Conversations about mining and society – The Mine Life Cycle

Conversations about mining and society – The Mine Life Cycle


My name is Tony Hodge, welcome to
conversations about mining and society. Anna, welcome Professor Anna Littleboy
tell us a little bit about yourself. I’m a professorial research fellow here at
The University of Queensland and I lead a cross-cutting program within the
Sustainable Minerals Institute called transforming the mine life cycle. So we’ve talked about your cross-cutting theme, over the past several weeks and
you’ve come to talk about it in terms of accelerating mining’s movement towards
sustainability by thinking about the full lifecycle. Yeah. What does that mean? Well I guess, as we all know mining, the act of mining is a very disruptive
act, it disrupts the earth, it disrupts the environment, disrupts people, it
disrupts the economy – it’s a hugely disruptive act and as a result of that
it actually has a very high level of impact on many many of the dimensions of
sustainable development that are becoming increasingly important to us
today. Now mining and mining companies know this of course and there’s an awful
lot of work that goes on around – So wait a minute Anna, Anna if it’s so disruptive
why do we do it? We’ve got a conundrum in today’s society: we need minerals and we
need materials and we need metals in order to live as a growing society, in a
growing population. So we need to mine in order to access those metals but what we
also need to do is to undertake that act of mining, which is very disruptive, in a
way that doesn’t in any way work against the concept of sustainability.
It doesn’t exacerbate poverty, it doesn’t increase unfairness or corruption, it
leaves the land better than it was when we started and so a lot of what my
program is about is about how can mining this disruptive act be an agent of
transition towards greater levels of sustainability and for me the word
accelerating is really important here this is about how do we create the
change fast enough that it’s keeping up with the pace of change in the world
around us. So some people will argue that that we can affect that acceleration by
using less or using it better and you know of course if the concept of the
circular economy that we can recycle more where does that fit into this why
can’t we use less and be more efficient and be less disruptive. Well I think some of that comes
down to the fact that the the pace at which we commit to a
circular economy is not keeping up with the pace of increasing materials and
metals that we need and therefore we have to do both: we have to think about
how do we walk more lightly on the world? through concepts such as the circular
economy and how do we continue to support what we as humans aspire to?
Better standard of living, pulling people out of poverty, increasing autonomy in a
population that is accelerating at an exponential rate. Circular economy thinking
is not enough to continue to support the population growth that we’re seeing and
there was some work on this done at Yale University recently that they looked at
the metals required in order to deliver sustainable development and meet the
goals, meet the aspirations of the United Nations sustainable development goals
and they did some scenarios around this and to meet those aspirations of the
sustainability A. we need more metals than we do if we just want to carry on
business as usual and B. we need about a hundred and eighty percent so a lot more
than the full total of metals that are currently available around the world and
that includes if you recycle everything that is currently recyclable using
today’s technology. So let me come back to you for a moment
Professor Littleboy because you followed an eminent career in science
and research here in Australia and at the peak of that you decided to come
over to the Sustainable Minerals Institute and run something called a
cross-cutting integrative theme. Why did you do this and why is that important? I’m a change agent by nature I have spent my career
sitting on often uncomfortable boundaries between scientific
disciplines, between notions of science and social science, between notions of
technology solutions and notions of changing process. All my life, in a
research career that now spans about 32 years I think, I have spent my time
working around how to integrate some of these great ideas, to come up with
solutions that are even better and what the Sustainable Minerals Institute
offers, is a chance to do that within a university environment, where I can
access I can access thought leaders at the UQ Business School, I can access
people who understand about the history of ideas, I can speak to political
economists and I can work alongside people with deep technical understanding
of how you engineer processes. This is really important because some people
would say the university environment is an ivory tower, up at the corner of
society, how do we get those ideas and affect the change that you would like to
see a current society and reflect the wisdom that you would hope society would
embrace, how do we get that more broadly integrated into the thinking of people
in the society in general? I’m not gonna answer that question directly, but I do
want to reflect on something that I’ve learned since I came to The University
of Queensland which is the real power of the University in societal change and
the power comes from the ability here to think about things in a way that isn’t
particularly driven by any paradigm of how we operate a society. We can we can
think about what things could be, in a way that very few other people can
outside the university environment and at the University here, I’ve really begun
to appreciate just how important that is. But in our society today there are a
growing number of people particularly in political leadership positions who are
rejecting the idea of that as important in society – they are rejecting the
concepts of science and deep research how do you respond to that from the
ivory tower in an effective way? There are so many ways of looking at the
world, looking at the world through science and deep research is one of
those ways and it is important, it’s necessary, but it’s not sufficient and so
other things that need to be brought into the frame in terms of how you look
at the world how do you position society to deal with the increasing complexity
the heightened level of uncertainty that we have in terms of how this century
will play out. You’ve got to put that deep knowledge, deep wisdom, structured
and validated thinking alongside the processes and institutional structures
that will then coalesce around that knowledge to affect change. So you have
to look at decision making in a number of different frames: where do you get the
knowledge from? How will that knowledge be viewed by a whole range of different
actors in the decision-making framework? And then what do you do about it?
