Cardiff was once the coal mining capital of the world. Just besides the harbor was the coal exchange where the daily price of coal was set. Mining in Wales goes back much further than that. The native-born, Welsh-speaking miner who was my host told me that the Romans in the days of the Empire mined gold in the Welsh hills. Also in the 1700s, British navy ships would sail up to the north of Wales to have their hulls line with Welsh copper. Then there was coal mining. Wikipedia tells us:
There is evidence of mining in the Blaenavon area going back to the 14th century, and there is evidence of mine workings at Mostyn as far back as 1261, but it is believed to have been practised even as early as Roman times. The coal mining industry burgeoned throughout the Industrial Revolution and into the 19th century, when shafts were sunk to complement the open-cast mining and drift mining already exploiting the ample and obvious coal resources.
The coal ran out in the 1980s and/or Maggie Thatcher and her union busting ways, brought an end to Welsh coal mining. But in the meantime, many lovely Victorian town or row houses were built to line the narrow streets. The Coal Exchange Building was converted to a theater.
I am not going to detail the basis of the current Welsh economy, other than to emphasize that mining is not a part of the economy. Mining activity, such as it is, has moved to London, where the financiers and bankers, the investors and speculators manage (manipulate?) the financial markets. Russian oligarchs come to London to raise capital to save and maybe expand the mines they “got” in the fall of communism. Or maybe they come to raise money on the basis of their mines to buy boats and penthouses. No matter, London as a mining center is now financial, not productive of mined goods.
I said I thought this was good; a fine example in both Cardiff and London of that popular phrase “sustainable mining development.” My fellow drinkers laughed at this notion and retorted that Cardiff theaters and the mining-financial markets of London are hardly an example of sustainable mining that can be emulated elsewhere. I tried to argue that without mining, Cardiff would still be county farm land—not a place to go to hear rock bands or operas. That set the demonstrators on fire, and I leave you to imagine their replies.
The one that struck me most was the fear that some other far distant city would rise up to become the mining finance capital of the world–even manipulating money can hardly be considered a post-mining, sustainable activity, at least in London. So we ordered another and agreed we were falling into a semantic trap. Which of course the term sustainable mining is—i.e., a semantic trap. As one cynic pointed out: would mining of Unobtainium have succeeded if they had been able to transport the Avatars to enjoy the benefits of the center of the city of Cardiff? Personally I doubt it; and I ordered another.
Regardless of how seriously or cynically you see the conclusion that lovely cities like Cardiff and London may never have been what they are now, had it not been for mining, it is clear that no matter how long the mines last, eventually they will cease to be, and the people who came to mine and service the miners, will have to either move on to the next mine, or if they stay, they will have to find other things to do to make a living. We can speculate all we will in environmental and social impact analyses about what the post-mining activities will be. We will be no more successful that a Latin-speaking Roman senator would have been about the future of Roman colonies to the west of Gaul. We have no rational basis for predicting the next year, net alone the next century or millenium. Thus all we can do in telling stories about post-mining sustainable development, is seek to do as little harm as is reasonably consistent with our rights to enjoy the benefits of our property without degrading the life -style of others.
And now I am going to walk out in the quiet streets of Cardiff to examine the prevailing fashion statement of the local young ladies: very high heels, very short skirts, and a drunken wobble from too much beer. I am off to enjoy the real benefits of sustainable development: the streets of a city populated by happy people enjoying the benefit of agriculture.