"Mining is like a search-and-destroy mission"

Stewart Udall

Mining: Causes, Effects & Solutions

causes, effects and solutions for mining

Mining can be defined as the extraction of minerals or other geological materials from our earth.

 

In the mining process, several resources can be recovered, including coal, metals, limestone, potash, clay and much more.

 

Mining is done with the goal to obtain materials which cannot be obtained at the surface and can also not be created artificially in an economically-senseful way. The types, causes, effects of mining and solutions to the problem are presented below.

Audio Lesson

Types of Mining

  1. Surface mines
  2. Underground mines
  3. In-situ mining
  4. Placer mining

Surface mines

Surface mines are often used for the recovery of less valuable resources which are located near the surface.

Underground mines

Underground mines are usually more expensive and are often used to recover more valuable resources which are located deeper inside the ground.

In-situ mining

In-situ mining is used to obtain uranium. Along with the uranium, additional elements like selenium, arsenic or lead are also extracted.

Placer mining

Placer mining is usually done in river beds or on beaches with the goal of separating precious metals out of the sand.

Causes for Mining

  1. Population growth
  2. Income growth
  3. Increasing demand for resources
  4. Single source of income
  5. Advancements in technology
  6. Importance for industrial processes
  7. Lack in substitutability
  8. Economic factor for countries
  9. Increase in resource prices

Population growth

One cause for mining is population growth. With an increasing population, the overall world consumption levels also increase. This means that in order to be able to provide enough goods for the world population, resources have to be extracted at large scale. One great possibility to extract these resources is mining.

 

There are several different kinds of mines, including coal, iron and also diamond mines. Since our demand for all these goods increases on a steady rate, we have to increase our mining activities in order to provide these goods to our population.

Income growth

No generation had an overall global income that is bigger than we have it today. Through the industrial revolution, we are able to produce large numbers of goods which have a quite low unit price. Especially in the Western world, almost everybody has at least one car. Almost everybody goes on vacation several times a year.

 

However, this lifestyle is not sustainable in the long run since we will run out of resources in the long run. Therefore, income growth and an overall high world income level also leads to more mining since industries want to meet the worldwide demand for goods.

Increasing demand for resources

Not only the overall world consumption level is increasing, also on an individual level, consumption behaviors increases. This is especially true in developing countries. Many people now aspire a similar consumption-extensive lifestyle like we do in the Western world.

 

However, this also means that the resource demand of many people also increases accordingly. This consumption behavior leads to more mining since in order to meet the demand, industries have to extract more resources out of our earth.

Single source of income

For many people, mining is the only source of income they can generate. Hence, this means that people rely on their mining jobs in order to survive. In many developing countries, mining is done by accepting severe health threats. For example, there are African gold mines in which gold is separated with the help of mercury.

 

Workers often do this process by using their hands without any protection. This behavior usually leads to a contamination of these people which eventually leads to death. This example shows how dependent certain people are on the mining industry. They risk their life since this is the only way for them to create enough income.

Advancements in technology

Technological progress is also positively correlated to more mining. With our nowadays technology, it is easier and more profitable to extract resources out of the ground compared to past centuries where mining was much more difficult since there were no machines and workers had to work quite hard in order to be able to extract resources. Therefore, the advancements in technology also contribute to an increase in mining activities.

Importance for industrial processes

Many resources extracted in mining process are quite important for industrial purposes. Industries urgently need metals, oil and other resources to produce goods for our daily life in order to meet the demand of people.

 

You can find small amounts of gold in many electronic devices, including your computer. In our technological world, we rely on the sufficient supply of metals. Thus, since we need many different resources to be able to live our current lifestyle, we also need mining on a large scale.

Lack in substitutability

As already mentioned, we need metals and other resources for many different purposes and products in our daily life. Moreover, there is a lack of substitutability for these resources, meaning that metals like gold cannot be replaced in an efficient manner by other resources. A lack in substitutability therefore means that mining activities are essential and will also be crucial in the future in order to supply enough resources to meet the demand.

Economic factor for countries

Natural resources are a great economic factor for many countries. Especially for poor developing countries, the extraction of natural resources often is the biggest source of income. This means, in order to be able to supply enough basic goods for locals, these countries have to extract large amounts of resources out of the ground.

 

However, in many cases, people who work in the mines are just paid a quite low wage while mine owners usually make big profits. Mine owners often exploit the local workers since they know that the workers do not have an alternative and have to accept the bad working conditions.

 

This means that mining contributes to an increase in wealth for some, but not for many. However, since mining is an important source of income for countries and mine owners, it is still quite practical to sustain or even increase mining activities.

Increase in resource prices

The worldwide prices for precious metals like gold and many other resources have increased significantly over the last decades. This makes it even more profitable to extract resources out of the ground since these resources can be sold for higher prices on the world market.

