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

Robin Ingenthorn¹s 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 I¹m 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. What¹s 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 I¹m 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 what¹s 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)


Read In Business magazine to learn about sustainable
businesses in communities across North America!
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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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