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

Re: [GreenYes] Mining Costs, GPI, and the WildernessGood points, David.

I hate to be completely cynical, but observation and experience lead me thus.

I have been reading Leading Change Toward Sustainability by Bob Doppelt. He tries to elaborate ways in which organizational change can occur for businesses and other organizations to become sustainable.

He defines sustainable as the shift from "take-make-waste" to "borrow-use-return". In other words, McDonough's paradigm of "cradle to cradle" versus "cradle to grave". Other notions include "industrial ecology" and "zero waste". All of these are worthwhile goals and we should not give up trying to persuade the powers that be (i.e. corporations involved in economic globalization) to make such a sweeping paradigm shift.

The problem is that I think it only "natural", if not natural then human to employ "slash and burn, destroy a place, then move-on" characteristics. Full speed to destruction, if you will. Think about our basic digestive function. With respect to such, "borrow-use-return" does not apply. Most organisms in eco-systems employ maximization of the furtherance of the genotype/phenotype and are instead controlled by other external factors, such as predators and habitat destruction. Any particular species probably does not by itself employ optimization strategies, that is, the deliberate interaction with its prey in a sustainable manner.

Man has been too successful in establishing dominion over the earth, and totally remiss with the "commandment" to replenish it. Because we are human, it is remotely possible, though not likely, that we can shift to an optimizing (i.e. sustainable yield) strategy. However, I think it will take a consensus among all economic players to realize such a paradigm shift. Because we have a competitive economic system, it is problematic for business organizations to internalize the external costs associated with environmental protection and economic equity. If a business were to incorporate such into its modus operandi, it would put itself at a comparative disadvantage with others whose "self-interest" eschews the incorporation of externalities into its behavior. Notice that I did not use the term "enlightened self-interest". Such would suggest to economic players that sustainable practices are called-for.

No, humans have been too successful. There is really very few species left that function as predators to human prey. Humans have exhibited an overshoot of their carrying capacity and have taken on strange manifestations of psuedo- predatory behavior in the form of wars. It just may be that climate change and peak oil, water and other resource considerations,and their ensuing dislocations, drought, war, etc. will do much to put the human population back in check. It is probable that we are heading towards a dark age of very difficult times rather a switch to an enlightened strategy of sustainability and peace.

Mining companies, of all sorts, will probably keep working to maximize their gains at the expense of the environment and the poor. From what I understand, the Bush Administration has been working to dismantle a generation or more of environmental protections. That is why I send money to NRDC. They are still trying to block the progress of the many mining interests who have economic interests to despoil what is left of the natural environment.

As I was exercising futility in trying to find a niche related to advocating and facilitating a paradigm shift to sustainability, a song came on the radio, "Trying to Find Hope in a Hopeless World".

That (not so pretty) much summed it all up.

I don't hold much hope for the future. I wish that I were wrong but I'm afraid that I'm not.

Keep trying, anyway.

Workin' for peace and cooperation,

Mike Morin
----- Original Message -----
From: David Biddle
To: retroworks ; GreenYes
Sent: Saturday, January 20, 2007 12:53 PM
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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