Unless we want to go back to the days when we didn’t have cell phones, GPS devices, jet engines, and nuclear power (yes, we still need it), we’re stuck dealing with the mining industry. The problem is, mining can be really nasty. Take, for example, this recent report, which says that there are thousands of mining claims directly surrounding some of the most impressive national parks in the U.S, including the Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, Yosemite, Arches, and Mount Rushmore. And as our appetite for fancy electronics and non-fossil-fuel-based power increases, these claims are only going to increase. So, what’ll it be, world? Gadgets and electricity or pretty views?
Here’s the situation, according to the Pew Environmental Group: An 1872 law governing mining in western states says that mining companies are allowed to stake claims directly around (sometimes within) national parks, and the government can’t do much to stop them.
This lax regulation has been a boon for the mining industry, which needs more and more mines to satiate our growing appetite for electronics and nuclear energy (and to a lesser extent, stylin’ gold teeth). Take the Grand Canyon, arguably our most recognizable national park. Before 1995, there were fewer than 100 uranium mining claims on the outskirts of the monument. By 2004, there were 320 new claims staked in one year. In 2006, 3,200 claims were staked, and in 2007, 2,900 more claims were on the books.
One quick look at the picture above (a uranium mine in Namibia) should tell you that mining is an ugly process that destroys landscapes. (Unless you consider that mine to be just a smaller, but equally beautiful Grand Canyon, in which case, this could be a real win-win.) And as much as we loathe the crowds that frequent popular national parks like the Grand Canyon, we also like having beautiful places to look at. On the other hand, we also like staring at our computer screens, and that is what these minerals produce. Ditching uranium-fueled nuclear plants will increase our immediate need for fossil fuel power plants, and cutting down on the electronics that help us communicate with each other is impossible at this point. Even if it was feasible, we need our cell phones and computers–in a world where fuel is more expensive, the ability to communicate without being in the same place becomes increasingly important.
A partial, and seemingly incredibly obvious solution is to do a major overhaul of the 130-year-old mining law to better protect national parks. But that will just drive mining companies to other beautiful, less protected spots. So enterprising companies need to start thinking seriously about how to replace mined minerals with synthetic alternatives that don’t require making a mess of Mount Rushmore. Until that happens, we won’t be able to have our electronics and our dazzling landscapes, too.