Thursday, 21 May 2020

Is the reopening of mines creating boundless joy?

Just about now the May Cornish Mining Sundowner should have been starting at Falmouth's Chain Locker. But, of course, it lies deserted, although I did call by earlier on my afternoon exercise.
What would we have been discussing today? Probably that a number of mines which temporarily closed at the start of the Coronavirus outbreak are now cautiously reopening, but it is difficult to see how underground mines can transport men up and down the mine shaft while observing social-distancing rules. Ironically a century ago, some of the Cornish tin mines had a means of transportation which allowed a constant stream of workers to ascend and descend into the bowels of the mine- this was the formidable and fearsome Man-Engine! (MEI Blog 20 October 2019).
Man-engine at Dolcoath tin mine in the 1890s
(Photo: JC Burrow)
But it is doubtful if everyone is happy with the reopening of mines. The mining industry supplies nearly every product and service in the world, and is fundamental to the development of technologies needed for the transition to clean energy.  A new World Bank Group report suggests that the production of minerals, such as graphite, lithium and cobalt, could increase by nearly 500% by 2050, to meet the growing demand for clean energy technologies. It estimates that over 3 billion tons of minerals and metals will be needed to deploy wind, solar and geothermal power, as well as energy storage, required for achieving a below 2°C future.
Yet mining companies are often faced with intense criticism from society, particularly as younger generations are increasingly aware and conscious of the industry’s social and environmental impact. If the mining industry has to continue to supply the world as we know it, it is essential that it repositions itself by changing the way it communicates to the external world while, at the same time, move to more sustainable practices and processes.
The Social License to Operate plays a key role in this context, being the acceptance of a mine or mining company by its employees, by its community stakeholders and by the general public. The extended stakeholder network that adjudicates on social licence also includes ethical investment funds, international human rights activists, international financial institutions and local and national governments. These key stakeholders are demanding stronger engagement and transparency, so much so that social licence will soon be akin to a mining licence, without which mining companies will find it impossible to operate (click here for more on Social Licensing).
We have discussed on the blog many times how crucial mining is to society, but really we are talking to the converted. How do we reach out to society in general? I would be asking sundowner regulars this today, but maybe blog readers might have suggestions? Maybe we could put together a survey for our non-mining friends to see what they think of the industry, and, just as important, what they know about it?


  1. What you wrote is absolutely true from all angles--society to workers.
    Let me compliment the owners for opening and wish all the workers all the best. I am sure MOTHER EARTH TAKES CARE OF ALL THESE DEDICATED(Indian way of saying). With out metal(there is no civilisation and we need metal from pin to plane;)it is just that we never took a holistic approach of "mining to metal to society to environment to water to power",
    We better learn some lessons--each part should not think of costs and profit but a holistic (as mentioned above) should be the package.Boundaries of these sections must go; more PhDs on total system which includes management to financial expertise should add to the values of Ph.D.s and research in earth sciences.Do not talk at costs right away-- identify problems. make them technically feasible and do work on how to make the total system economically viable--
    R&D in earth sciences should fully understand details of each part (exploration to===power) and come out with a more vibrant and implementable packages--break the walls in the so called subsubjects. A doctor should know how each part of the total body works, --then specialise.

  2. Just read your thoughtful blog and interested to see which minerals will be in demand in the future. Regarding lithium there was a programme on the radio recently under the heading ‘Crossing continents”.
    The BBC reporter was following up issues being raised by environmentalists in Argentina (?) about the contamination of their water supply due to the exploitation of lithium-rich brines. She interviewed local people and representatives from protest groups but none of the mines would talk to her. A good example of how not to behave?

    Best wishes,
    Richard Edwards, Malvern, UK (former CSM geology lecturer)

    1. Hi Richard

      A perfect example of irresponsible mining- many thanks. Unfortunately there is little responsible mining in parts of South America, particularly in Brazil ( MEI Blog 31 January 2019).

      Hopefully there will be mining for lithium brines in Cornwall soon, and Cornish Lithium made very sure of getting a social licence to operate.

  3. I have been revisiting the MEI Blogs published during this time of Covid-19. They reveal a depth and breadth of thought that helps sustain interest through a challenging period for everyone. In particular, I enjoyed the item (in this May 21 blog), addressing development of technologies needed for transition to clean energy. A lot of critical thinking summarized in a few short paragraphs. It also alerted me to the World bank report duly linked. Thanks Barry.


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