When we make up our minds to change our approach to the planet, one of the first things we need to confront is our seemingly insatiable appetite for materials and ores that come from the Earth’s crust. Carbon in the form of coal, oil and natural gas are perhaps some of the most commonly though of items that we mine, but limestone that is fired in kilns to make cement is perhaps the most devastating thing that we mine. When all goes well, there is massive trauma to the earth when we seek to extract minerals or ore. Some of the earliest diggings in my part of the world were for lead and copper. Later, we mined the entire forest of Wisconsin, leading to incalculable loss of topsoil, siltation of our riverways and unthinkable human costs as well. Those who profited handsomely by this mining have gone down in history as great men, putting their names on neighborhoods, streets, libraries, schools and bridges. Those at the bottom of the pits and whose rough hands grasped the crosscut saws are all but forgotten in the mists of time, but that is because their plight was less glamorous and their grip on life was tenuous at best. The scars left by mining have lasted hundreds of years. Even today there are heinous scars across the landscape from our fore-bearers appetite for destruction. Having lived in the coal region of Pennsylvania, I have seen first hand what desolation can be wrought on the landscape by the insensitive removal of the coal that fired the industrial revolution so many years ago. Whole mountains have been removed and replaced by heaps of waste rock that denies life a foothold. Hundreds of thousands of acres where nothing can grow. So too around the copper country. The vast outflow of that one specific metal has laid waste to hundreds of square miles of beautiful boreal forests. Time is said to heal all wounds, but in terms of human time scales, there can be no repairing the devastation that has come at the hands of the mining corporations.
Even today, there are mining interests trying to woo the locals in depressed areas with the promise of “good paying jobs” but the same corporations that are weaseling their way into communities across our planet also know, but refuse to say anything about the long-term damage that their “business” will wreak on the landscape and the ability of that land to support people after they have left. sadly, all too often, people in areas that are depressed find comfort in the boom and bust economy because they rationalize that during the boom, they will be better off and when it goes bust, which it always does, they will have saved enough to move on. History shows that boom times bring social ills and corruption on a grand scale. After the boom, local citizens are left with decaying infrastructure and no way to maintain it. The air and water, not to mention the soils will perhaps never return to pre-mining conditions. aerial photos of mining districts show us this quite starkly.
Anyone interested in what we have done to our planet in our quest for more energy and mineral wealth need only look at maps of the areas around Centralia, Ashland and Frackville, Pennsylvania. The scars of the mining there will be evident for centuries. The entire coal region of Appalachia is degraded beyond recognition. For a real eye opener, look at satellite imagery of the areas around Sudbury, Ontario in Canada or any of the large scale mining or ore processing centers across the world. The rich and powerful among us don’t live near their mining operations for good reason. They feel a sense of entitlement in their endeavors. as long as the rest of us are willing to shoulder the burden of incalculable loss and devastation, they will continue to try to convince us that it is worth it to have a bit of income as long as the mine is productive. In the end, if we let them have their way, we can only be assured a smouldering cinder after the money has gone far far away.