Effects of Mining

  1. Injuries
  2. Fatalities
  3. Hearing issues
  4. Heavy metal contamination
  5. Cancer
  6. Lung diseases
  7. Biodiversity loss
  8. Erosion
  9. Water pollution
  10. Air pollution
  11. Soil pollution
  12. Effects on animals
  13. Effects on plants
  14. Effects on aquatic life
  15. Effects through the food chain
  16. Deforestation
  17. Global warming
  18. Destruction of vegetation cover

Injuries

Mining is a dangerous craft. Many miners get injured during their work. Miners can be hit by stones falling on their heads or also may be buried by mines which collapsed. There are also injuries from maintaining or repairing activities, especially on hands and fingers which in some cases have to be amputated. Moreover, working in mines can also lead to back and shoulder strains. In some mines, even child labor is used in order to maximize profits. These children are even at greater risk for injuries since they are less experienced regarding the dangers of mining.

Fatalities

There are several fatalities which can be linked to mining each year. Especially in poor developing countries with low safety standards, many workers die each year from mining activities. When mines collapse, the workers underground usually have low chances to survive since they will not have enough oxygen available and may also die from a lack of drinking water. Thus, working in mines can be quite dangerous and may even take your life.

Hearing issues

Hearing damages are another quite common effect when it comes to working in mines. Some machines that are used for mining purposes can be quite loud. If the workers are not properly protected, they can suffer from severe hearing losses.

 

This problem is especially severe in countries with low safety standards. If the mine owners do not care about their employees, the workers are likely to lose their hearing capacities after a few years. Therefore, mining can also lead to hearing damages if workers are not protected properly.

Heavy metal contamination

For the extraction of certain materials like gold, in many countries, mercury or other extremely toxic substances are used. Workers often do this extraction process without wearing protection like gloves. Therefore, they get contaminated and will suffer from severe health issues and even death in the near future. Thus, their life expectancy often is dramatically low.

Cancer

Mining can also contribute to the problem of cancer. People working in mines are especially at risk of lung cancer, since they often inhale toxic dust and other harmful gases which come as by-product in the mining process.

Lung diseases

Apart from cancer, there are several other lung diseases workers in mines often suffer from. Especially at risk are workers who do not wear protection masks or other forms of protection. In developed countries, workers usually wear suitable protection measures against harmful substances. However, in many poor countries, safety and health standards are much lower and the mine workers in these countries often suffer from lung issues.

Biodiversity loss

Mining also contributes to a loss in biodiversity. In order to meet the increasing demand for natural resources, mining activities have to be increased as well. This means that many areas which previously had been untouched by humans are now invaded for mining purposes. This invasion leads to biodiversity loss since many animals and plants lose their natural habitats.

 

They are forced to move or will even die since they are not able to adapt to the changed circumstances. Moreover, pollution from mining may further destroy their environments and also contaminate all kinds of life forms.

Erosion

Since mining often includes the extraction of metals and other resources deep under the surface, it can lead to serious erosions. These erosions may in turn lead to a state where the eroded land is no longer suitable for human use like housing or farming since the soil is too instable and poses too many dangers of further erosion.

Water pollution

Mining can also lead to water pollution. Many mining companies, especially in poor countries, deposit the by-products of mining near rivers or lakes in order to get rid of them.

 

However, through rain, these by-products which often contain harmful elements may be washed into the rivers, lakes or also into the soil.

 

This in turn will also lead to a contamination of our drinking water. Therefore, mining can also lead to water pollution if there is not enough regulation regarding the disposal of harmful by-products.

Air pollution

Mining also leads to air pollution. For mining purposes, big machines are often used in order to make the mining process more effective and to reduce the physical work for miners. However, these machines emit large amounts of harmful gases, also including greenhouse gases like methane or CO2. Thus, mining can also cause air pollution and the implied consequences.

Soil pollution

Soil pollution is another issue that can be caused by mining activities. In the extraction process, large amounts of material are moved. This material, apart from the precious resources, may also contain harmful elements.

 

These elements are likely to be set free through the mining process and therefore may contaminate the surrounding soil. Moreover, if the waste products from mining are not treated and disposed in an appropriate manner, they are likely to contaminate the soil as well.

Effects on animals

There are several adverse effects of mining on animals. Since for the mining process, large areas of land have to be used, many animals will lose their natural habitat. This may force these animals to move.

 

If they do not find a new habitat, they may even die since they are usually quite sensitive to changes in their natural living conditions and may not be able to adjust fast enough. Moreover, animals may be contaminated by harmful by-products of mining.

 

This could include the contamination with mercury or other highly toxic substances which usually significantly lowers the life expectancy of the contaminated animals.

Effects on plants

Mining can also have severe adverse effects on plants. Plants usually require a certain pH-level to grow. This pH-level is often altered through mining activities. Thus, many plants will no longer grow efficiently and will lose their fertility which may lead to the local extinction of some plant species.

Effects on aquatic life

There are also some adverse effects from mining on the aquatic life. Since many harmful by-products of mining often reach water bodies due to an inappropriate disposal by mining companies, all kinds of water animals will suffer from the toxic compounds. This may include the contamination of fishes with heavy materials or even radioactive substances. Therefore, aquatic life may be affected by mining activities in a dramatic manner.

