out areas must first be drawn even before the start of any mining operation.
Particular attention should be given to the disposal of toxic wastes that could permanently destroy the land and water.
A continuing dialog of the stakeholders based on mutual trust and a genuine desire for mutually beneficial results is likewise necessary. It must also be remembered that in situations such as this, trade-offs are inevitable.