The Mining Paradox

Mining has always been a perilous and laborious occupation. Extremely primitive processes of extraction marked the early days of mining, but as technology advanced, mines grew larger and more productive. Massive water pumps helped remove the dangerous flooding that occurred at deeper levels and new drilling and digging apparatuses allowed miners do more effectively remove rock and sediment from the earth. As the mines grew larger and deeper, miners encountered increasingly dangerous conditions. Lack of oxygen and air pollution plagued the lives of miners in the mid 20th century along with the possibility of fires and cave-ins. These problems were fixed with technological advancements as well. New mine shaft designs and organization dramatically decreased the likelihood of cave-ins and inventions of industrial fans and breathing apparatuses improved air quality for the miners. However, for all of the advancements in technology in mining, fires continued to be an issue. One such event occurred in Butte’s Speculator mine where 164 men were killed in a single fire due to the implementation of safety technology. As stated by Tim LeCain, “the Speculator disaster appears to have been at least in part a consequence of the growing complexity of the subterrestrial envirotechnical system.” (pg. 51) Often times it was the very technology designed to save and protect the miners that brought about the greatest destruction. This double-sided nature of mining is what makes it one of the most dangerous occupations in the world.


As stated, the very essence of mining is a double-edged sword. The materials that we have removed from the earth have helped spawn the modern industrial era that we are in today, but in the effort to extract these materials, we have dramatically altered our environments. Technology has greatly helped in our ability to meet the challenges that mining puts in our way but it is often this very technology that does the most damage to our environments. How do we prevent this? Well, this might be the hardest question to answer when it comes to resource extraction. The exact nature of mining is the alteration of environments, and thus it is virtually impossible to mine without altering the regional environments and ecosystems. It is yet to be displayed if it is even possible to extract resources without bringing about some form of negative consequences. We must always be mindful and ever watchful of this fact and do our best to prevent harm to humans and the environment. Maybe in the future we can develop technologies to answer this question, but as for now, I do not see a possibility of non-impactful mining practices.


1 thought on “The Mining Paradox”

  1. I agree that mining is both necessary and inherently damaging. Because of this necessity, we have to keep mining despite what it does the environment and the health of those living around the mine. There is no full-proof way to get around the damaging aspects of resource extraction and you do a good job discussing this. However, as difficult as it may be, you do not posit any possible prevention policies other than being watchful. I ask who would be in charge of watching out for the environment, how will they accomplish this, and could their tactics potentially produce more harm to the environment after mining or are they more careful than that? I don’t expect anyone to have all the answers here, but if we want to protect the environment, we have to actively brainstorm tangible solutions.

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