|Mineral Asset Benefits in Conflict with Modern Society? Sponsored by Exxaro||
The phenomenal technical development in the World over the previous 150 years has been largely based on the utilization of mineral assets. The availability of electricity and the abundance of metals and industrial minerals in the market have made mega factories and development projects normal practice. Enormous prosperity has been created and apart from the superrich, a flourishing professional middle class has been created in the developed and many of the developing countries.
Interestingly it is many of those who prospered who now want to sit back and enjoy ‘pristine’ nature on their doorstep, but with all the modern amenities included. The fact that there are many people who still live in extreme poverty is a tragedy, but a widespread perception is that Governments must solve it. The slogan ‘Save the environment for our children at all cost’ has become so popular that few dare to challenge it, but popularity often finds responsibility a constraint. What about the responsibility to protect mineral assets, which is part of the environment? Industrial development remains the most reliable way to create a sustainable prosperous environment. It supports human development in its broadest sense, but it requires raw materials and the availability of adequate and affordable energy. Mining and the burning of fossil fuels will remain the backbone of economical growth for the foreseeable future.
The natural mineral deposits of any country are a national asset just as its water resources, agricultural land or wild life, with one important difference; mineral deposits are finite and not renewable. Any action, which wastes or sterilizes economically viable mineral assets, even if it will only become mineable in the future, should be considered against national interest and prosperity. In the South African context it can be argued that it is unconstitutional to sterilize mineable mineral resources for whatever reason and it contravenes the Mineral Resources and Petroleum Development Act. This results in a conflict between minerals and environmental legislation, including land use, but it is actually an international dilemma. Therefore a balance or a responsible moral high ground needs to be defined urgently. The role geoscientists should play in this important quest will be discussed and possible solutions will be recommended at this symposium.