Big Business and Little Plants: The Winners and Losers of Mining’s Trophic Cascade

Tim LeCain’s argument concerning transformational, relocational, and delaying technological fixes very much follows the logic of trophic cascading and socio-trophic cascading as he argues that these techno-fix frameworks give engineers and scientists the illusion of success, when in fact, they lead to secondary environmental impacts. LeCain’s two case studies describe similar situations where mining and smelting operations in Tennessee and Montana produced toxic byproducts that were killing plants and livestock in the surrounding areas (Tim LeCain, p. 140, p. 145). Both operations eventually developed systems that transformed these toxic wastes into profitable materials that were sold to fertilizer and pesticide companies (LeCain, p. 140, p. 147). Unfortunately, in both cases, farmers used excess amounts of fertilizer and pesticide, thus causing run off, and ultimately, water and soil contamination (LeCain, p. 144, p. 148). These case studies thus show that once the scope of the environmental impact fell beyond the direct focus of the techno-fix, the fix was then considered a success, when in fact, the trophic cascade that followed the fix had severe environmental effects.

Although mining certainly produces toxic wastes, we need copper and other mined materials, especially with the continuing trend of smaller, faster, and more abundant technological devices that require massive amounts of mined material. LeCain’s argument, however, does provide a warning about avoiding a narrow-minded approach towards technological fixes for managing these byproducts. We must disallow ourselves from focusing on the direct objectives of fixing large scale environmental issues and instead, consider every possibility of the pending trophic cascade that will follow any sort of transformational, relocational, and/or delaying technological fix that is put into place. Profits often cloud this broader view, however, as companies’ primary concerns revolve around power and control. They want to continue being winners while trying to control the environment, but as LeCain’s title states, all companies can continue to win, but without broad consideration, the environment will always lose.

One thought on “Big Business and Little Plants: The Winners and Losers of Mining’s Trophic Cascade”

  1. Hey Logan, I really like how you integrated the cascades into this post, and your stance on looking forward for mining and managing the harmful waste that inevitably accompanies it. I also think it’s both interesting and unfortunate that the “fixes” established by the mining companies were so temporary, and they still found a way to try to spin their mandated environmental concerns into a way to a quick profit. Futhermore, the result of their profits was even more environmental damage. I also agree with your second paragraph that unless people begin giving more forethought to the potential environmental fallout from their actions or fixes, there will always be more trouble for the land. Do you think there’s any way that the environment and mining can more peacefully coexist? Clearly maintaining both are essential for humanity looking forward, as we have developed as a species to be both dependent on the furthering of technology and the cultivation of the land.

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