Did you know that in the last 100 years, we have mined more minerals than in the entire history of mankind before that? BUT THEN, Over 99 percent of the Earth's surface has never been mined. So why worry? RIGHT? WRONG!!! Minerals are actually limited in supply. That’s because though they may be everywhere, only in a few places are they concentrated enough to make them valuable. In the past, we could find enough mineral resources on the earth’s surface. This is not the case today.
Reality 1: Minerals are becoming more difficult to mine. Reality 2: Environmental impacts are increasing. Reality 3: More energy is being required to extract one kilo of raw material. Reality 4: More waste is being created. Reality 5: Once a mine has been mined, it cannot be replaced.
If it ain’t living, it’s a mineral!
Everything that man uses on Earth which isn’t a plant or an animal is a mineral. There is simply no exception. Mineral resources are found on and in the Earth's crust and minerals are divided into metals like iron and gold, non-metals like salt, sand and clay and fuels like oil gas and coal. And all our activities revolve around these. The only exception to mining in our daily lives is agriculture, but even that would not be possible without modern farming techniques which cannot be done without minerals.
Stone Age to Space Age
Minerals have directed the progress of mankind and early ages have been named after metals. At first, man carved simple tools and weapons out of stones and that was called the Stone Age. Then came the age of the metals. In the Bronze and Iron Ages, man made his implements out of metals dug from the Earth's crust. After that, the more sophisticated our society became and more advanced our technology got, the more we relied on more and more minerals. Minerals powered the Industrial Age of the eighteenth century and the Space Age of the twentieth century.
How Did They Get There?
Thanks to all the volcanic activity inside the Earth, rocks are melting and cooling. These processes can concentrate metals such as copper, nickel, and tin in a rock mass along with other common minerals like quartz and feldspar. Other natural processes can also concentrate mineral resources into deposits. Moving water deposits sand and gravel along stream and riverbanks and ocean beaches. Water erodes gold-bearing rock from mountains and deposits gold in gravels along some rivers and streams. And millions of years ago, billions of dead plants accumulated in swamps. Time and heat transformed them into coal. Oil and natural gas, on the other hand, have come from algae, spores and plant material.
Abundant or Scarce, it's a Problem
More than 3,500 different minerals have been identified in the earth’s crust. Prominent among them are metals. The rocks inside the earth that contain the metals are first mined, then refined, or extracted from the rock. For some metals, this process can be very expensive. It can also be very complicated. For example, aluminum is the most abundant metal to be found, but it never occurs in a pure form. Its always bonded to several other elements and must be put through a very energy-intensive process. Copper, on the other hand, is scarce. So lots of land has to be moved and lots of energy and water used to extract it. That's why mining companies target sparsely populated areas or weak communities who can't protest too much.
— G.Nankuri, World Bank researcher
Somewhere in the 19th century: Thousands of gold prospectors raided Red Indian lands in a series of gold rushes in North America. The whites did a lot of damage. They tore down fences. Pastures were dug up. But the natives could do little. Red Indian land which had gold, silver or oil was snatched away by force.
Somewhere in the 20th century: After thriving by extracting mineral resources from colonies for centuries, the colonial powers were forced to give independence to them. But while going, they ensured that the economics of exploitation would continue through their so-called “free trade”.
Somewhere in the 21st century:The Developed world's major mineral deposits have been mined out, but they are still getting what they want from the developing world. Each major industrial region has picked a zone. The US looks to Latin America, Western Europe to Africa, Japan to the rest of Asia.
Economy is ultimately a “parasite” of nature'
How an aluminium can is made
The raw material is transported from an Australian bauxite mine to a chemical factory in over-sized trucks. They make half a ton of aluminium oxide from one ton of bauxite. After one month of ocean transport the material reaches Sweden or Norway, where the aluminium bars are smeltered using cheap energy.
They are then rolled to thin tin plates in Germany. The material goes to England where it is shaped to cans, washed, dried and painted.
It is then transported to a factory, washed again and given an inner coating to prevent the drink from corroding the metal. Finally, then comes the filling which comprises water, some syrup and CO2.
What is more valuable?
