I’m sure many of you are concerned about the impact of mining on ecology, but like myself many of you may also be fans of technology, and others might read this out of scepticism for the idea that there’s any truly sustainable and ecologically friendly way to conduct mining operations.
So this article is for the purpose of laying out a hypothetical extrapolation as to how the Open Empire framework might deal with the need for minerals in the future.
Firstly let’s address why we need, and how much we need.
At present we run an economic paradigm in which if you don’t produce anything, you pretty much get no money, and how much money you get – and then get to keep – often depends on how rapidly and repeatedly you can exploit resources. So in this and many other ways the system is set up to maximally exploit resources, both over unit of resource, and per unit of time.
Now there are many strategies to doing this, and they’re almost all extremely wasteful:
- Manufacturing “need” through advertising, marketing, and sales
- Manufacturing repeat sales through inbuilt obsolescence and product failure
- Redundant and pointless versions of the exact same product
- … and the list goes on …
Then on top of this, we have many people and organisations doing it over every imaginable area of human and social potentialities, and we run a society where no one is responsible for waste, so when you’re done with something, you throw it out at the least cost to yourself and forget all about it.
The end result is the maximisation of waste and pointless resource expenditure in every regard – and what does all this waste deliver (?): a great deal for a few, but nothing and emptiness for everyone else.
To give you an example of just how inefficient and wasteful the systems are that we develop, it was a while ago so the numbers are t current – but nonetheless relatively recently – a study of the internal combustion engine motor vehicle ( for standard production vehicles ) showed that on average only 0.2% of the available energy in the fuel supply went to moving the mass of the driver ( the whole point of the vehicle ).
So through these and a great many other similar arguments, we can see that what we really need, versus what we get, and what we use in order to get it, couldn’t possibly be less efficient if we tried. Capitalism doesn’t appear to have any idea whatsoever what efficiency actually is.
So the solution to this is a future in which we do not race to consume things for an insane and uninsightful short term selfish interest, but instead look to each individual resource and ask of it:
Which is the best available purpose we can put this resource to, with respect to reducing scarcity, increasing abundance, while reducing harm, and increasing benefits in both ecological and social terms.
In this way, we get far more benefit per unit of resource, for a far greater number of people, and with far less waste …
THE POINT BEING: part of the problem of mining is the insane level of demand, coupled with the rush to attainment with the least possible responsibility for the consequences … once we take away this destructive motivational force, we can look at alternatives.
Since we’ve already done so much damage, it makes sense we should not let that cost be in vain, and with the economic system changed, and currency no longer the motivational force, we can look at far more options for recycling minerals from our junk.
Presently the west doesn’t want to bother about this, as there’s no money in it, but in a future where you have to take responsibility for consequences, there’s no offloading the junk to 3rd world countries to get poor people to sift through it for precious metals and expose themselves and their environment to carcinogenic and other toxic materials in the process … instead we stop putting the last of the mass produced crap into landfill, and we start figuring out how to reuse every single bit of it, or how to process its synthetic chemistry into new raw materials, or safely return them to Earth in a harmless natural form, and in an environment where that natural form would be expected.
So with recycling underway and our need under control, along with control of the motivations behind the need, we can look at how new minerals are actually attained.
The first obvious question is “who will do mining jobs if you don’t need money anymore?” – and the answer to this is quite simple. Many people will have a desire to earn merit for access to scarce resources for some kind of personal interest or project, but not all of them will have any other particularly popular talents to exploit, and they might be looking for a fast-track method to gaining that merit, and otherwise undesirable jobs would certainly do that, as they involve some level of risk and personal sacrifice – but there is a big difference in this hypothetical versus the status quo.
People electing to do mining work would no longer have to share the “value” of the project output with managers and owners / shareholders, instead that output is a value proportionally created only by those whom actually contributed to it, and you also don’t need to negotiate for your proportion, as it is determined by perspective agnostic science-based algorithms and recorded data. So there’s actually a far greater and faster reward possible.
Secondly, you’re also not subjected to any unnecessarily unsafe working conditions, as there’s no rush, and there’s no managers and shareholders trying to cut corners at the expense of your safety.
There is however a much lengthier and more detailed planning research and testing phase, in which the environment in which those minerals are present is assessed, understood, and hypothetical methods and scenarios of extraction are postulated, modelled, and tested many times long before that environment is touched … why? Because no one wants to be responsible for the ecological damage done.
opposition from environmental users:
One of the costs that has to be factored in, is the social damage of operational methods – ie: how badly affected is other people’s ability to enjoy this environment if this goes ahead, AND given how the damage would affect our own statistics, what are the likely reprisals of consequence ( if any ) from such people, and which they could also justify based on our actions and the consequences of their response.
Environmental and social specialists would in fact be brought into the picture early in order to accurately calculate how much impact will be caused for every person and species with respect to changes in that environment, and with each such cost identified, the mining R&D team can look at ways to avoid entirely or mitigate any such consequences.
IN OTHER WORDS: no one would mine anything ever with the most destructive methods – especially not in the most ecologically sensitive areas – since this increases the probability of dire reprisals of consequence from others, in the absolute extreme worst case scenario, it may even be possible someone could justify killing a belligerently ecologically destructive miner, because they cannot be negotiated with, and the cost of letting them continue is greater than the cost of killing them; BUT remember that is just a really extreme case to demonstrate the point that there’s no motivation for being that person, as you wouldn’t earn merit for access to scarce resources, and you’d be subject to reprisals.
