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Mining People Magazine

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

building materials.

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

much lower.

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