A Tucsonan’s Take on Mining and Climate Goals

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

Mentioning the complexities and nuances of environmentalism in today’s partisan divide is a surefire way of being called names.

If you want to start a fight and be typecast as either an ignorant left-winger or a reactionary right-winger, mention that some hot-button issue held dearly by one side or the other is more complex and nuanced than reported.

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This is especially so with respect to climate change, fossil fuels, and green energy, all of which have been brought to a boil by the Biden administration’s climate goals.

On a related note, here in my adopted hometown of Tucson, where there is a long history of copper mining in Southeastern Arizona, a raging debate is taking place about plans for a new mine in the drought-stricken region.

A recent report by the International Energy Agency pushes the hot buttons of climate and mining by warning about the massive increase in mining that will be required by the administration’s climate goals—mining that will cause great environmental harm, cancel out a lot of the purported green gains, and take place in countries lacking in human rights and environmental protections.

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The foregoing sentence is enough for some readers to shut down their thinking, retreat to their ideological corner, and accuse me of an imaginary bias.

Well, this will flummox them: I’m the former head of an influential environmental group in northern New Jersey, where a major newspaper honored me on its Sunday front page as “Community Service Volunteer of the Year.”  Concurrently, I was an executive with a large natural resources company owned by a family of environmentalists, whose holdings included 900,000 acres of timberland—none of which was clear-cut—and mines where silica, calcium carbonate, and kaolin clay were mined.

Was it hypocritical for me to be an environmentalist while working for a natural resources company? I’ll answer with a question: Do you see yourself as green but brush your teeth, use paint, and buy paper products with a gloss on them? If so, those items contain the raw materials mined by my former employer.

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Also, of course, the copper in your smart phone comes from mines, as does the lithium in its battery, as well as the lithium in the batteries of your Tesla, should you own one—not counting the iron ore and aluminum ore that were mined to produce the metal in the car.

Then there are your social-media musings, your postings to the cloud, and your other electronic applications and devices—most of which rely on huge server “farms” that use tremendous amounts of energy.

If you’re like me and have solar panels on your house, you might know how much power you generate from the sun, but it’s a good bet that you have no idea how much energy has been expended in providing all of the goods and services you use, including food.

With respect to food, whether you are a carnivore, omnivore, or herbivore—and whether you eat organically or not—a lot of energy and environmental costs go into the production of the food you eat. The use of nitrates alone on farms has created a huge environmental problem. Another problem is the drawing down of aquifers across a large swath of the United States—water that took centuries to accumulate. Likewise, the world’s oceans are being overfished by fleets of huge floating factories.

Reports say that 70% of Americans are overweight, including the 40% who are obese. No doubt, many of them are greens. They could cut their caloric intake by probably a third and thus reduce the associated environmental costs by a third, with no negative effects on their quality of life but with significant improvements to their health.

There are other green actions that are within our control. For example, we can hang our laundry to dry instead of using a dryer, which is one of the biggest energy hogs in our house. We can also stop buying highly-processed foods in single-use packaging.

Such foods now dominate grocery shelves. The typical supermarket has gone from carrying about 6,000 items in 1980 to approximately 33,000 today, most of it processed, over-packaged, and laden with salt, sugar and fat.  Nearly half of “groceries” are now bought in convenience stores, and many of the items are packaged to be eaten or drunk while driving.

Much of this ends up as litter and trash along roads, as my wife and I know firsthand from picking up debris on our daily five-mile walks. So much of America has become trashed that Americans seem to have become desensitized to it as they pass by in the cocoons of their expensive luxury cars and behemoth trucks.

Convenience stores and fast-food outlets are the main sources of roadside litter, but try to find one of them in your town that participates in an adopt-a-road program. Or imagine the outcry if a public school were to require students to pick up litter along neighboring streets, as schools do in Japan.

If not picked up, items made of plastic and aluminum will take centuries to decompose, and much of it ends up in riparian areas, in streams, and in oceans.  Yet industry keeps developing new products and packaging that exacerbate the problem. Examples are the Styrofoam peanuts and the plastic bubble wrap contained in packages delivered to your door. Inevitably, some of this ends up on roadways, where it is blown about by the wind. If you’re looking for a challenge, try picking up 50 or more Styrofoam peanuts that end up strewn over a mile of roadside.

Another ubiquitous item on roadsides is Swiffer cleaning cloths. Apparently, Americans no longer recycle old towels and clothes to be used as rags in house cleaning. Instead, they buy packaged Swiffer cloths and then throw them into the trash or recycling (although they aren’t recyclable.) From there, they somehow end up on roadsides.

Used face masks and e-cigarettes have also become ubiquitous on roadsides.

Unsurprisingly, liquor bottles and beer bottles and cans continue to litter roads and nature areas. But hypodermic needles are a more recent addition to the litter from mind- and mood-altering substances. The needles are not only a danger to kids who come across them but also a danger to people who pick up litter.

Judging by the amount of litter, Americans have lost their civic pride and love of country. And paradoxically, the more that government and schools have harped about environmentalism, and the more that corporations have advertised about how green they are, the more the proliferation of single-use items and disposable, non-recyclable products. (Only 10% of items purported to be recyclable are actually recyclable.)

Equally if not more hypocritical are the celebrities, business tycoons, and politicians who virtue signal about climate change but own multiple mansions and fly around in private jets.  For some inexplicable reason, they escape ridicule and are bypassed by the cancel culture.

Even National Geographic is two-faced. It advertises an around-the-world excursion by ship and plane costing tens of thousands of dollars, where passengers can listen to lectures on nature while being oblivious to the irony.

Then there was a reporter for a national publication who wrote about her “green vacation” to some remote resort in the Amazon that she billed as sustainable. The trip entailed multiple flights, a long bus ride, and a long drive in an off-road vehicle. I emailed her with an estimate of how many tons of carbon were produced by her trip and suggested that the trip wasn’t very green. She didn’t take the feedback well.

Solutions for climate change and environmental degradation are a subject for another day, but two of the top ones are a carbon tax and the building of smaller and safer nuclear power plants.

Anyway, unlike the aforementioned reporter, I’ve become inured to negative feedback. Therefore, feel free to call me names for writing about the complexities, nuances, hypocrisies and double standards of today’s environmentalism.

 

 

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