Over at CA, Steve McIntyre has a post up about his trip to the PDAC.
The Prospectors and Developers Association Convention is a big deal in the world mineral exploration business. I’ll be going to it this week. It’s in Toronto every year around this time and started yesterday. Hundreds of exploration companies are in town, with presentations from all over the world. Yesterday, I chatted with a company with a gold prospect in Yakutia (Indigirka River), a district that we know from tree ring proxies.
I’ve been doing some mining business in the past few weeks and it’s taken time. I’ll likely do more this year for a variety of obvious reasons. One gold project, one zinc project. While gold mines are not exactly ground zero of climate change controversy, the Associated Press has observed in this connection that mining companies produce carbon dioxide. This characteristic of mining companies doesn’t seem particularly unique since even climate change research institutions produce carbon dioxide, but the AP seemed to think that it was worth reporting. Mining companies also produce the various materials that are required to transition to things like electric cars, solar panels, windmills, etc. (Some companies were promoting rare earth deposits, saying that every windmill uses a lot of rare earth in the windmill rotor.)[my emphasis]
It is worth reporting and good on the AP to do so. It’s worth reporting that the mining industry does produce GHGs through its production process and will be affected by CO2 legislation. However that is not my interest in his post.
It’s the blithe little dismissal of this fact by pointing out how the production of wind turbines creates GHGs. It’s disingenuous even if it is factual.
The real crux of the issue isn’t that this or that production process creates GHGs — pretty much all production uses energy derived from the burning of fossil fuels, which are the main source of energy in our civilization. Pretty much everything that requires energy in industrial society uses fossil fuel in some part of the process and thus creates GHGs.
The crux is that those GHGs have to be accounted for because of their effect on climate and the environment. The crux is that since the beginning of the fossil fuel era they simply haven’t.
This is a failure of governance, a failure of politics and a failure of economics, that most dismal of pseudosciences. It reflects the triumph of the corporation over the citizen and the triumph of money over democracy. Corporations have undue power in modern industrial globalized society such that their interests increasingly surpass and surmount those of the public. Governments are not so much of the people for the people — they are now, due to finances (especially in the US but elsewhere as well) and poor legislation, the lackeys of the corporation,increasingly doing its bidding and realizing its will rather than that of citizens.
I’ve known this for a while, but it came home to me most strongly today when reading about the history of the precautionary principle and how very often, all too often, governments have given undue weight to the concerns of corporations to use new technologies without proving their safety and only acting long after the negative effects have harmed the consumer or user of that technology. So many examples in the past century — benzene, asbestos, CFCs, PCBs, lead, DDT, BCE, DES, the Cod stocks — the list goes on.
In these cases, there were early warnings of potential harm to individuals and ecosystems, and over time, increasing consensus about it among scientists, but corporations, politicians and regulators ignored the science, favoring the rights of corporations to make a buck, pollute and pay, etc.
The result — citizens died, were maimed and harmed. Ecosystems were damaged, species were decimated.
This is not an anti-corporate rant — it is a rant against undue power of the corporation. This is not a rant against capitalism. I like it quite a lot because I live very well, thankyouverymuch. I like my technology. I like access to energy to power my world. I want to keep this wonderful technological level.
The problem is that there has been, until now and even now, no adequate accounting for CO2 and GHGs. They have been released into the atmosphere for free. None of us have paid the proper price for fossil fuels. The accounting has been abysmal. This has allowed us to develop way beyond the level and at the speed we would have if a true accounting of the full cost of fossil fuels had been included in the price. We would have had renewables and carbon-free technology a lot sooner if we had paid the real price because there would have been an incentive to develop alternatives.
The crux is that every production process, every job, pretty much every part of industrial society produces GHGs in some way and has a carbon footprint.
This has to be taken into account. Industries aren’t good or bad — they are more or less polluting, more or less emitters of GHGs, and we must start taking that into account. It must become factored into the equations and into our social, economic and political calculus and when we balance the books. We have to price it right in order to mitigate the damage it does. We have to find alternatives to prevent even worse damage in the future.
So, sure, producing wind turbines and solar panels and nuclear reactors and fuel cells and pretty much everything currently has a carbon footprint.
The crux is we have to do a full accounting so we get the real price — and the true cost — right. Only then will there be incentive to develop alternatives that have a smaller or no carbon footprint.
Glib dismissal of the carbon footprint of the minerals exploration industry and an indictment of alternatives is just that — glib. It betrays either a lack of understanding or full-out contempt. I’ll let the reader decide which.