Jewelry, sturdy infrastructures, automobiles, and technology are only some of the comforts we enjoy today. Achieving these luxuries wouldn’t have been possible without the help of research and the acquisition of the needed materials through mining.
Millions of years have passed since humans discovered mining and used it to their benefit. Early settlers tapped into the geology of their environment to craft weapons and tools to aid them in their daily activities. Frequent use of stone tools and exposure to their sources eventually resulted in advancements that allowed them to harness natural resources to create houses, ornaments, currencies, and more.
As civilizations began to grow, so did the demand for ore, resulting in the start of the mining industry. The earliest known mine was a coal mine located in southern Africa some 40,000 to 20,000 years ago. But as beneficial as mining is to society, it only became a significant industry about 10,000 to 7,000 years ago, when more advanced civilizations surfaced.
During those times, the most abundant metal was copper. But gold, silver, and mercury were also mined and prized for their versatility and use in cosmetics, accessories, and building. As the mining industry grew, ores like iron were discovered and used. Applying fire to mined materials also became a relevant technological breakthrough in the advancement of civilizations.
Today, mining is a crucial industry in every country. But aside from providing materials to other industries, mining also plays a significant role in the economy.
A positive impact on economies
Historically, mining has been a catalyst for economies everywhere. The presence of raw materials in select areas paved the way for trading opportunities between two countries or regions. That scenario remains steadfast today as countries from across the globe continue to engage in business deals that involve mined materials.
The continuous exchange between two economies, sometimes more, brings more money that circulates in markets and sustains other industries. Several countries witnessed an increase in their gross domestic products by some percent from the mining industry. Some examples of economies that grew because of the mining industry include those from countries like Chile, Peru, Botswana, Ghana, Mali, and Papua New Guinea, among others.
Continuously trading mined minerals also provides countries with a steady supply of materials that they can use to build new infrastructures, advance their technology, or invest in research. Such activities also contribute to the growth of the economy and progressing society.
Workers also benefit from the mining industry. Unemployment is among the most pressing issues in the world and the mining industry provides a solution. As it remains an essential industry in countries everywhere, mining companies and related businesses generate jobs that keep the population employed and earning money.
For years, commercial-scale mining employed more than 2 million workers who also gained relevant skills inside the mining industry or otherwise. On the other hand, small-scale mining operations provide a livelihood to around 13 million workers and their families in countries such as Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Madagascar, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Indonesia.
During the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the mining industry was among those that were kept open because they were deemed essential by governments across the globe. Their continued operations kept economies running despite the challenging times.
In the Philippines, the mining sector accounted for P102.3 billion, equivalent to 0.6% of gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2020, according to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB).
According to the MGB, the value of metallic mineral production, including gold, nickel ore, mixed nickel-cobalt sulfide, scandium oxalate, chromite, and iron hit P132.69 billion, while the total value of exported minerals, mineral products, and non-metallic mineral manufacture amounted to $5.2 billion.
Working on sustainability
Although mining remains a relevant industry because of its impact on economies around the world, it also raises an issue on sustainability, especially now when more people are becoming deeply interested in environmental awareness. Their initiatives and calls to action captured the attention of mining companies around the world, who are now working on their sustainability efforts.
Due to its involvement with natural resources, mining operations can’t help but chip away at a good chunk of the earth to find precious metals. Some of these operations aren’t responsible, thus causing significant harm to the environment and, in turn, to the people living nearby mining sites. Many natives have been displaced from their homes due to mining activities.
Numerous mining companies, either commercial or small-scale, began to see the negative effects of irresponsible operations. No longer can they turn a blind eye to the harm they’re causing to the environment and the people around them, thus prompting them to adopt more sustainable methods.
Some initiatives that several mining companies have begun include reducing their energy and water consumption, limiting waste production, and preventing on-site pollution among others.
Maintaining mining operations require a significant amount of water and land. A sustainable alternative is to divert the surface water and pump groundwater to reduce both the quantity and quality of water available downstream for aquatic ecosystems and other purposes.
Reusing water is also an ideal way to promote sustainability in mines. But if it’s unusable, the best thing that mining companies can do is to make sure that they are disposed of properly.
As for energy consumption, mining companies began tapping into alternative energy sources like solar or wind power to become more sustainable. Reducing their energy usage also results in the reduction of greenhouse gases that come from heavy machinery used in their operations.
Other mining operations also have to deal with scrap materials that contribute to environmental pollution. However, these materials aren’t as hard to deal with because they can be recycled or sold to companies that can repurpose them. Doing so can reduce the amount of waste produced in mining areas.
Creating a proper waste disposal system is another way to address environmental pollution from mining operations. Companies can begin by investing in equipment that turns waste into reusable material while adopting new policies that allow for a more eco-friendly waste disposal routine.
However, the ideal step to make mining operations more sustainable is by partnering with the communities and local government to implement laws and guidelines that dictate how sustainable mining should be practiced.
Mining has since become a relevant industry that paved the way for the development of civilizations in infrastructure, technology, fashion, and more. It retains the same level of popularity as a big contributor to economies. Partnered with sustainable efforts, the mining industry will hold steadfast in its operations and will always be a key contributor to the economy for years to come.