Smelt Your Way Out Of This Mess (Or Not…)

In LeCain’s work discussing technological fixes in mining, he argues that the severity of issues was downplayed and allowed the continuance of mining operations (LeCain, pg. 150). In the two studies discussed, he focuses on the three different types of techno-fixes: transformational, relocational, and delaying technological fixes (LeCain, pg. 138). One point that LeCain argues is that the failure of technological fixes should not be blamed on the engineers who developed them. An example used is Frederick Cottrell, who developed the electrostatic precipitator (a vital part of the Anaconda techno-fix), but who was also passionate about the environment (LeCain, pg. 149). While the transformational and relocational fixes used in Ducktown were effective, the long-term environmental impacts weren’t addressed. LeCain argues that while this produced issues, it doesn’t indicate carelessness on the engineers’ parts; they were concerned with one pollutant. With Anaconda, effects of arsenic were delayed. It shifted the environmental impacts to other places and later generations (LeCain, pg. 149). LeCain argues the most damaging aspect of techno-fixes is the justification of continued operations of the smelter industry (LeCain, pg. 150).

Copper and other minerals serve everyday functions, which is why it’s hard to imagine not using them. While I would like to say that we don’t need them, the reality is that they are used in many things (copper wiring, for example), that it’s not realistic to think we don’t need them. If there was a way to use other materials to take the place of them, that would be ideal, but other materials would come with their own issues. I would agree with LeCain when he says that not mining/smelting at all wouldn’t be realistic (LeCain, pg. 151). I would also agree that techno-fixes were a step towards uniting tech and the environment, however I would say that they weren’t a very successful step.

4 thoughts on “Smelt Your Way Out Of This Mess (Or Not…)”

  1. I like your blog and I like the stuff that you focus on, however I think you could have mentioned how these fixes were being done to maintain the profitability of the mine and that certainly lend itself to what these rngineers did with their fixes. If they could turn the toxic waste into something that was a profitable material such as arsenic then it was even better for the mine, even though they weren’t inherently trying to damage the environment elsewhere they were told to come up with a profitable outcome. I would also agree heavily that we can’t avoid copper and copper smelting because it is such an integral part of our tax system and our society that getting rid of it is impossible.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your blog. I thought you did a great job of summarizing LeCain’s work but I agree with Rachel in mentioning how the fixes were being done to maintain the mine’s profit, etc. I do agree with you that it is not realistic to say that we don’t need copper because the truth is that it would be very difficult to eliminate the use of copper and other minerals in the items that we use every day. I also agree with your statement that if there were ways to use other materials it may work, but I don’t think that is realistic at this time.

  3. Hey Emily! I really liked your post! I like how you pointed out that engineers are not to blame for the damage their techno fixes cause. I agree with this, their job is to try and fix the problem and I have a feeling that the Anaconda engineers had no idea that’s what was going to be done with the arsenic. I also agree that we need copper. It would be great if we could invent some material with the same characteristics as copper, but I believe that’s many years away and that process could create some problems of it’s own. Good job!

  4. I really like your title. You summarize the LeCain text very well. I thought it was interesting that he pointed out that the engineers did really care about the environment and the negative consequences of the techno-fixes were unintended. I agree with you that copper is essential, and it is hard to image our current lifestyles (like using electricity) without it. It would be nice in the future if another substance could be discovered that is like copper but has fewer negative effects on the environment so techno-fixes could be avoided As, LeCain suggests, new methods need to be researched. Nice post!

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