Sustainable Mining: A Fallacy?

Copper production increased rapidly at the start of the 20th century, largely due to the use of electricity and for weapons manufacturing. An interesting cycle develops, as in order to produce the machines that use electricity, a large amount of copper needed to be mined. The mining industry that developed needed copper as well, creating a loop where more and more copper was constantly needed. “The pit shovels, trains, concentrators, and other machines consumed an astounding 650 million kilowatts of power every hour…” (LeCain 30). A great challenge in underground mining was mapping in order to make the hidden underground world “visible.” Even when this has been seemingly conquered, more issues developed the deeper we mined, such as subterranean flooding, heat, and ventilation. One consequence of underground mining is still an issue in Butte, where “certain parts of the city…can literally drop out from under their investment” (35). However, the consequences include human health as well, if any of the life-sustaining systems for the miner’s failed it could result in death. Another example of a technological advancement used in this industry was the steam pump, which helped prevent mines from flooding with groundwater.


Mining is a very controversial topic, especially to someone who has grown up surrounded by it in Montana. The extraction industry in general is a double-edged sword, giving us access to often life saving technology, but at the cost of the miners and the environment. We are rapidly depleting the environment’s reserves to support processes that ultimately won’t help us create sustainable lifestyles. The technology built on the back of the mining industry, for example weapons and vehicles of war, are a step back for humanity. Those in charge of the mining industry in the U.S 100 years ago should have had heeded caution to avoid the creation of Superfund sites like the Berkeley Pit. Mining is a crucial process that supports important industries such as medicine and space travel, but we can still do a much better job at decreasing the environmental impacts. It’s hard to be passionate about the environment as a coder who ultimately relies on the mining industry to sustain the technology that I use every day. That being said, there is definitely an opportunity within the field of computer science to make a difference by advocating for the environment, and working in climate science.

1 thought on “Sustainable Mining: A Fallacy?”

  1. I like the fact that you incorporated your own personal perspective into the topic of mining. Currently we do have the mining industry to thank for our modern technologies, and I expect working in a computer science field yields conflicting opinions on the societal consequences of mining. It is hard to remove mining from the environmental detriment it causes, but it is also inherently connected to significant technologies used on a profession and personal level across the world. I hope our society develops a way to halt our dependence on mining, without sacrificing the technologies we have developed from the extracted materials.

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