Mining People Magazinewww.miningpeople.org
Humans, Technology, and the Environment
by Debra McCown Thomas
Staff Writer / Field Reporter
Automation in mining
opens the door to a whole
new arena of possibilities.
’ve heard people who are much older than I am talk about
how industry viewed the environment years ago. There
was a time when the natural world was seen primarily as
something to be tamed by man, something wild and infinite,
a contest of tiny humans against the great wilderness.
That changed when those tiny humans were so successful at
industrialization that they found it possible to deplete the forests,
poison the water, damage the land, and pollute the air. I’ve seen
pictures from the early 20th century of once-forested mountains
completely bare of trees and from the mid-20th century, when air
and water pollution reached a level that seemed to foreshadow
an apocalypse of our own making.
When pollution began to impact the health and well-being of
humans on a recognizable level, people mobilized to change
things. Some of those efforts came from within companies,
and some came from the nonprofit and government sector. All
began with the concern of individuals who wanted to make the
world a better place.
Over time, the efforts have made a real difference. At the core
of this achievement is the development of new technologies
and methods that enable companies to do everything in a
more environmentally friendly way. It’s because of technology
that vehicles have become so fuel-efficient and power plant
emissions have become so clean. Cleaner processes have
been developed for everything from mineral processing to
cement production to mining reclamation to the manufacture of
And as technology has advanced to do things in more
environmentally friendly ways, companies have stepped up
to implement it and drive further development. Even many of
those who once viewed environmental needs as a hassle or
impediment have come around – and not just because they seek
government permits or a social license to operate but because
these days, often things that are good for the environment are
also good for the bottom line.
Take, for example, self-driving, self-recharging haul vehicles,
which can operate continuously without fuel costs and without
downtime for refueling. Or drones that can fly independently on
minimal battery power, accomplishing what once took significant
man hours and the use of cars and planes. The results are
superior, the environmental footprint is smaller, and the cost is
Increasingly, smart technologies are available not just to large
companies, but also to small ones. Thanks to technology,
conversations about producing a product include discussions
on improving the environment – and, often, saving money at
the same time.
The storm of technologies that has come forth in our century
has changed and broadened the concept of what is possible,
both from a production and environmental standpoint. Some
key smart technologies that are having an impact on mining
and construction: automation, robotic technology, virtual reality,
augmented reality, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.
Thanks to technology, what was once an environmental ideal
has become a standard philosophy that spans the globe in
the form of real-life sustainability. From construction in North
American cities to mining in the third world, technology is and
has always been the answer to achieving a cleaner environment
and more efficient production.
In contrast to 20th-century predictions, a growing global
population does not have to mean lower living standards;
thanks to technology, the world can support many more people
comfortably while maintaining plenty of green space. Through
technology it’s possible to help our global neighbors skip some
of the pollution growing pains that once plagued the first world.
In the last couple of years, fast-developing smart technologies
have been center stage at trade shows, and this year’s
CONEXPO-CON/AGG event is no different; a plethora of new
technologies are being showcased as the next big thing. But
it’s not one big thing that makes the difference – it’s a lot of little
things, all contributing together to a more efficient industry and
a cleaner world.
The concept of man against wild is still ingrained as a human
thought process, but as a species we’ve graduated from the
simplicity of taming a tree or digging up the ground to creating
machines that can do those things for us in a better way. While
rules and regulations have played a part in getting us here, the
environmental achievements of the last half-century have been
made possible by technology – and because of individuals in
industry who care about our world.
The world has gotten much cleaner over the last several
decades. Industry has come a long way in doing things cleaner
and better – so keep up the good work! Keep striving for a
better future, and keep driving down the path of technological