There’s no doubt that mining is an extremely important industry that helps our societies develop and grow. Our economies are built around it, as each decade we produce and trade more products than the last. With recycling playing a limited role and metal demand set to increase considerably in the near future, mining activity will boom.
Currently, mining and refining pollutes. The steel & iron industry alone accounted for 5.8% of global CO2 emissions in 2018 – while mining sites for all metals find ways to pollute locally as well. Additionally, metals are natural resources, so extracting them will deplete available stocks and increase metal costs as mining companies move on to extract the next deposit.
Renewables and high-tech will be partly responsible for this increased mining activity, and many governments’ proposed climate action plans will have serious consequences. Renewable technologies require many different metals, including rare earth metals that are hard to substitute. With the energy transition having barely begun at a global scale, mining is set to become the industry of the future.
Unfortunately, higher mining activity will increase energy consumption and cause even more pollution. Especially as metal reserves deplete and commodities become more valuable – which will enable the mining of lower-grade deposits.
The bottom line is that while renewables can and will help reduce carbon emissions compared to fossil fuels, we can’t extract metals forever. And that means we can’t produce renewable technologies at our current rates forever either.
We need to reduce energy demand to help the transition to renewables make sense – and to give us time to transition to even lower energy-consuming societies in the future.