Mines and the Technological Fix

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?

1 thought on “Mines and the Technological Fix”

  1. I thought you summarized the article well and made it very easy to see how technological fixes stem from each other. In essence, as one problem is technically fix, that fix then causes a new problem thus requiring a new technological fix, and so on. It curiously reminds me of the pharmaceutical industry because they supply one drug to cure one problem, but the side effects require another drug, so a chain is created with more and more drugs. As the story of the article shows, though, despite all these technical fixes, death was still a somewhat common result of working as a miner. You also supplied several thought provoking and critical questions regarding the importance and safety of mines, but I would have liked to read your own answers to these questions. Obviously, mined materials continue to be necessary, but maybe we need to research new methods of material extraction and investigate further into the physical and chemical properties of mined materials.

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