Can We Fix the Technological Fix?

LeCain describes three types of environmental techno-fixes: transformational, relocational, and delaying. He argues that these fixes, at the time, seemingly solved the problems facing the Ducktown and Anaconda smelter operations. The Ducktown smelter’s capturing and transformation of sulfur dioxide into fertilizer demonstrated transformational and relocational fixes, as the sulfur dioxide plaguing the area stopped killing vegetation. However, the fertilizer created from the captured sulfur ran off from fields that used it. This created eutrophication in rivers and lakes near the areas that used the fertilizer. The Anaconda smelter had a similar problem. Large amounts of arsenic were being ejected from the smelter, and a fix to capture the arsenic was employed. This seemed to fix the problems with cattle and crop death. The Anaconda smelter also used the captured arsenic as a pesticide and a wood preservative. However, as time passed, the effects of the stored harvested arsenic became apparent. The arsenic seeped into the soil and then into groundwater, causing numerous problems for the residents of the Deer Lodge valley. These fixes, Lecain says, may have temporarily solved problems the smelters were causing, but ultimately created more and perhaps worse problems in the future. Thus, LeCain argues that since these fixes don’t truly fix the problems, we could avoid mining certain metals or even stop mining altogether. This, he suggests, could help remedy the environmental problems caused by these smelters.


Even though mining produces waste, I absolutely believe we need the copper and other minerals we get from mining. Copper and the many other minerals we obtain through mining are ubiquitous throughout our world, and we have no feasible substitute. As much as I’d love a world where we don’t have to destroy the environment to obtain the necessary materials to make it run, the reality is we need these ores to do so. LeCain suggests avoiding these rocks and says that some mines and smelters avoid ores containing high amounts of arsenic and sulphur dioxide, even with the techno-fixes. (LeCain, 151) I do agree we should avoid these highly toxic ores. However, completely stopping mining and smelting is something our world couldn’t do. We are simply too dependent on these materials to cease using them. We should be far more environmentally conscious when we mine and smelt, but this is all we can do. Our tech fixes can’t fix everything, but mining these materials is a necessary evil for our society to function.  

3 thoughts on “Can We Fix the Technological Fix?”

  1. Fantastic job Ty! Your first paragraph is an excellent and digestible summary of LeCain’s work. I enjoyed your point that technological fixes might lead to “perhaps worse problems in the future”. I agree that mining is currently a necessary evil in our society. It would take a paradigm shift in technology, social institutions, and/or geopolitics to ever reach a point where there is a viable alternative to mining ore from this planet. Metal rushes through the world’s economy, and the questions of a couple environmentally conscious college students probably won’t change that fact anytime soon. I don’t like it, but it’s reality. Hopefully our generation can learn the from consequences of technological fixes and broaden the human mindset as it encounters future environmental issues.

  2. I also agree with ben great job on your first paragraph. Really awesome summary of LeCain’s work. With how much he talked about you made it east for me to really understand what his points were. I had the same point of how we have solved some problems but in the process created more for the worse. I think there are some areas where we do have to mine since we need some of the minerals that we are going after. We need copper and such minerals. But there’s no easy way around how much we are destroying the environment in the process. What is the best solution? We may never figure it out.

  3. Ty- nice post, although I don’t recall LeCain suggesting that we could stop mining all together. I agree with you that “it would take a paradigm shift in technology, social institutions, and geopolitics to ever reach a point where there is a viable alternative to mining.” Wouldn’t it be interesting to see, though, what could be accomplished if we invested half as much into encouraging that paradigm shift as we invest into mining and production, and then later into technological fixes to mitigate our damage? I mean all of these operations are vastly expensive, but our levels of consumption make it possible to fund them.. I think the social aspect of the paradigm shift would be the trickiest; that is getting entire populations to change their consumption patterns. I think the science and technology are probably there already, or close to it. The real challenges are political, economic, and social. If you could get populations on board, politics and economics would find ways to adjust to their own benefit.

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