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It all comes out of the ground

Letter from Paul Martz

Mining – November 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine

It all comes out of the ground


It’s been a few issues since Lisa Dolby’s letter on growth, mining, and what her version of what the economy of the West (outside of California that is) should be, was printed in #27. I was hoping someone other than the “patriot” (issue 28) who didn’t like the magazine anyway, would respond to her remarks. However, since no one else has yet, I will. Although as a “decrepit” baby boomer I don’t really think this chore should fall to me, since my generation supposedly lacks all sorts of intellectual strengths including both work experience and wisdom, according to the sociologists, political pundits, and now apparently Generation X.

First off, “kid,” EVERYTHING you possess, use or observe that is related to mankind is possible only because of mining, including the machine this is being typed on and the paper it’s printed on.

It isn’t strictly true that every ore deposit is non-renewable, because as technology changes waste rock and even geochemical anomalies can become ore later. In order to avoid an argument over semantics I’ll agree that deposits are non-renewable. So what? They don’t do anything except pollute ground water unless they’re mined.

There have been recent catastrophes, both environmental and dead miners (which I consider to be more important), but the total area of the earth’s crust that can potentially host an ore deposit is minuscule to begin with, and becomes even smaller when the ACTUAL surface/underground disturbance of all mining ever, including that of the future, is considered. Any resulting disturbance is a small price to pay for this machine and the paper, not to mention refrigeration, communications, mechanical mobility, modern medicine, a roof over one’s head, etc. — that we all seem to enjoy.

I’ve worked in Third World nations where people don’t just have low self-esteem, they actually suffer because of a lack of mine products and benefits that flow from them. I’ve also seen the destruction that unregulated mining in those circumstances can cause. Our difficulties, including even historic examples of environmental excesses, pale by comparison. So, do you want to push all natural resource production into Third World nations where either there are no regulations, or the ones on the books are ignored? Or, are you at the head of the line to go back to the Stone Age, which in fact also required natural resource production?

Personally, I’d rather have the technology and head of household jobs here, where my and your children and grandchildren can enjoy the benefits and our laws actually mitigate the impact.

Yeah, economic dislocations occur when a mine is shut down, but do you really think waiting tables and changing linens is better work for your children than putting a college education to use?

Economic dislocations occur for a lot of other reasons as well. Even the earth isn’t static, why would an economy remain so? Do we throw in the towel to real estate development at the expense of agriculture, miners to boaters, manufacturing to waitpersons? Mining isn’t “economic short-sightedness,” it’s the basis of life in the industrial age.

“Kid,” I can sympathize with some of your concerns, but your “Vision” for the economy of the rural west ain’t an historic one or even that of the recent past. A million years. ago, when I was a student and rancher, wildlife preservation meant restoration of the buffalo somewhere else, like Montana for instance.

We operated under a management concept called Multiple Use which kept the grazers, miners and loggers from each other’s throats most of the time, and let the campers, day picnickers and other “recreationists” (which most of us also were), use the infrastructure which we paid for in return for that multiple use. Yeah, there were abuses of that system. It’s a constant problem when you have to deal with real people and their human weaknesses. What’s changed, Lisa, is that use of the land for recreation (by the people you want to cage up in the cities) is now more important than you or me earning a living adjacent to those same lands. That’s the real problem. Although for many of them, those of us who want to use the land for something other than recreation are the problem.

Our local cowtown of less than six hundred people relied on the lumber mill to provide head of household jobs for the husbands of the women who clerked in the grocery store, cut hair in the beauty salon, taught school, tended bar and looked after the elderly. The wages the mill paid and materials it consumed while producing wood for the outside world also provided support for the filling station and hardware store, which was important because ranch business alone could not sustain either one of them.

Even the Forest Service and BLM weren’t enough, although with the growth of those two bureaucracies one wonders if they might be now. You can see the same dynamics in dying Eastern Plains communities today. Those horrible industrial jobs based on the “ravaging” of mother earth also provided for families who supported the schools and other community organizations like the doctor and the hospital that took care of the cowhand who put his hand in the baler once too often. Show me where “wildlife preservation” can or ever could do that.

I could go on, but even I’m getting bored with the obvious. We in this valley do not even begin to be a self-sustaining community because with the exception of beef, everything we consume from fresh vegetables to computer discs come from somewhere else. As does the money that supports retail operations, like those artists you made reference to, at the top of the industrial pyramid that mining supports.

“Kid,” there ain’t anything wrong with being a cream skimmer, I frequently wish to hell I was one, but you’re missing the forest for the trees by not realizing where that cream originates. It all starts with a hole in the ground, like it or not.

Paul Martz Consulting Geologist Poncha Springs