Effects through the food chain

Since we are at the top of the food chain, we will also be adversely affected by the adverse effects of mining on animals and plants since we are likely to consume them in later stages of the food cycle. For example, when we consume fish that is contaminated with heavy metals, we can also suffer diseases since we get contaminated by these heavy metals as well.

Deforestation

Mining also often leads to the deforestation of large areas. In order to meet the worldwide demand for resources, mining companies have to expand their territories which means turning forest land into land that can be mined. This implies the deforestation in these areas. Thus, mining also contributes to the worldwide deforestation issue and the related harmful effects to our environment.

Global warming

Mining also indirectly contributes to global warming. For mining purposes, big machines which emit large amounts of harmful gases are frequently used. These gases also include greenhouse gases like CO2 and methane which contribute to global warming.

 

Moreover, since an increase in mining activities also implies an increase in deforestation, this also contributes to global warming since trees are natural storage spaces for greenhouse gases like CO2.

 

Through deforestation, we lose these storage spaces and the global warming process will be enhanced because of this behavior.

Destruction of vegetation cover

Moreover, some of the vegetation cover is likely to be destroyed due to mining practices. In areas which are close to the mining location, pH-levels are likely to be altered due to chemicals or other reactions. This can lead to a destruction of the vegetation cover since plants are usually quite sensitive to altered acidity levels.

Solutions for the Mining Problem

  1. Government regulations
  2. Reduce consumption
  3. Reuse and recycle
  4. Nature reserves
  5. Education
  6. Convince others

Government regulations

One important measure against the potential adverse effects of mining on our environment are government regulations and restrictions. Authorities have to make sure that mining is done in a responsible manner. This includes the protection of workers and also the protection of the local wildlife and plants.

 

In some countries, there are already quite strict regulations related to mining practices. However, in many countries, especially in poor developing countries, there are often quite low safety standards in place. This has to be changed in order to mitigate the adverse effects related to mining.

Reduce consumption

Our excessive consumption levels also contribute to the problems caused by mining. In our daily life and in our society in general, everyone wants to have the newest smartphone, the hippest clothes and so on. However, this also implies that the old stuff is often thrown away even if it is still functional.

 

Through this behavior, large amounts of resources are wasted on a daily basis. We have to change our behavior in a way that we value things that are old but still functional. We have to make used goods be regarded more valuable and not dodgy. Therefore, we have to change our value system and beliefs. Only then will it be possible to sustain lower consumption levels in an effective fashion.

Reuse and recycle

We should also reuse our old stuff. For example, if you find things that are still working but you do not use them anymore, try to find people who still see value in it. By doing so, you can save resources and also ensure that resources are used more efficiently. Moreover, if you do not have people which want to use your old stuff, at least make sure that these old things can be recycled in an effective way. This implies separating your waste properly.

Nature reserves

To protect the environmental system from the adverse effects of mining, states and governments have to install enough nature reserves so that animals and plants are protected from harmful human interventions. Nature reserves are crucial for animals and plant species to reproduce since they provide and ensure their natural living conditions. Thus, nature reserves are another measure to mitigate the adverse effects of mining operations.

Education

Education is another crucial measure against mining and its adverse effects on the environmental system. We have to show people how harmful mining can be to our planet. This education should start at a quite young age. By educating school children, they are likely to also convince their parents and so also parents are likely to pay more attention to this issue and act accordingly.

 

In addition, when these educated children turn into grownups, they are also more likely to adjust their behavior in an environmentally-friendly manner. The biggest contribution we can make to mitigate the adverse effects related to mining is to reduce our consumption levels. This topic should be at the core of the education process.

Convince others

Making your contribution, especially through a reduction in consumption, matters! However, you can do much more than that. You should try to convince your family and friends about the adverse consequences of their consumption behavior and how this also translates into the adverse effects caused by mining. By doing so, you can change not only your own behavior but also contribute to a changed consumption behavior on a large scale.

Conclusion

Mining is an important source to meet the demand for precious metals and other elements which are crucial for our daily life. However, mining also has severe negative effects on the environmental system, including humans, animals, plants and also aquatic life. In order to mitigate the adverse effects from mining, it is crucial that we reduce our consumption levels.

 

Industries only mine at large scale since our consumption levels lead to a such high demand. If we reduce our consumption levels, the incentive for mining will also be reduced since resource prices are likely to drop. Therefore, if everyone makes his or her contribution, the mining problem can be mitigated in an effective way in order to ensure a livable future for future generations.

Sources

About the author

 

My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people of all ages about our environmental problems and how everyone can make a contribution to mitigate these issues.

 

As I went to university and got my Master's degree in Economics, I did plenty of research in the field of Development Economics.

 

After finishing university, I traveled around the world. From this time on, I wanted to make a contribution to ensure a livable future for the next generations in every part of our beautiful planet.

Wanna make a contribution to save our environment? Share it!