I've just returned from participation in the 5th international conference on Sustainable Development in the Minerals Industry (SDIMI 2011), hosted by RWTH Aachen University, in Germany.
Though some of us feel that the terms “sustainable development” and certainly “sustainable mining” are oxymorons, there is a very real trend these days to make mining and related activities as sustainable as possible. With sustainability having a wide meaning, including environmental, human, social and economic aspects. I'm not going to try and lecture here on the three pillars that support sustainability, etc. But in this conference the different aspects of sustainability were all discussed.
There was also discussion on (potential) scarcity of certain minerals, and the classification of certain minerals as “strategic” or “critical”. All of this against the backdrop of the worldwide need for these metals in our high-tech world, and the fact that some of them are currently only produced in China. Some speakers were in favour of letting the market sort out these issues, others (including the EU and related research institutions) lean towards complicated (and imperfect) definitions of criticality, and possible future policies to address the problem.
But the overall impression that I have gained, is that the world is rapidly learning how to achieve a better balance between the various benefits and disadvantages of mining, and that the issues raised are similar (if not identical) in different countries and continents.