Mining in the 21st Century: a New Restorative Approach

The concept of sustainability has been redefined in the course of the last two decades, with growing realization that simply avoiding impacts is not enough to counter the long-term losses created by current economic activities.  We believe that any human activity can be truly sustainable if it is considered part of a larger picture and if it is held to higher standards than required today.  We propose to test this model on an industry that has never been thought to be sustainable: the mining industry.

It is our opinion that the mineral industry (aside from fossil fuel production) can, if required, transform itself into an industry that is far more sustainable than it is at present.  The mineral industry typically works on individual mineral deposits that can be handled as point sources of potential contamination, and point sources are much easier to mitigate.  Although large quantities of rock and soil might be disturbed, the disturbance alone is not what would keep mining from being sustainable. Rather, sustainability hinges on how the disturbance is mitigated, how the pollutants are contained and treated, how the surrounding and overlying ecosystems are preserved and enhanced, and how the products are used.

Sustainable mining can only be accomplished if the current effect of its presence is impact-negative rather than just impact-neutral.One way to accomplish this is to accumulate a capital fund (a portion of the annual depletion) that is used to mitigate damage and restore habitat to a greater extent than would be required to mitigate impacts from the current activity alone.  This form of sustainability thus becomes restorative.

We hope to prove the viability of this approach through the support of a mining company that will develop one property to these standards. To quote J. B. MacKinnon, “All it will take is a wilder way of being human.”

For background and a wider discussion of the foundations on which this approach is based, we refer you to the following paper, recently published by the Geological Society of America: Beyond sustainability: A restorative approach for the mineral industry