When one thinks of sustainable development, the following classic phrase often leaps to mind;
Give a boy a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a boy to fish, feed him for life.
On a basic level it means; using long term solutions to solve the world’s problems without damaging the environment and making sure that everybody prospers. Thus one definition of sustainable development is;
Making a lasting effort to meet the demands of society whilst maintaining viable environmental, economical and social Earth systems.
So what does geology have to do with sustainable development? The answer is; an awful lot. Geological mining is extremely important to our planet and its products are becoming increasingly more in demand. It is also the foundation of development because materials required for building and technology, like limestone, granite, metals, oil etc. have to be mined from the ground first. If we want to develop our countries sustainably, we must start with sustainable mining, for if the foundation is not sustainable how can the product be?
But mining, like all things, comes with its problems. Over the years it has gained a reputation for disaster, for example; the BP oil spills, the Aberfan coal tip disaster in 1966 that buried a school, the African blood diamond scandal that lead to a ten year civil war in Sierra Leone and Angola and the Ok Tedi mining failure in Papua New Guinea that dumped 90 million tonnes of waste into the local river systems and will take 200 years to recover. Now imagine if every mining process worked out like that? Earth would become a living hell in a matter of generations. This is why the development of sustainable mining is so crucial.
But don’t panic, we, as geoscientists, are the part of solution. Sustainable mining does exist and if, over the next few generations, we can take these sustainable ideals into the mining industry with us and thus wipe out the unsustainable mining practises, we can succeed.
I leave you with a story from Lihir in Papua New Guinea;
Before the mine, the inhabitants of Lihir were involved in traditional subsistence agriculture and led simple and poor lives without medicine or education. A potential mine was located in the 1980’s, but the land over the mine source was found to house many different clans. So instead of blowing up home-tree (like they did in Avatar) they set up an all-inclusive group where everybody got a say, resulting in the locals having a share in the mining profit. Projects were also set up to build schools, water supplies, churches, medical facilities, health programmes and training all funded by the mine. This is still an on-going project and it is likely that its success will endure and Lihir will keep developing even when the mine is long gone.
If you want to know anything more about the subject, leave a comment below – I actually wrote an essay on this last year!
Lihir mining success.