On Saturday I posted a piece on the Pebble Mine. Here is one of the comments on what I wrote—the commenter takes me to task for consulting to the EKATI Diamond mine, while questioning the need for and the practicality of opening the Pebble Mine. First the comment and then my reply, which is an extended essay on the morality & ethics of diamond mining.
You question whether a gold mine is needed everywhere. So let’s ask whether a diamond mine is needed everywhere simply to put glitter on a woman’s finger. Probably not one could argue, but I see you do consulting work for Ekati so I guess a diamond mine in the pristene north is really OK. So maybe the argument can be simplified down to whether a person can get some personal economic benefit from the venture (diamonds -yes, Pebble – no). Stand by your morals and refuse to support the glitterati, stop consulting to the diamonds industry. There is no proof their tailings will still be stable 1000 years from now.
The simplest answer to the contradiction of working for mines and questioning the need for the Pebble Mine is this: if good men do not act, bad men will.
A complete and more complex answer is contained in the book by Edward O. Wilson called The Social Conquest of Earth. Very briefly, Wilson’s thesis is that we are the product of two evolutionary forces. The first is individual selection that is the basis of all acts of self-benefit, including greed, accumulation of wealth, kids first, and probably sin in general. The second is group selection. Thus group selection is the basis of altruism, honesty, cooperation, and of course tribalism.
One could say that individual selection is the basis of the work I do, and group selection is the basis of this blog and my negative comments about the Pebble Mine.
I have often written that my three grandfathers (one a step-grandfather, but the nicest of them) were all miners. My father was a miner. I grew up on a mine and was educated on a mining-house (now BHP) scholarship. I believe in mining; I have benefitted from mining; my kids have been and still are been educated on mining-derived income. I know others can and should get the same opportunities as I have received from mining.
And because of this deep personal involvement in mining, I know mines can and do impact the environment. I know mines done well can benefit people. I know mines done badly or done in the wrong place can devastate places & people.
I designed and oversaw construction of the Cannon Mine tailings impoundment just above Wenatchee. I know you can build high and large tailings facilities close to towns to no detriment. Go look at the Cannon Mine website or go visit the mine if you doubt me.
I managed the engineering of the UMTRA Program for five years. We closed twenty-four inactive uranium mill tailings piles in ten states in accordance with Federal regulations that set a design life of 1,000 years. I know how to close tailings impoundment to minimal societal and environmental impact.
The first tailings impoundment I designed was for the De Beers Kimberly mine. I went on to diamond mines in Botswana. I was probably the first engineer of the Jwaneng mine tailings. And now I am proud to consult to BHP on the EKATI diamond mine tailings. What we have done and are doing is no secret. We published a paper on our work in the Tailings and Mine Waste 2011 conference last year.
Hence I know the EKATI tailings facility, on closure, will be but another terraform in the environment and respond as any other, many other, geomorphic expressions in the landscape. Go visit, or read my paper, if you doubt me.
My ex-wife was the granddaughter of a diamond buyer. She inherited many big stones. I could not, on a mining salary, afford to insure them. In the good days, she gave me a magnificent men’s ring with a large yellow Australian diamond in the middle. I sometimes wear it when I go courting; although it tends to scare the average Vancouver widow and divorcee. Too big, I am afraid.
Thus I know just how vain and useless is a big diamond—-although they are incredible beautiful. What can I say, but that a big diamond is part of individual evolutionary selection. It has nothing to do with group selection and altruism.
Of course we do not need diamonds. Sea-shells would suffice if sufficiently rare, beautiful, and expensive. But try convince a woman of that.
We do not need gold, except for my computer and false teeth. But convince a Republican of that.
Finally there is a single fact that distinguishes my consulting on tailings for mines and blogging about Pebble Mine. Nobody pays me to blog. Nobody pays me to opine about the Pebble Mine. The mine is still but a dream in Anglo’s flight from South Africa. Bristol Bay is a valuable resource. The issue is under consideration and the topic of intense debate. I know that I know as much about tailings as anybody talking, writing, or experting about Pebble’s tailings.
And thus in the late evening, after a hard day consulting on the best way to dispose of tailings, I believe that I am entitled to say what I think about things that affect the well-being of the tribe—group selection at its best.