Nowadays, more people focus on preserving the planet’s natural resources and switching to renewable energy sources that are more environmentally friendly. They tend to blame the mining and drilling industries for the negative state of the world. They see mining as environmentally harmful, dangerous to health and well-being, and ultimately obsolete as green energy advances. However, while we do need to be aware of our carbon footprint, we cannot overlook that mining is, therefore, key to almost every facet of our lives, from construction to the technological innovations that improve the quality of our life.
To shed some light on the situation and to emphasize how critical the mining industry is to our way of life, below are the importance of mining and why it stands to be around for a very long time.
1. If it can’t be grown, it has to be mined
The modern world simply can’t function without mining. Look around to observe the objects you are surrounded by which are not manufactured by plant-based resources. Nearly every metal and mineral we rely on in our everyday life is the product of mining. From the cement you walk on to the screen you are reading, our world and our way of life depend on the products of modern mining practices. Cell phones, cars, energy towers, solar panels, wind turbines, fertilizers, machinery and all kinds of construction need components that were manufactured from minerals.
2. Mining is essential to grow economies
By creating high-paying jobs and providing the raw materials essential to every sector of our economy, minerals mining helps stimulate economic growth. Especially for a number of developing countries, mining is the economic foundation. According to ICMM (International Council on Mining and Metals), at least 70 countries are extremely dependent on the mining industry and most low-income countries need it to simply survive. This same study also shows that in many low-middle income countries, mining accounts for as much as 60–90% of total foreign direct investment!
3. Mining to protect the health, save lives
Life-saving medical devices would not exist without many of the metals and minerals that are mined. There are even medicines that doctors and patients rely on every day that would not be available. For example, copper, silver and gold are crucial materials to operate CT scan devices. Lithium is found in pacemakers, defibrillator machines and other portable electronic equipment, while titanium is used in surgical pins, bone plates, wires, rods, stent-electrodes and screws.
4. Mining for renewable energy technologies
Renewable energy technologies rely on minerals. Copper is just one of these minerals, which is used in the wiring of solar panels and plays a significant role in components for wind turbines. Not only is copper a key player in energy production, but it also is critical to renewable energy storage as it is used in lithium-ion batteries. Another mineral frequently used is manganese. It is used in steel alloys and is found in electric vehicles and wind-and-solar power-storing batteries, along with lithium.
5. Mineral substitutes are few and far between
One of the arguments for a potential decline in mining activities is around the use of substitutes–usually a mineral or metal product being substituted by other products of other origins. We have seen certain metals replaced by carbon fibre, and coal replaced by gas or other fuel sources. However, in general, there are limitations regarding metals and minerals substitution. A Yale University study, after the evaluation of several metals used in various consumer products ,concluded that “not one metal has a substitute for all its major uses”. Even if we were to recycle all the freely available metals and minerals in the world today, we would only meet a small percentage of the total mineral and metal requirements of society.
6. Mining supports the population growth
The population growth will demand more buildings, cars, and consumer products, thereby increasing the need for mined products as the building blocks. So, thanks to the world’s constantly growing demand for the products that mining makes possible, it will even increase in significance as the years go by.
The mining industry is unlikely to lose its place in the world. But we need to be mindful of the broader balance of benefits and impacts. The means to achieving that balance lies in the concept of sustainable development.