Tim LeCain explores how mining engineers developed subterranean maps, water pumps, and better spaces for human workers including a way to carry air supply, to meet the challenges of mining in extreme environments. Subterranean maps allowed mining companies to more effectively place tunnels and shafts to prevent mines from collapsing and potentially killing people and destroying cities. However, miners and geologists still ran into underground lakes and rivers. To combat this, gigantic pumps were used to drain underground waterways, but these were very expensive. Groundwater also created humidity, especially as mines dug deeper. This problem of air quality was not limited to humidity, so ventilation systems were set up to aid mine workers. Oxygen tanks were also given to miners, which allowed them to create clean air in the mine’s toxic environment. However, this system was not perfect, as it forced people to work in dangerous environments and still resulted in deaths.
Mining is an excellent example of the “technological fix” discussed in previous blogs. Copper will make you rich, but how to extract it? How do we extract it in greater quantities? How do we prevent people from being killed on the job? How can we create a mine site while still maintaining the environment around the mine? How do we clean up when the mine is empty? What happens when we can no longer control what we’ve created? Many of these questions are only asked when the problems arise. The solution requires slow and careful forward thought, which are often brushed aside when there’s money to be made. Mining has become necessary for modern life, but we should consider if it will be necessary for the future. If not, how do we fix the problems created by mining? How do we break our from our dependence on mined materials?