On the plane to the site I dipped into Nasim Taleb’s latest book, Antifragile. I read a few chapters and have stowed the book for the return fight. But I picked up enough to know that an antifragile system is one that thrives on change, shock, time, and other perturbing factors. An antifragile system is the opposite of a fragile system that inevitable breaks as a result of time, shock, disturbance, and the propagation of a mere crack. Antifragile system thrive on disorder; fragile systems do not.
Nature is antifragile—look how long it has been around and how it adapts to shocks and stress. I wondered if there is such a thing as an antifragile system that is relevant to tailings and mine closure.
Driving around site this morning I saw a perfect example of an antifragile system that I could copy for the closure cover of the tailings facility. Here is a picture of the natural terrain in an place where the ground is covered deep in snow, freezing and thawing is deep and severe, the climate is harsh, little soil develops, what vegetation grows is attacked by the local critters. Yet this landscape endures and responds with equanimity to the shocks and stress to which it is subject.
Then I looked at the trial covers on the old tailings surface. “Soon as we spread the seed, the birds and squirrels started eating them. It’s a wonder any survived to grow,” my host noted.
I asked why they do not replicate the natural terrain. “Random things are hard to construct,” was his answer.”
“But we are going to construct vegetation trials with rock berms constructed in a waffle pattern, a trial with random lines of rock, and a desert pavement.”
We agreed that an antifragile cover would include at least these features:
- Lots of rock spread in a variety of patterns from inclusion in the soil to make a desert pavement through windrows of rock in random directions to piles of rock in random places.
- Soil as available placed in clumps or clustered areas to serve as reliable seed beds.
- Suitable tailings amended with fertilizer to create the great part of the vegetation supporting material.
- And a great variety of seeds of vegetation species found in the area.
We agreed that such a cover could deal with the stresses of cold climates, including snow, freezing, heaving, rock degradation, variable precipitation, and grazing animals. We turned the corner and found this example that appears to have developed naturally with a bit of random help from our friends.
The point of all this is that there is no need for a fancy Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA), a sophisticated risk assessment, or an agonizing process of decision making. It is pretty obvious from looking around that the cover will last and adjust and function for a very long time indeed.
Although you might still like to come to the conference next year on Cold Regions: Cover Systems and Mine Closure. The folk involved don’t like my ideas or opinions on cover design for cold, hot, wet, or other climates and they certainly do not like my opinion that covers should be designed to last a very long time. They will probably diss the antifragile cover concept. Still it might be fun to attend–the event is in a fancy hotel in Whistler.