When I was young, my family had a small opal-mining claim in the remote Nevada desert, where I spent numerous childhood vacations. I vividly remember the allure of striking it big…looking for that rainbow flash among the dross, as I picked away chunks of clay from the exposed bank. I now live near the largest mining operation in the world, visible from space. I breathe its fumes and dust, and I have become aware of the dirty impact mining has, even while it provides jobs and much of the material substrate for our technology-based existence.
Mining is a defining activity of civilization. Our eras of extraction — the Stone Age, the Copper Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, and now the Fossil Fuel Age — demarcate humanity’s own “progress”. These materials we extract from the earth – metals, pigments, construction materials, gemstones, and fossil fuels – are consumed by our culture and become the “earth-blood” that runs in our veins, defining us as a species.
Mining’s importance grew with the advent of industrial production. As our population has grown, our hunger for resources has grown. And so extraction has exponentially expanded. Today, vast operations by transnational mining corporations create strange new landscapes. So we have little reference in viewing them, since few of us ever see these places. The extractive economy, in its hunger for raw materials, has entered its late phase — now going after resources in the most difficult and vulnerable places. To depict these operations destroys any sentiment of the “pastoral” that has existed in art.
Life has evolved from simple, one-celled life-forms into complex beings that can literally move mountains and alter the atmosphere. This raises important questions. Where are we going from here? Will humanity’s present trajectory annihilate life and consciousness on this planet, or can we transform towards a beneficial co-existence with other species? What role would mining play in such a future?
I wish to thank Kent Kessinger, SouthWings and EcoFlight for the use of photographic source material.