Thursday, April 9, 2015

Years from now ...

Recently, I've become more and more interested in the role stories and storytelling can play as we try to fashion a sustainable future. Reading the sentences and paragraphs of the Scoping Paper: Mining and Metals in a Sustainable World, and sometimes reading between the storylines, offers a very different view of an Iron Range future than I think is shared by many who live and work there today. To be honest, despite being a recovering planner, I tend to fall into the human trait of thinking that tomorrow and the day after will be mostly like today. When I look at the world I was born into, and the one I'm living in today, I realize that just ain't so. Here's some of the Scoping Paper's claims. How many, if any, of them do you think are reflected in the PolyMet SDEIS or in plans being drawn up this year around kitchen tables on The Range.
"Successful mining operations in a sustainable world maximize automation technologies across the mining life cycle to improve safety, increase productivity and reduce costs. While some companies began to launch automated mining programmes in the early 2000s, they have since been adopted across the sector as both the technologies and the business case have improved after the development of open industry standards. During exploration, operations are able to put together comprehensive geometric and geophysical data profiles of a region using sensing and fusion technologies. In planning, automated robotics can be used to help design the safest, most cost-effective processes for extracting ore. Drilling is significantly improved using automated systems to reduce variation, improve quality and reduce maintenance costs. Finally, ore is transported from the site using driverless fleets or railway operations that make use of object-avoidance sensors, the Global Positioning System and wireless technology, creating a safer operating environ- ment. Companies have access to a wealth of live data that helps them to improve decision-making and proactively manage site operations, leading to increased mineral yields, optimized energy use and reduced wear and tear."
Sawtooth Mountains
Sawtooth Mountains
Photo by J. Harrington

The view of mining success summarized above suggests to me that many mining jobs, as we know them today, are going the way of the keypunch operator. A separate paper from Accenture highlights a basic reason why:
"Consider this: In 2011 (most recent figures), the world collectively extracted well over 16 trillion metric tons of mineral raw materials from the Earth’s crust. On most estimates, that is a record. We currently use 1.5 planets’ worth of resources every year including forests, land, metals and minerals while generating mountains of waste and, on current form, it looks like we may need more than 2 planets’ worth of materials by 2050.3 This is clearly unsustainable."

3 Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe, European Commission, 20 Sept 2011, http://ec.europa.eu/environment/resource_ efficiency/pdf/com2011_571.pdf.

What stories are being told on today's Range, about the future Rangers want for themselves, their children, and the rest of Minnesota? Do those stories take into account the possibility that we don't have, and won't soon get, access to more resources than are on the one planet we have, and that the Iron Range's share of those resources is relatively small? What stories are being shared by Iron Rangers that foretell sustainable uses for Minnesota's most valuable resources, its people and our waters? I'd much rather read and hear such stories than the same old -- same old "the regulations are killing us." Wouldn't you?

National Poetry Month

Today's Poem-a-Day seems to fit wonderfully with today's questioning speculations, demonstrating once again that dumb luck often trumps the best of planning (but can't be counted on all the time).

Next Time Ask More Questions

Before jumping, remember
the span of time is long and gracious.
No one perches dangerously on any cliff
till you reply. Is there a pouch of rain
desperately thirsty people wait to drink from
when you say yes or no? I don’t think so.
Hold that thought. Hold everything.
When they say “crucial”—well, maybe for them?
Hold your horses and your minutes and
your Hong Kong dollar coins in your pocket,
you are not a corner or a critical turning page.
Wait. I’ll think about it.
This pressure you share is a misplaced hinge, a fantasy.
I am exactly where I wanted to be.


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