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“Consumption” Missing Element in Discussion over Mineral Resource Development

You need “stuff” to make “stuff.”  It’s a simple concept, but one that is all too often forgotten. As ARPN’s Dan McGroarty wrote in a 2015 Forbes op-ed coauthored with then-CEO of mining advisory firm Behre Dolbear Karr McCurdy:

“[A]s a precursor to sound policy, the nation needs a change in mind-set: It’s time to remind ourselves that life as we know it is made possible by the inventive use of metals and minerals. Smart phones, the Cloud, the Internet: These things may seem to work by magic, but quite often the backbone of high-tech is mineral and metal, not fairy dust.”

While there has been some movement on the federal policy front since then, many still fail to fully grasp the above-stated fundamental. Against the backdrop of the current discussion over copper development in Minnesota, Jim Bowyer, an environmental consultant and emeritus professor in the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering at the University of Minnesota, tries to set the record straight in a piece for the Star Tribune.

Writes Bowyer:

“In all of the discussion about copper mining in Minnesota, there is a remarkable lack of references to copper consumption within our state. At the same time that wind and solar energy expansion and electric vehicles are being enthusiastically promoted, the critical role of copper (and nickel) to these developments is never mentioned.”

He points to the increased usage of copper in renewable energy ranging from wind turbines over solar collectors to electric vehicles, all of which is fueling demand for the metal, and draws attention to our reliance on foreign supplies of copper.

Opponents of copper development projects, he argues, are quick to point to the environmental risks of copper mining, but “in none of [the states that are home to copper development], more anywhere else in the U.S., is there citizen opposition to copper consumption (…).”  Somewhat facetiously, Bowyer suggests that “[a] return to the Obama-era 20-year moratorium on copper mining in Minnesota, as advocated by some, should perhaps be accompanied by a 20-year moratorium on the development and adoption of renewable energy and electric vehicles, and by a concerted investment to find copper (and nickel) substitutes. 

His bottom line is that we can’t have our cake and eat it, too:

“Society must come to grips with its aversion to copper procurement even as it celebrates the promise of new copper-dependent products and technologies designed to protect and enhance environmental quality. While taking reasonable steps to protect our domestic environment, we must find a way to shoulder our fair share of risks in obtaining the copper we need — or we must take steps to create a future in which less rather than more copper is needed.”

Click here to read the full piece.