When I saw at Cristina’s @Crissy0180 tweet, I found that I could not resist replying. My response was as follows,”@Crissy0180 perhaps you might like to consider how many different minerals were complicit in your last tweet!” I can only hope that her lack of response was because she had given it proper consideration and agreed with the accuracy of my statement, but somehow I suspect that this is an optimistic interpretation.
It was not simply the fact that she was attacking the industry in which I choose to work but the sheer generality of her statement. She was not saying that this particular project should not go ahead because it will endanger the only known colony of Myrmecia species 17 (look it up, its real and I should know!), she was saying that all mining is bad and should not be allowed. Yet she is obviously totally unaware of the ramifications of those views. I don’t simply mean in terms of employment and the economy, I mean in terms of what underpins human existence as we currently know it.
Perhaps we should not blame Cristina for being so poorly informed about the role of minerals in our everyday lives. The industry has been slow to respond to the environmental lobby casting mining as the villain of the piece at every opportunity, rather than recognising it as the facilitator of mankind's development to its current state.
How often have you watched a TV show; particularly a children's TV show, where the villain is a mining company? Too many. TV shows and teachers have a big influence on the way that children perceive the world.
In part I see this as an inevitable consequence of much of Western society turning away from science and engineering towards subjects that are considered more contemporary, less "dirty" or perhaps more interesting, and in some cases, just requiring less effort on the part of the student, in my opinion.
Of course there is plenty of historical evidence for the damage that mining has done to the environment. But the same argument could be levelled against many other industries, it’s just that their legacy is less extant. Regardless of the industry they reflected the values and the standards of the day.
Certainly all the people that I know working in the industry have a very high regard for the environment and the industry's relationship with the communities in which we work, and would not tolerate the practices that were prevalent even 30 years ago, let alone 100 years ago.
In western countries at least, mine employees are well paid and well cared for. If you are looking for exploitation of workers and abuse of human rights, look no further than your local chicken processor.
I know that some of the Chamber of Mines and related bodies around the country, have recognised that many preconceptions that adults hold where moulded by the attitudes and opinions of the teachers whom they encounter in their formative years. In response to this, they have made great efforts to try and educate teachers; in particular primary school teachers, not only in the importance of the industry to modern society but how mining manages the environment in those areas where it is active. I know from personal accounts how surprised some teachers are of the lengths that the industry goes to in order to mitigate its impact and in some cases, how it can be a vector for an improvement in particular ecological community, for example, by re-introducing a plant species that has been almost extinguished in the area.
However, the various Chamber’s efforts alone are not enough. Whilst the importance of mining to the Australian economy is significant, it employs relatively few people. Each and every one of those people needs to become an advocate for the industry and challenge every misconception or incorrect portrayal of the industry.
Every time that we hear someone say that mining is destroying the environment and should be banned we should pull that person up and ask them exactly how they are going to manage without mining?
I suspect that they will not understand what we mean. So wherever we are, we need to ask them to stop and look around them, then ask them to explain how they are going to substitute for all the things that the mineral industry provides, the roof over their head, electricity to power the lights, their appliances and computers, cables to carry electricity, pipes that carry the water, the list goes on and on as we all know.
The reality is that the bulk of the population has lost touch with where things come from. I see it in as a similar challenge to the child who does not associate the glass of milk that it drinks with a cow in a paddock.
In the same way that we have to explain to the child the steps taken from the cow grazing in the paddock to the carton of milk in the supermarket, we have to explain to the naysayers of mining that they cannot enjoy their current way of life without mining.
Once we have established that our way of life is inextricably connected to the continuation of mining, we need to go further and explain that it is one of the most commercially risky undertakings that anyone can pursue. We need to tell them about the millions of dollars that are risked each year in searching for new mineral deposits and the low success rate in finding them.
We have to detail how, even when they are found, it still takes many millions of dollars and several years more to turn them into productive ventures, which we hope will make money depending of course, on how good the studies were that led to the development of the project and exactly where in the commodity price cycle we are.
Once people understand the amount of money that is expended in bringing a single mine into production, there may be less inclination to try and impose "super profits tax" during those, often a brief, periods when commodity prices hit new highs.
So I urge each and every one of you to become an advocate for the industry and make sure that people that you know or meet, clearly understand the connection between the lifestyle that they currently enjoy and mining that underpins it.
Finally, thank you Cristina for reminding me exactly why I am proud to be part of the mining industry.