If you are interested in the philosophy of mining here is a veritable Eden of information. The message reproduced below is from an email I received. Having not much else to do in the fall of Iowa, I accessed the site and downloaded all the many documents awaiting your attention. Then on cold Monday morning I opened them randomly one by one. Outside my study window the third day of corn harvesting was in full swing. Every fifteen to twenty minutes a new load of golden corn flows in full stream from the combine into the waiting truck. I cannot take my eyes of this flow; so yellow, so much, so different. Sorry, I am supposed to be reading the many 100-page and more documents on Mining, Minerals, and Sustainable Development (MMSD). I rather enjoyed the history professor who wrote on the history of mining in South Africa--fresh and new even though history. The old farmer and his two sons climb down from their high trucks to chat and smoke, so I go out to join them. Must get back to those e-volumes on AIDs in southern Africa and how there will be nobody left to operate the mines if the virus is not contained. Also I do need to give due deliberation to the corrupting influence of bribes in African mining practice. We chat over a second cigarette about the changing face of politics in Iowa—now an entirely blue state. What it will mean for the local farmers and ethanol production; all good from what I can work out; but the details of why this is escape me. That volume on the difference between the mining industry in the USA and Canada is echoing in my mind. Seems all those junior mining companies in Vancouver are to blame for the reputation of mining in North America. My farmer friends don’t even know where Vancouver is; they have a vague idea that Canada is a place some people go to fish—but not them: “We don’t like that foreign travel business.”

I try to concentrate on the intricacies of sustainable development in Australia. Actually I have forgotten what I read in the downloaded document; must go back to take a look to see if there is something there I have not read somewhere else before. But the sun comes out and it warms, so I go and paint the benches I am making for my daughter from found wood. Does not take long with those fancy spray cans you buy for a dollar a piece at Dollar General, the grandkids’ favorite store in Belle Plaine. Not sure I care to go back to a serious tome about the rights of indigenous peoples in the face of mining companies—surely I have read about that elsewhere—why yes I have even written about it—can’t access it from the farm—no connection here. Oh well we will connect the dots later on. So as a diversion I take down the large can of barn red paint—read somewhere the formula dates from the early 1900s. Put on some plastic gloves, get the long ladder, and proceed to paint the outside of the farm house. Before I started painting the outside, about three years ago, the house had not seen paint in over thirty years. All the white had peeled of leaving the bare, gray wooden siding exposed. Each spring and fall I have painted higher and higher as I acquire a yet longer ladder. This afternoon’s painting took me from the top of the first floor windows to the sill of the second floor windows. Why the house seems to have gotten more stature as a result of the paint going higher! Now how will I go higher? That involves a longer ladder than I have. I will just have to go scrounging from the locals again.

The sun fades and it gets cold, so back into the warm study, to my computer, and to those voluminous writings emanating from Berlin. Or is it Gunnison, Colorado? Seems the prime author of the most recent volume, which is all about how the other volumes got written lives in Gunnison having fled California. An interesting choice. My mind wonders to the southwest of Colorado that I think is the most beautiful area of the world. En route to Iowa I was detained in Grand Junction, Colorado by a great snow storm that swept down over southern Utah and the Rockies making passage across the Continental Divide dangerous. Instead of tackling I70, I spent a day slowly driving down State Route 141, surely one of the most beautiful drives in all the world. The spectacular scenery was not my only objective. I headed for Uravan as I wondered through the mountains and valleys and along the rivers bounded by red and orange fall foliage.

High up on an isolated plateau above the San Miguel River are five uranium mine tailings impoundments. The first is the relocated pile from the Title II Bristol Mine. Just above it at the head of a small local drainage divide are the Title I tailings relocated from Naturita many miles south on 141. Dominating all, however are the three interlinked impoundments from the Uravan Mine and Mill. I had just parked my car to look over the vast landscape when a van drew up, a fellow got out, and enquired my purpose. I told him of my days on the UMTRA Project and my interest in the final Naturita Pile. He quickly and proudly told me he is a full-blooded Navajo, and then recounted his fifteen years working as a QA/QC inspector on the UMTRA and other uranium mill pile stabilization projects. We spent a good hour in the warm sun exchanging stories of acquaintances and projects we both knew well. He is proud of his most recent project: completion of closure of the Uravan tailings soon to become another Title II site. All that remains of Uravan is an old boarding house and the community center. Both are boarded up and signed to advise no-entry. The Navaho told me the local historical society wants to keep the buildings, but the EPA wants them demolished; a complex conflict of interests here. He personally has no opinion, for he will retire and return to Shiprock, many miles away. For the rest, the mill and the town and all that they relied on and supported are gone—now incorporated into the tailings pile atop the hill. Maybe next time I pass that way I can stop in Gunnison and discuss those volumes I am supposed to be reviewing?