PLEASE NOTE: remember this is not about law or authority, there’s no law, and there’s no authority, this is a wholly anarchic system; there’s just the calculation estimation and measurement of consequences, and the feedback consequences for the actor ( both positive and negative ) that result from those initial consequences of human consumptive and productive activity.
sharing responsibility with communities:
Those engaged in such mining R&D – after having conducted the initial environmental assessment and proposals for minimum harm extraction – would then approach the people who want the raw materials and end productsof manufacture with an estimation of the least and most range of ecological damage likely to be done, and they would say to them ( something like ):
” … given that – as the end users – you will share the responsibility with us, would you still want access given that this is the best we can do at the moment, and this is how it would affect your own statistics? ”
The feedback from this question will give them an idea as to whether it’s worthwhile proceeding at this stage, or whether they need to keep researching less damaging methods, or even find a new source.
cleanup and site remediation:
Since the best policy under this framework is to do little or no damage in the first place, there’s less to be cleaned up, and since the cleanup has impact on the overall consequences of your operations, they are considered at the outset with respect to the methods of extraction chosen, such that the minimal effort for the maximum cleanup gain is determined, and then people are motivated to do more than that minimum anyway.
Everyone knows that someone else could feel motivated to specialise in following the works of mining groups to reassess the aftermath, and so there’s no benefit in trying to hide it, because that will only make it even worse for yourself when the truth is uncovered, as now you’d be responsible for both the consequences of the damage AND the coverup.
Thus we get massive innovation in genuinely environmentally friendly mining techniques, no one is motivated to be reckless environmental vandals – to the contrary such behaviour is avoided at all costs – and we end up with a society that does more with less, with everyone ( including other species ) benefiting at all times.
example scenario 1 – wetlands:
Wetlands are extremely varied in their nature, but that aside, they may contain minerals in the silt at their base, or they may exist over a deeper mineral deposit. Typically speaking ( under the status quo ) mining operations just go in and tear it up, dig it up, pump stuff out, or whatever is the easiest and cheapest way to extract the desired resource – this of course must change.
In a hypothetical future scenario as I propose, the mining operation would – in the case of a silt based deposit – first look at what proportion of the silt could be taken over what time period, without significantly and deleteriously affecting the numbers, functions, healing and reproduction of species in that environment, and also look at the suffering of species from methods of extraction, the ideabeing to keep things as close to zero impact as possible.
Whereas if the deposit exists in the soil and/or rocks deeper under the wetlands, the they would be looking at things such as:
- Tunnelling underneath so as not to disturb the wetlands above ( more feasible at greater depths );
- Making a small access tunnel with a kind of air / water lock, or walled elevator entry, so that shallower operations can be done in a wetter environment, still from underneath – but without allowing excess flow of disturbed materials into the wetland environment – AND ONLY IF there is no significant direct movement of materials adjacent to the entry between the mine and the wetland …
HOWEVER: it seems highly likely to me that in this latter case, and in the case of mining from silt within the wetland, it is highly unlikely you’d bother if the quantities required were large, as you’d be better off seeking a less ecologically sensitive source.
example scenario 2 – desert:
By contrast a desert, while not lifeless, has less life – therefore there’s less to be impacted, however the life that does live there is extremely vulnerable and sensitive ( especially with regards to water availability and quality ), so there’s other concerns to be dealt with.
In this scenario I would envisage a similar assessment process determining that daily and seasonal migration pathways of animals through the desert be taken into consideration, for example bats might need a particular cactus in their flight path so it’s important to neither move nor destroy them, and perhaps elephants will be seeking a remembered water hole as they journey elsewhere – and once all these things are taken into consideration with respect to the location of the deposit, methods of extraction which create the least interference would be devised.
example scenario 3 – ocean:
Naturally the big issues here are water quality, and the disturbance of marine ecosystems, or the mating habits of species etc.
Mining the ocean water itself through filtration would be reasonably easy, and the only things you’ve got to watch out for are:
- Disturbing the microcosm of species ( eg: algae and plankton etc. );
- How much water is pulled in at what rate, and what mechanisms stop marine creatures getting pulled in and trapped?
- If the exhaust water is significantly changed, does this need to be dispersed over a wider area to dilute that change?
At present we have people drilling, dredging, and otherwise disturbing an ocean floor that ( more than ) half the time they’re not even looking at, and while this ocean environment is challenging, we now have globally unlimited free education for life for all people, and no motivation for information hoarding, so there are way more minds on the task, and each has a vastly better education than anyone in the status quo ( without exception ).
example scenario 4 – forest:
In a forest the big issue is habitat destruction and the loss of trees and soil, so again we might want to look at a small entry point instead of open-cut mining.
example scenario 5 – mountain:
Mountain top removal likely wouldn’t exist, we would just stop doing it entirely, as it’s hard to imagine any scenario where the benefits outweigh the costs, and instead ( as above ) we’d go for a small entry point, and looking to minimise the mining to keep the structural integrity of the mountain, while also doing our best to make tunnels in such a manner as to provide other benefits ( eg: underground housing, mushroom farms, etc. ).
example scenario 6 – river:
A river like a wetland is difficult and sensitive, so many of the same principles apply, except that the sediments we’re looking at might be more sandy and stony versus silty, depending on the nature of the river.
example scenario 7 – space:
Space is an interesting place to leave this, as I have a proposal as to how we can get around the materials challenge of building the space-elevator, in which we bypass the issue of single atom anomalies in the nanotubes reducing the tensile strength of the material, and the resulting cable.
My proposal is a very different configuration than the most prominently proposed ribbon cable design, and if one day I could get the funding to develop it, we would end up with 3 equidistant equatorial ocean based space elevators, at which point mining the moon or asteroids is no big deal, because we can then rapidly construct space craft that do not need to escape or enter the gravity of Earth, and the mined minerals are simply parachute dropped from orbit in re-usable containers that are refurbished and sent back up the elevators.
Also published on Medium.