I was going over some of the press releases from the provincial government recently when I found one from last April titled Awards Honour Commitment To Sustainable Mining. This is yet another sad example of how far off base our political leadership is, not to mention the captains of industry, all who should be smart enough to know better. Sustainable mining is an oxymoron.
Sustainability means a cyclical system in which inputs balance outputs and everything regenerates at more or less the same rate in perpetuity. Sustainability is what any system or society needs to achieve in order to survive. Things that are not sustainable come to an end.
Mining on the other hand means extraction. There are no inputs for regeneration, we do not grow ore bodies, we just dig them up until they are exhausted. If we were growing ore it wouldn't be mining, it would be farming. Most minerals are not renewable resources, at least in a human time frame.
Many of those who understand the environment are deeply concerned about sustainability as it is apparent that our current social and economic system is consuming renewable resources at a rate greater than they can regenerate, using way too much energy and non-renewable resources, like oil, to do it. This is becoming so obvious that concern with sustainability is spreading among the population.
It is because of this growing concern that we now see governments, political parties and industry cooking up things like the above sustainability award and touting sustainability in their policies. Things that are bogus, but make for good sound bites and deceive the public into thinking that something is being done to address the problem while in reality business as usual carries on as much as possible in the way that it always has. Business as usual means profits first and foremost, the survival of society second.
The wealthy elite will have it no other way. The public is indoctrinated to believe fairy tales about growth and prosperity, and politicians and others who want to make the radical changes necessary to achieve real sustainability do not get far.
There are a number of studies and reports that detail the problem that we are facing. One is a report from the Millennium Assessment entitled Living Beyond Our Means: Natural Assets and Human Well-being which can be found on the web at http://www.millenniumassessment.org. It lists ten key messages, the first being: Everyone in the world depends on nature and ecosystem services to provide the conditions for a decent, healthy, and secure life. This is an inescapable fact despite any belief in supernatural beings or faith in the ability of humans to control nature.
The conditions that the ecosystem will provide depend upon what is being done to the system and how diverse it is. As things in the system change, so will those conditions.
The conditions that have supported humans historically are dependent upon a loop of sustainability that provides a certain amount renewable resources through a widely bio-diverse web. When over consumption degrades those resources and bio-diversity shrinks, their provision is not sustainable and the conditions are changed, and if changed enough they cease to support certain forms of life.
Currently over half of the Earth's eco-systems are degraded and species are going extinct at an alarming rate. The loss of each species changes the conditions for those that are left. The cause of this loss, in large part, is the result of human over consumption. Humans are devouring their life support system and destroying their sustainability. The only remedy is to reduce consumption and begin a process of reversing growth. Anyone who speaks of sustainability without speaking of reducing consumption and reversing growth is blowing smoke.