Metals – and their ecological rucksack
Nature consumption required for the production of:
The 70’s already gave birth to the idea of shaping the material interaction between people and nature on this planet in a sustainable way. During the early 90’s Friedrich Schmidt-Bleek and Ernst Ulrich von Weizsaecker from the Wuppertal Institute developed the concept of dematerialisation.
The basic idea is simple — to relieve the planet by extracting less material for inclusion into the economic process. Why? Because if you put a lot into something a lot comes out the other end, as waste or emission. At the same time, resources are put to better use through more innovative and more intelligent technology. The result: firstly, to generate adequate wealth in the North and the South, secondly, to secure the intact biosphere and thirdly, if we succeed in taxing resources instead of manpower, to generate many new jobs. This is called a win-win-win solution.
The ecological rucksack
Friedrich Schmidt-Bleek, former Vice President of the renowned Wuppertal Institute, today heads his Factor 10 Institute in Carnoules/Provence. According to him "Every product we use, every service we indulge in carries a rucksack full of materials that have been moved and transformed in order to have shaped this product or service.“
In the late 80’s he described a paradigm change in environmental theory. His attention shifted from dioxin, mercury and sulphur dioxide — in other words the toxicity of single compounds — to focus on nature consumption as such, quantity, sheer mass or simply the resource issue. From nanograms to megatons. Schmidt- Bleek called for reducing nature consumption to a tenth. And remaining at the same level of wealth. In Schmidt-Bleek’s eyes the economy is ultimately a “parasite” of nature.
Each catalytic converter for cars devours
about three tons of natural raw materials
in the course of its production. Why? Because of the platinum component and its enormous rucksack.
—The Song “Coal Minin' Man”, by Ricky Skaggs
Wanted Miners! Willing to work for low wages, no health facilities, dangerous working conditions and no pension. Most of the profits will be pocketed by mine owners. This fictitious ad could have been written anytime in the last few hundred years and for almost any mine in any country in the world, for the story of the common miner has been the story of exploitation. In Industrial Age England, the poor worked in coal mines for a pittance. In America, black convicts worked as forced labourers in mines the 19th century. In India, the very adivasis who are uprooted from their ancestral land are working as miners for a clutchful of rupees today.
Life is cheap, so is labour...
...18000 children are mica miners in Giridih and Koderama districts of Jharkhand. They go below the ground to dig and search for mica, battling cave-ins, snake bites, silicosis, asthma and bronchitis. In neighbouring Giridh, Santhal tribes have lost their natural forest habitat due to mines and are forced to work 10 hours a day collecting mica scraps, for which they get between six and ten rupees.
...In Tanzania, it is alleged, the Kahama Mining Corporation buried 52 miners alive in the Bulyanhulu goldmine in 1996. A company bulldozer was filling small-scale mining pits at the time. Since then, environmental and human rights groups have been calling for an independent review to look into these accusations. But there have been no conclusive investigations so far.
...After the Civil War in America in 1863, the southern states were nearbankrupt. So they passed a legislation allowing convicts to be used as forced labour in coal mines. Many of these "convict miners" were worked to death. If a mule died while working in the mines, a new one had to be purchased by the company. But if a convict miner died, the state would furnish a new convict as a replacement at no cost to the mine owner!
— Aboriginal elder of Australia speaking out against Aluminum companies
Encroach: to trespass upon the property, domain, or rights of another, esp. gradually or stealthily. Encroacher. An illegal, unpleasant person who encroaches. But what if a property or domain belonging by right to a group of people is taken through force by an authority or government. Is that tresspassing? What if land is taken over gradually and stealthily by a mining company? Is that encroaching? The answer depends on which side of the mining divide you are standing on. For one side, it’s about maximising profits. For the other, it’s a lifelong fight for survival. And the other voice is getting stronger and stronger. Time will tell who is the real encroacher.
These communities took on big mining companies— and won.
Tribal power triumphs
Leasing out tribal land for bauxite mining projects in Andhra Pradesh would have led to the displacement of 25 villages and the uprooting of 10,000 trees, apart from other forms of environmental degradation.
The villagers protested and after a two-and-a-half-year battle, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the tribals. The court also stated that whenever tribal land was leased out to non-tribals, 20 per cent of net profits had to be used for maintenance of water sources, schools, hospitals, etc. Ecological costs would be extra.