I forced myself back to the latest volume. Sorry, I have not given its name yet. It has the intriguing title Architecture for Change: An Account of the Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development Project, History and it is written by Luke Danielson. I confess that I will have to read this volume and the others in much more detail than I have during today’s much interrupted work before I can give you even the beginnings of a reasonable summary and//or critique. I did pull out The Origin of Wealth and I dipped into it while snacking at lunch time; maybe in this book I will find an overriding principle that I can use to organize my thoughts and the many varied conclusions of the MMSD project. There are seven questions the MMSD asks that seemed to get a lot of attention. I will have to take a look at those carefully; after all here is what two of the reviewers of the document say about the seven questions:

  • Dirk Van Zyl, Professor of Mining, Reno, Nevada (and a very old friend I must confess; actually this old friendship is the only reason I stopped to read his comments—he always seems to get to the heart of it?) “From my perspective, one of the great functions of the MMSD project was that it helped the discussion on sustainable development and mining significantly. Although much was said that was not always complimentary, it did help. On a more selfish note, it provided for great reference materials for teaching. I teach the Seven Questions every year and have my graduate students do a project on it.”
  • R. Anthony Hodge of Vancouver (I do not know him but stopped to read his comment because he is from Vancouver—must be insightful?) “For example last year an annual Sustainability Award was offered for the first time by the Mining Association of British Columbia to the BC mining company that best demonstrated the practical application of sustainability principles. The Award was a beautiful glass trophy with the MMSD Seven Questions engraved on it.”

OK, here are the seven questions:

  1. Are engagement processes in place and working effectively?
  2. Will peoples’ well-being be maintained or improved?
  3. Is the integrity of the environment assured over the long term?
  4. Is the economic viability of the project or operation assured, and will the economy of the community and beyond be better off as a result?
  5. Are traditional and non-market activities in the community and surrounding area accounted for in a way that is acceptable to the local people?
  6. Are rules, incentives, programs and capacities in place to address project or operational consequences?
  7. Does the full synthesis show that the net result will be positive or negative in the long term, and will there be periodic reassessments?

I cannot help but wonder why we don’t just summarize this all thus: prepare a decent EIS and have it accepted as in any old US jurisdiction? Seems like every EIS I every worked for a mine or other environmental-impacting project involved just these and many more questions that had to be satisfactorily answered before we could proceed.

I must compliment you if you have read this far. For I am done. It is quite dark out, and the harvesters have quit: the equipment is still and silent and the cat is crying outside with hunger---my only companion during the quiet days alone on the farm is a feral cat. He/she is a large ginger stray that sits beneath the car and meows around five o’clock until I throw out a poor quality sausage or the remains of the chicken dinner we bought in Belle Plaine. Always all the food that I put out is consumed and the plates left clean.

PS. Here is the e-mail that gave rise to this reverie:

I am delighted to be able to tell you that the product of our MMSD history project is now out and available. This is a personal effort to talk about the Mining Minerals and Sustainable Development Project, why it was organized the way it was, the decisions and challenges we faced, and how and why we resolved them the way we did.

It has been subject to considerable review by people from a wide variety of perspectives, both at a workshop in Berlin at the Global Public Policy Institute, which managed and oversaw this project, and in interviews by Institute staff. The resulting report is: "Architecture for Change: An Account of the Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development Project." Berlin: Global Public Policy Institute, 2006.

You can download a copy from the web site of the Global Public Policy Institute, http://www.globalpublicpolicy.net/ under the heading “Research.” The precise reference is http://www.globalpublicpolicy.net/index.php?id=281. The report is also available on the web site of the International Institute for Environment and Development, which hosted the Mining Minerals and Sustainable Development Project, http://www.iied.org/.

We continue to believe that the various studies and reports compiled by MMSD are widely useful to a variety of individuals and organizations and are appreciative of IIED’s maintenance of this web site: www.iied.org/mmsd. There has been some slight delay in sending this announcement as a result of data base issues, for which I apologize. I want to thank Caroline Digby for her extremely helpful contribution to this project. We both want to express our appreciation to the staff of the Global Public Policy Institute, particularly Jan Martin Witte, for helping us through this effort.

Luke Danielson
Gunnison, Colorado, USA
former Director, Mining Minerals and Sustainable Development Project

PPS. I left the farm in Iowa and traveled 2,100 miles back to Vancouver through the vast snow storms that blanketed the northwest in thick white stuff. On my first day back in the office I opened the September 2006 issue of Mining Engineering to an article Tracking progress toward sustainability: linking the power of measurement and story. Who could resist an article with so clever a title? Although the perpetual echo of that overworked word sustainability almost forced me to pass up reading. There are the seven questions again, used as the basis for tracking progress in the mining industry. I cannot work out how this is done other than for each question you fill in a box for: (1) story; (2) measurement; (3) Judgment/synthesis; and (4) communication. Appears BHP Billiton uses this system to monitor their work. I cannot resist quoting the following from the conclusions of the paper:

“By embracing the concept of story, there is much to be gained. Many aspects of contribution (sic) that the mining industry makes are simply beyond the realm of measured indicators. In many communities, the livelihood brought by mining is important, not only because of jobs, wages and cash contribution to the local charity, but more importantly because of the stability, respect and confidence it brings to families and community during the life of the mine. There are many examples of where this sense of community leads to lasting relationships that far outweigh the significance of what can be short-term mining income. This side of mining’s contribution defies capture in measured indicators.”

But beware:

“Such a perspective is a double-edged sword because story also includes the black side—the negative experiences. And mining, like every facet of human activity, has its share of the negative, whether it is related to loss of life from accidents or poor design, labor strife, environmental disaster, the wrench of ill-prepared-for closure or community discontent about the unfairness of the distribution of associate benefits.”