Just had a stiff gin and tonic with a friend across the road. Over the weekend he was an honored guest at the induction of somebody important at Caltech. He talked with a Noble Prize winner about sustainable development. Apparently the professor of chemistry maintained that sustainable development is a myth based on propoganda objectives. The Noble prize winner said that with short-lived CEOs motivated by profit, companies motivated by shareholders, and student not learning much anyway, the cycles of philosophy and practice were so far out of sync that we might as well pass ownership of the concept to the sentimental and the spin doctors.
I took refuge in the CIM conference proceeding from Montreal hoping to read a paper that demonstrated the successful application of the principles of sustainable development in mining. I intended to e-mail the paper to my friend. I was grossly shattered and disappointed. Here is what I found.
In Engaging Local Communities and Sustainable Social Development, Dina M. Aloi of The Hatch group writes:
Indirect employment around large mining projects can be sources of sustainable livelihoods. Many services required by mining projects are sustainable beyond the life of the project, catering, landscaping, security, medical support services, trucking, and laundry services are sustainable and transfereable business development opportunities.
One example of a sustainable business development to arise from the Diavik project in the Underground Miner Training Program. The mine requires more than 300 underground workers. A training program was needed to supply the project with a trained mining workforce. This program creates sustainable and transferable skills that benefit the northerners, the Diavik project, and other Canadian mining companies.
I cannot wait to live in a post-mining community sustained by high-quality food caterers, landscaping specialists, and free laundry. Sounds like one of those fancy towns in California that were once mining towns, so I suppose it can happen. But somehow the idea of culture, catering, landscaping, and free laundry in Africa post-mining is so idealistic as to be silly. Unless of course you re-introduce the “good old ways of colonialism.” Come to think of it, when I grew up in South Africa, our black servants, supplied free by the mine, did all the catering (cooking), landscaping (gardening), and laundry (washing). So if we reintroduce those “good old customs” on these new mines, at least for the ex-pats, we truly are sustaining the past–or at least replicating it. Come on folk, I do not need to spend a thousand dollars to attend a conference in grubby, dirty Montreal to hear how miines in Africa train the workers.
So I passed on to other papers in the CIM proceedings under the heading of Sustainable Development. One was a blatant sales brochure on contract mining. One was a good paper on due diligence regarding mine mine waste disposal facilities; a good paper, but no more sustainable development than the man-in-the-moon. Then there was the paper Arc Flash Hazards in Mining Operations. I find it hard to believe, but the author says that each year over 3,000 workers are involved in flash arc accidents with over ten percent succumbing to their wounds. I suppose mining cannot continue (be sustainable) at that rate of killing people. Then there was the paper telling us how they persuaded the natives in Eritrea to accept a new mine. Good community relations, but hardly an example of sustainable development.
I shut the CD off in disgust. If these papers are supposed to represent the Canadian mining community’s sustainable development state-of-the-art, I had better shut up and not even try to engage the Caltech professors and Noble prize winners let alone drunken neighbors.
I confess that I have never been able to develop sustainable development religion. Seems you need too much faith, in the face of no evidence. As a propaganda tool, I see its value, but that is not enough to make me a believer. Maybe the faithful amongst you can help me seek the path. At least with global warming you can look at the thermometer and the rain gauge even if you have to swim through a sea of conflicting conclusions regarding the cause.