Not in my back yard
When Rio Tinto acquired land for uranium mining in Australia's Northern Territory, local aborigines opposed the construction of the mine. After years of protests, the chairman of Rio Tinto declared that mining wouldn't be done without the consent of the aborigines, who promptly refused saying they wouldn't allow the mine no matter how much they were compensated.
You can’t sell our rights
In 1995 the Nicarguan government gave a Korean company the right to log on 62,000 hectares of land beloning to the Sumu Indians. The Indians began a long struggle. The court finally ruled that rather than selling logging rights to outsiders, the government should have recognised the Sumu Indians’ ownership rights all over the territory.
Shut them all down
Marble mining inside Sariska Wild Life Sanctuary was leading to serious environmental threats. The local people led a series of strong protests. The Supreme Court ordered the closing down of 215 mines.
Get off our coasts
Kenya signed an agreement with a Canadian company to strip-mine coastal forests for titanium. That would have resulted in 6000 people being displaced, 40 metres depth of earth and vegetation being dug up, not to mention damage to rivers, and coral reefs. Local groups formed a coalition to stop the project and ran a global campaign. The final result? The government agreed to suspend the project.
The burden of the social and ecological rucksack of some products we use...
Coltan or columbite-tantalite is found in large quantities in Congo. Workers dig large craters in streambeds and put the slush and mud in large tubs, where the heavy coltan settles at the bottom. Coltan yields tantalum, a heat-resistant powder that can hold a high electrical charge, critical for mobiles, laptops, pagers and other electronic devices.
Forces from neighboring Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi are involved in smuggling coltan from Congo. They use the money made from smuggled coltan to fund conflicts in their countries. By one estimate, the Rwandan army made at least $250 million over a period of 18 months through the sale of coltan, even though no coltan is mined in Rwanda.
Congo's national parks have also been ravaged to get at coltan, endangering elephants and gorillas. In one national park alone, the gorilla population has been cut to nearly half due to clearing out large areas of forests for coltan mining. “Much more forest has been destroyed in the last three years than in thirty years,” said one African official.
Our Soft drink can needs aluminum which comes from bauxite mines and it is uprooting people in Orissa
This problem was highlighted in a controversial UN Security Council report and some companies have already banned coltan from Congo, though many more still continue to do so. Since Independence, mining has displaced 10 million.
Three-fourth of these are yet to be compensated. 50,000 of them are in Orissa, a state rich in bauxite mines. Most of them are on tribal land. Annually, the world's aluminum industry uses an estimated 290 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. That's enough to power all of Africa!
In Orissa, the aluminum industry consumes as much as one-thirds of the state's power.
“They’ve taken our land and our grandparents land. They ruined the mountains. We can’t drink our water anymore.”
—Leader of the Amungme people, on Indonesia’s Grasberg gold mine, the world’s biggest
Copper mines pollute water bodies steadily over a large period of time. While copper tailings (residue left after mining) is one problem in India, other countries have had devastating consequences with regard to copper mining.
The Clark Fork River basin in this US state of Montana has seen more than 100 years of mining and smelting including the largest copper open pit mine in the world. This pit and its network now has 40 billion litres of acid mine water that rises a little each year, threatening water bodies, which are already contaminated.
Arsenic, lead, zinc, cadmium from the copper mine have touched drinking water aquifers and soils are contaminated with smelter emissions. Local environmental groups have estimated that cleaning up operations would cost in excess of $1 billion.
The Papua New Guniea copper mine of Ok Tedi has resulted in immense water pollution. Australian company BHP has been dumping mine waste into Ok Tedi and Fly rivers for years now and even cleaning their transport vessels in it. The result? The rivers are permanently yellow or grey. Trees along the bank are dead. The rivers, are becoming shallower and wider resulting in floods. Photographs need chromates for pigmentation, which are made out of chromium.
Our photographs need chromium which comes from sukinda mines and it is creating a health hazard
These chromite mines in Orissa are leading to environmental pollution. Due to the mines, chromium is seeping into rivers. The contaminated water has been linked to skin diseases, respiratory disorders and even lung cancer. The affected people of that area are demanding nothing short of the complete closure of the mines.