People involved in mineral exploration and mining could cite dozens of reasons why people should want mines in their backyards, and they would all make sense. But they’re often out-gunned by people who don’t want mines and who conjure up memorable and emotionally charged reasons why others should join their cause. Since the late 1960s, NIMBYs (an acronym for “not in my backyard”) have stalled or stopped hundreds of mines in North America, and have since expanded their numbers and efforts worldwide. One reason you want a mine in your backyard is to help reverse this trend, which, if left unchallenged, could mean the end of civilization as we know it.
This reason may seem melodramatic, but is true notwithstanding. The modern world would come to an apocalyptic halt without minerals and metals. Planes, trains and automobiles would stop running. Stores and businesses would close. Teenagers would be helpless and alienated without their electronic appendages. The breakdown of society would be swift and more chilling than any Hollywood disaster film.
None of this is likely to happen, because in true Hollywood style, a YIMBY (“yes in my backyard”) movement would ultimately rise up to overpower the NIMBYs and save the world. So why wait for doomsday’s eleventh hour? The time for a YIMBY movement is now.
The most commonly cited reasons why British Columbians should want mines involve economics. And yes, mines do create high-paying jobs, generate taxes to pay for social programs, and provide spinoff benefits to local businesses and communities. But NIMBYs are quick to dismiss such reasons as self-serving, and counter that mines would destroy their backyards. The irony is that most NIMBYs are backyard-deficient urban-dwellers. The rich ones have small green spaces where they try to grow wheat. Others have sky-high balconies crammed with pots of organic kale. To compensate, they see rural and wilderness areas as their backyards and want them preserved for future generations. But where will these future people live and work?
That brings up a good reason to want more mines. They reduce urban congestion by providing jobs and a less harried lifestyle in the hinterlands. The industry is already the largest private-sector employer of Aboriginal Canadians from northern and rural regions.
Another reason is that mines help close the gap between rich and poor. Skilled miners working in rural areas often have more disposable income than professionals in urban areas. Some of the poorest people have found some of the richest mines in Canada, proving that exploration is an equal-opportunity quest. Sadly, this reason doesn’t apply to countries where corruption and tyranny stifle initiative.
Why a top-10 list?
The purpose of this exercise is to consider why people should want mines in their backyards from different angles and perspectives. With apologies to the master, a David Letterman-style top-10 list might look like this.
- Demand for hard rock and heavy metal hasn’t declined as hoped.
- Alchemy hasn’t been perfected yet.
- People need to see something that doesn’t come from China.
- Romance is wondrously enhanced by gold and diamonds.
- We can’t go anywhere by resting on our ores.
- Open pits mean “open for business.”
- Mines, like books, only work when open.
- Debt-enslaved basement-dwellers could find jobs and dig themselves out of their holes, literally.
- Indebted governments could mint money instead of print money.
- We’re all going to end up in a holy place or deep under anyway.
In that vein, Canadians should welcome more domestic mines to foster self-reliance in a politically unstable world. A mine in hand is worth two in a faraway bush.
Mines are also needed to retain Canada’s status as a centre of mining excellence, just as we need backyard ice rinks to stay competitive in hockey. This status wasn’t earned on the bench. Canadian mines are the most challenging in the world and a testament to sharp problem-solving skills.
NIMBYs are no slouches either. They often portray mining as the epitome of an unsustainable industry, forgetting that mining has sustained human life for millennia. The skills required to find mines are transferable over geography and have evolved over generations. Simply put, mines beget new mines, which beget mining camps. We need more mines – not fewer – to ensure that mining is sustainable.
The modern world would come to an apocalyptic halt without minerals and metals. Planes, trains and automobiles would stop running. Stores and businesses would close.
Some anti-mining activists believe humans led idyllic lives before industrialization and see no need for the developing world to pursue development. The only antidote for such ignorance from presumably educated people is time travel back to the Dark Ages, or a few weeks of herding goats and hoeing corn. As astronomer Carl Sagan noted, “We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.” That could change if we had more mines and people saw firsthand how technology and science have made them safer, more productive and environmentally sound.
Yet another reason for advocating mine development is that mineral deposits are rare and increasingly difficult to find. If you found one of the best, would you want it locked away forever? Not likely. Stewardship of rare resources means considering the needs of future generations.
Finally, mines help people connect with nature. Activists often claim that a mine would endanger a specific lake, river or wilderness, which they elevate to reverential status. But nature doesn’t play favourites. A mineral deposit is as natural as the landscape that surrounds it and no less deserving of reverence. If people saw them as 100 per cent organic gifts of nature, we’d probably have a lot more mines.