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Striking a balance: Green technology and mining’s complex relationship

The technologies crucial for combating the climate crisis ironically rely on an industry with a tarnished environmental track record. Mining, notorious for excessive water usage, chemical pollution, biodiversity destruction, and human rights violations, also contributes roughly 10 percent of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite these drawbacks, the demand for metals and minerals essential for manufacturing electric vehicles, wind turbines, solar panels, and batteries is set to skyrocket. By 2050, the World Bank projects a 500 percent surge in demand for materials like copper, bauxite, cobalt, nickel and manganese.

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As the mining industry becomes increasingly intertwined with climate solutions, there’s an apparent incongruity. Aimee Boulanger, executive director of the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA), highlights this paradox, emphasizing the urgent need for change.

Efforts to make mining greener are gaining momentum. Companies are leveraging technology to optimize operations and reduce carbon emissions. Initiatives include improving the efficiency of diesel trucks, utilizing renewable energy sources like solar electricity, and adopting innovative waste management practices.

However, the industry still grapples with significant environmental and social challenges. Water usage and waste management remain top concerns, with tailing ponds posing risks of collapse and toxic contamination.

Boulanger underscores the industry’s ongoing transformation, emphasizing the importance of organizations like IRMA in holding companies accountable. The mining sector’s reputation for harm underscores the need for systemic change, driven by strengthened regulations and market incentives for sustainability.

Recycling offers a promising avenue for mitigating the environmental impact of mining. By repurposing electronic waste and reprocessing mining waste, valuable metals and rare-earth elements can be recovered with reduced energy and water consumption.

Yet, Diego Marin of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) stresses the imperative to address rampant overconsumption. Transitioning from a focus solely on recycling to a broader ethos of reducing, reusing, and rethinking consumption patterns is essential for achieving true sustainability.

Ultimately, while technological advancements can mitigate mining’s environmental footprint, a paradigm shift towards sustainable consumption and production is imperative. The urgency of the energy transition necessitates swift and decisive action to reconcile the mining industry’s role in both exacerbating and alleviating the climate crisis.

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