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ACTUALIZING SUSTAINABLE MINING: "WHOLE MINE, WHOLE COMMUNITY, WHOLE PLANET " THROUGH 'INDUSTRIAL ECOLOGY' AND COMMUNITY-BASED STRATEGIES
Ivan Weber, Weber Sustainability Consulting
Salt Lake City, UT
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Other Recent Sustainable Development Work: A great deal of publishing has occurred around the general 'sustainability' topic, most relevantly directed at sustainable businesses and business opportunities. . . . And, perhaps most useful, a veritable explosion from a single writer, Chris Maser:
Maser, Sustainable Community Development;
Maser, Ecological Diversity in Sustainable Development;
Silberstein and Maser, Land-Use Planning for Sustainable Development;
Maser, Beaton, and Smith, Setting the Stage for Sustainability, a Citizen's Handbook;
Beaton and Maser, Reuniting Economy and Ecology in Sustainable Development.
In the first, Maser elaborates the ten "elements" of an ecologically-centered and, simultaneously, community-centered vision of sustainable development:
"First Element: Understanding and accepting the
Inviolate Physical Principles Governing Nature's
"Second Element: Understanding and Accepting That
We Do Not and Cannot Manage Nature
"Third Element: Understanding and Accepting That We Make an Ecosystem More Fragile When We Alter It
"Fourth Element: Understanding and Accepting That We Must Reinvest in Living Systems Even as We Reinvest in Business
"Fifth Element: Understanding and Accepting That Only a Unified Systemic World View Is a Sustainable World View
"Sixth Element: Accepting Our Ignorance and Trusting Our Intuition, While Doubting Our Knowledge
"Seventh Element: Specifying What Is to Be Sustained
"Eighth Element: Understanding and Accepting That Sustainability Is a Continual Process, Not a Fixed End Point
"Ninth Element: Understanding, Accepting, and Being Accountable for Intergenerational Equity
"Tenth Element: Understanding, Accepting and Being Accountable for Ecological Limitations to Land Ownership and the Rights of Private Property."
Maser contends that, ". . . sustainable development is an ongoing, locally directed community process, not a fixed end point. Sustainable community development integrates human values based on the intellect and the intuitive, the material and the spiritual.
As a shared vision of social/environmental sustainability within a fluid system devoid of quick fixes, sustainable community development is integrated learning, communication, and work for the benefit of both the present and the future, because today's choices become tomorrow's consequences." He asserts, further, that, ". . . economics without humility is every bit as dangerous as science without morality. To achieve the balance of energy necessary to maintain the sustainability of ecosystems, we must focus our questions, both social and scientific, toward understanding the physical/biological governance of those systems. Then we must find the moral courage and political will to direct our personal and collective energy toward living within the constraints defined by ecosystem sustainability and not by political/economic desires." (Maser, Sustainable Community Development, Principles and Concepts).
In aggregate, these bodies of thought, with some important qualifications and refinements, establish an overarching vision, within which we may begin to conceptualize a mining industry that may approach sustainability—indeed, must approach sustainability if it is to sustain itself financially and economically.
Sustainability Characterized: Sustainability is not just a technological or economic/financial problem, though it certainly must integrate these considerations into its constantly-adapting responses. Concepts of sustainability, sustainable development or specific 'sustainable' activities, such as mining, must commence from recognition that sustainability is part myth, part vision, and part goal, or elusive objective. Sustainability is not a badge, not an award, not a plaque by the door. It is neither a status bestowed nor a claim made legitimately, nor is it an endpoint reached by the application of prescriptions, proscriptions, or both.
As much art as science, as much ethics as regulatory oversight, as much an alternation between restraint and exertion as economic consistency, sustainability is a condition we can say a system has reached only after it has done so. Given the thermodynamics of human existence, which are more conducive to entropy than to creation or natural restoration, sustainability may be seen as an environmental asymptote, never reached, but only approached, even if we strive as rigorously as we are able. Sustainability is, however, by no means as mechanistic as this. In fact, discussion of sustainability concepts requires establishment of some sort of philosophical and ethical framework, precisely because this is the part that is most lacking, due to targeted suspension by governments, corporations and individuals in positions of power over industries most in need of revectoring course toward sustainability. The considerable effort that will be required to approach a sustainable condition is justified by the chance to maintain stable environmental, ecological, social and economic conditions, relatively free of risk that systems will fail or collapse.
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