Renewable energy, electric cars, robotics and our fossil-free future will need huge quantities of lithium, copper, tin, cobalt and other metals. Cornwall has these metals and minerals present in the ground beneath us. Tin, in particular, is thought to be abundant at Wheal Vor.
“Mining threats to biodiversity will increase as more mines target materials for renewable energy production.....these new threats to biodiversity may surpass those averted by climate change mitigation.”
The impact of extracting these metals on biodiversity, the natural environment and C02 emissions is massive. Extracting these materials is likely to eliminate any benefits to the climate from cutting fossil fuels.
The assurances of mining companies like Cornish Tin, (that they will leave the environment in a better state than they found it), are in stark contrast to the evidence of mining history which is all around us. Nature has been left to battle the conditions left behind by the previous generations of mining.
image: Flooded shaft oozing metal contamination in Wheal Vor area
“Increasing mining activity and processing is unlikely to mitigate the impacts of climate change”.
(UN International Resource Panel 2020)
How do we get tin if we don't mine it?
Recycling tin is crucial for the future. Tin can be recycled indefinitely, has a high value and produces much smaller emissions than extractive mining.
The USA currently recycles 90% of its tin consumption. Other countries lag behind. Tin recovery technologies are being developed and commercialised, encouraged by the International Energy Authority Special Report, 2021, which recommends scaling-up recycling as a key measure to mineral security.
“Recycled tin is already contributing to a greener and more connected planet by fulfilling some of this new demand”.
Tin Recovery Association
Image: Circuit boards that could be recycled.
CLIMATE EMISSIONS - Massive machines create massive emissions. While the mining industry attempts to bring itself up to date, it is still responsible for a massive quantity of greenhouse gas emissions.
WATER CONTAMINATION - Large amounts of ore have to be processed to extract small quantities of metal. Traditionally spoil tips and tailings were left on the surface to contaminate the groundwater. Rainfall would wash the contamination into the waterways. We have yet to see whether the proposal to dispose of tailings underground in a cement-based mix lives up to the hype, or whether it will have its own unforeseen consequences.
FAILURE TO CLEAN UP - The damage mining has done to our environment lasts for centuries. Mining companies know they can wind up and disappear before the damage becomes evident. Governments are left to fund reparation. Even the clean-up schemes, which are unsightly and despoil the ambience of our countryside, are not fully effective, and often are not possible at all.
EMPLOYMENT - Automated modern mining requires specialists. It certainly doesn’t provide the amount of employment it used to. Despite the rhetoric of politicians and over-excitement in parts of the media, it is unlikely that a significant number of jobs would be created. Furthermore the expected life of mines is relatively short (8-10years) and cannot therefore be considered sustainable.
CLIMATE CHANGE - The Government’s own Climate Change projections in 2018 showed that hotter drier summers, milder wetter winters, rising sea levels and more extreme weather are already with us. Erosion of mine wastes occurs after heavy rain. Droughts increase the severity because there is less dilution by cleaner water. Intense rainfall can cause ancient shafts to collapse, particularly when in-filled or capped a long time ago.
The extractive industry has a reputation for “dirty mining” and is no doubt serious in its aspirations to become more sustainable. It is in their interests to become more efficient and to operate more sustainably.
However the use of words like ‘Green’ and ‘Sustainable’ does not reduce the environmental or human impact of mining.
Below are some of the words we have seen banded about - together with links where you can look up the aspiration behind the green phraseology.
Climate-smart Mining Initiative - will help resource-rich developing countries benefit from the increasing demand for minerals and metals, while ensuring the mining sector is managed in a way that minimizes the environmental and climate footprint.
Sustainable Mining - meeting present needs without compromising the needs of future generations; reducing environmental impacts by measuring, monitoring, and improving resource consumption; minimizing land disturbance; pollution reduction; as well as closure and reclamation of exhausted mine lands, including end of life.
Protect Wheal Vor oppose metal-mining in the Wheal Vor area. It will inevitably disturb a century’s settlement of toxic legacy waste in the proposed drilling areas. Once this damage is done, it cannot be undone, and it wouldn’t be the legal responsibility of any mining company. Once again Cornwall would pay the price as happened in the Wheal Jane tragedy. We aim to protect our land, our wildlife and our watercourses from the possibility of a renewed toxic legacy.