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[GreenYes] Re: Mining Costs, GPI, and the Wilderness

Hi David ~

I agree with you on the importance of these issues. If, for example, we could get rid of the direct subsidies to the harvesting or extraction of material, and add to that the environmental costs of their harvest and extraction, we could make decisions -- both economic and environmental -- for material management.

Green Scissors ( has looked at the federal subsidy issues for years (state and local subsidies, however, could exceed federal subsidies, especially for timber), as have a variety of other groups. And, I believe that the EPA Decision Support Tool for materials management includes the environmental impacts. Assigning economic costs to these impacts is something that Jeff Morris of Sound Resource Management ( has done; several papers and a recent presentation of his can be found on his web page. Here in Wisconsin, we have report coming out from the Governor's Task Force on Waste Materials Recovery and Disposal that also does an environmental valuation of these environmental costs, and I will let the list know when it is available.

Best wishes,


-----Original Message-----
From: GreenYes@no.address [mailto:GreenYes@no.address]On Behalf Of David Biddle
Sent: Saturday, January 20, 2007 2:53 PM
To: retroworks; GreenYes
Subject: [GreenYes] Re: Mining Costs, GPI, and the Wilderness

Robin Ingenthorn's work and writings have clued a lot of us in to the mining side of the equation, and I for one have always been impressed with this topic but never have time to pursue it. It would seem that there are two basic issues (and there are probably many more I'm unaware of) regarding the cost of mining (and timber and agriculture). One is the subsidy side of things with tax breaks, incentives, cheap or non-existent royalties and leases, and public funding for building wilderness infrastructures (roads, disposal sites, testing, remediation, accounting, enforcement, and general management costs). The other is the amazing amount of energy and water consumption and the equally amazing amount of environmental degradation and waste that raw material extraction requires (choose your resource: coal, petroleum, uranium, copper, gold, aluminum, wood, iron ore, etc.). The first of these is at least theoretically something that we can calculate and add to the economic equation. The second is so vast and dramatic in scale that it would seem virtually impossible.

While we work to wrap our arms around the simple MSW problem, resource waste from the mining, timber and agricultural industries represents something like 95% of the total national waste problem. What's interesting to me is that the waste from all of this resource extraction is actually connected to everything we buy-and throw away. Meaning, it would seem, that a pound of aluminum cans is actually composed of that one pound plus the two pounds of mining waste that went into making it. For uranium, according to the US Bureau of Mines, it takes 1,900,000 metric tonnes of waste to make 36 metric tonnes of uranium. This is just the mining waste side of the equation. Add in the energy and water sides for resource extraction, refining, milling, processing, transportation, and manufacturing and you have a little nightmare on your hands.

I know I'm getting at stuff that is already being looked at, but the issue seems to be something we often gloss over in our work trying to justify policy and investment decisions in both the public and private spheres. The old one ton of recycled paper saves 17 trees would seem to be part of this equation but not even close to really adequate in defining what's going on out there in the mountains, deserts and woods of America (and the rest of the world).

Any thoughts or direction folks can give me on getting a better handle on this would be most appreciated. I know that Paul Hawken talks about this stuff in Natural Capitalism, and that the Genuine Progress Indicator made famous by Redefining Progress are part of the equation, but access to a full metrics and set of analytical tools so far escapes me.


And, Robin, again, thanks for your deep insights. Keep 'em coming.

David Biddle, Executive Director
<> <>
Greater Philadelphia Commercial Recycling Council
P.O. Box 4037
Philadelphia, PA 19118

215-247-3090 (desk)
215-432-8225 (cell)


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on 1/20/07 9:27 AM, retroworks at ingenthron@no.address wrote:

Thanks Eric. Incidentally, the Penn and Teller piece implying that 2
trucks (recycling and garbage) use more fuel than one truck (garbage)
need to show another truck driving through the forest carting logs /
ore to a giant furnace/hydropulper/refinery (to replace the material in
the "eliminated" recycling truck. Does anyone have such a video clip?

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