A solution-providing industry
It is time to look at mining in a new way, as a solution-provider for modern society. Whether we work inside the industry or not, we all consume products from mining processes. Archaeologists tell us that our ancestors had figured this out, as they adapted minerals to provide the spark for fires and to make tools and utensils to make their lives better. People knew intuitively that mining was a solution-provider–not a problem-maker–in their lives.
We seem to have lost some of that intuitive connection between the tools, utensils and machines for the massive communications, transportation, health care, energy and food processing networks we take advantage of on a regular basis. Civilization could not be modern without mankind’s ability to convert the products of mining into our building blocks and accessories.
Consider the outwardly humble industrial mineral product, calcium carbonate, which finds its way into a multitude of products we use every day. As we admire the Gold Medal success of the Canadian men’s national junior hockey team in January, and the anticipated–keep your fingers crossed–success of the Canadian national men’s and women’s hockey teams at the Olympics in Turin, remember that 20% to 25% of every puck is made of calcium carbonate.
This Ontario mineral product is used as a filler in plastics, paints and papers. It can be thought of as an environmental mineral. By stretching the use of raw materials in these consumer products, the quantities of petrochemical feed stocks, trees and energy consumed in making these items are all reduced.
Platinum and palladium are Ontario metals that make our air cleaner. These environmental metals are the catalysts used in catalytic converters, which reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the combustion engines used in cars, trucks and other modes of transportation.
Let’s not forget Ontario’s most important metal–nickel. It is the key alloy ingredient in stainless steel, an important material in pollution-prevention equipment, energy efficiency and health and safety settings. You can see this environmental metal at work in scrubbers, food service kitchens and in hospital operating rooms and medical equipment, among other applications.
Metals are the most recyclable of the earth’s elements. Today, almost as much copper is recovered from scrap as is mined. The old adage from medieval times about converting bronze church bells into cannons and back to church bells during periods of peace and war is true. There are major recycling efforts successfully promoting the reuse of many metals.
If you doubt the solution-providing attributes of minerals, consider your own body and your own health. There is a reason drug store shelves stock iron, zinc and copper tablets for those who need a little boost to keep these key trace elements at the right levels in their bodies.
In the future, the role of mining as a solution-provider can only expand. You can’t have wind turbines, solar-powered cars, artificial body joints and new communications and transportation technology breakthroughs without the products of mining.
Global demand for mining products, boosted by the economic growth of high-population nations such as China and India, is destined to increase. The products will come from somewhere. If Ontario wants to be part of this trend and benefit socially and economically, we need to support infrastructure, and create and maintain a competitive business environment.
The signs are good. Ontario is forming a mineral development strategy, which is a framework for the future growth of the mining industry. On the national level, a recent survey shows that 85% of Canadians believe that mining is a high-tech, innovative industry; 83% believe it is important to have Canadian global champions in the mining sector; and 96% believe it is important for mining companies to have head offices in Canada.
Maybe most Canadians already know intuitively that mining is indeed a solution-provider.
Chris Hodgson is president of the Ontario Mining Association based in Toronto, and can be reached at tel. 416-364-9301 or [email protected]