Extractive: Where does mining draw the line?

HSTR 207 – Science and Technology in World History

Mary Hill Young




The most striking technologies of the mining era, the Draeger helmet, and the complex water and air pumps, were designed with the sole aim of furthering human life in toxic environments. The large majority of these inventions served to make toxic and uninhabitable conditions, those that were underground, and in some cases even underwater, functional and passably safe work environments for the miners. “Creating and efficiently managing deep mining operations demanded new ways of seeing and managing underground space.”(LeCain, Mass Destruction, 43) The Draeger face-mask made toxic or oxygen deprived areas workable, the air pumps cooled the areas of the mine that reached non functioning temperatures, and the water pumps drew out the standing water from areas of the mine that regularly flooded. Altogether it made commercial vast new areas of land that had never been viable before, yet it also opened the door to new and more invasive mining techniques as the methods and tools of miners steadily advanced to combat the increasing danger of the areas they worked in.

Mining is an extractive process, and thusly one that is inherently damaging to the environment. The effects of mining can be mitigated, it’s true, however doing so requires an in depth knowledge of the aftereffects of the extractive processes, something the mining engineers of the era did not possess. Nor would these engineers necessarily have viewed their extractive and dangerous actions as such, the general feeling of the era was that “mining schools were thus immersed into a culture that tied their status as men and professionals with the aggressive economic exploitation of a feminine natural world.”(LeCain, Mass Destruction, 58). Mining is not, and has never been a safe operation, it is a necessity of society commanded by the vast draw on resources that population dense areas require. It cannot be made entirely safe, environmentally or otherwise, but as long as humanity continues to require such reserves of natural minerals there will always be demand enough for mining to keep mines open. Humanity has shown itself time and time again to be incapable of restricting its excesses, even in the face of its own destruction, and mining is unlikely to be any different.