And I suppose coming back to the program of transforming the mind life cycle: this
conundrum – that we need minerals metals the burgeoning society but we need to
make sure that we produce them without exacerbating adverse effects. It’s not
just a problem for the industry this is a problem for society, for me the key to
accelerating change, and that’s what we’re talking about here,
is to shift our mindset from thinking about the process of mining as a series
of transactions, between the miner and the contract miner and the OEM, between
the miner and the community, between the regulatory system and the miner, between
the miner and the value chain. So shifting from the mindset of it’s a
series of transactions and we manage and govern them through market mechanisms to
thinking about mining as a process of transition, so go from transaction
mindset to transition mindset where mining is something that helps, can
help a region transition from a point in time to another point in time and the
community in that region, they will experience mining for many decades but
they’ll still be there when the mining is gone so how do we think, not just
about what do we do by bringing mining into a site? How do we run the mine:
plan it, construct it, operate it, close it? But thinking about okay: how can this
mine and everything we have to do through planning operating and closure
lead to a better outcome post closure? Very different mindset and that’s what
my program is trying to get at. Wouldn’t it be cool, because there are things you
could do with your mine design that would increase your environmental and
social value, if you thought about it really early on, wouldn’t it be cool if
we could get mine planning processes that were thinking about environmental
and social impact before commitments were made to a certain type of mining.
Now in order to affect that change we have to present a really good value
proposition as to why government should require it and industry should do it,
that means we’ve got to think about what is value from the mining process how do
we define value the easy way of defining it, which is the one that we do at the
moment, is about productivity cost economic return with a
nod to things like livelihoods, secondary employment, tertiary employment. What’s much
more difficult is valuing social capital, poverty alleviation, and then using that
to actually derive design parameters. In my view things need to change because
the 21st century is that much more complex part of the reasons it’s more
complex is because more people are able to access knowledge and information
about what should and shouldn’t be done there are more communication channels.
The ability to observe every decision that is made by every organization, is
much higher in the 21st century, which is actually driving people that
behave differently people have different expectations, it’s driving change in its
own right. So we have a truly complex system in the 21st century where we’re
seeing emergent behaviour, because society can interact with the mining process and
make conclusion and start to drive change through regulation and it’s all
happening much more quickly than has ever happened before, and yet we’re still
using mining methods that were broadly set in place 50 to 100 years ago. There now I have a final question that I’d like you to think about it’s a two-part
question, as drawing things to a close, so right now today what is the toughest
issue facing the mining industry? and, what is the toughest issue facing the
Sustainable Minerals Institute? Can I add a third? Yeah, yeah you can add a third
if you wish. You ask me what was the toughest issue facing the mining
industry, and I’m very strong on the fact that the mining industry is an
agent in the toughest issue facing society, which is about how to resource
future generations, and a lot of what’s happening in society at the moment is
making it harder and harder to mine. So the toughest issue in the mining
industry for me, is linked to the toughest industry in society, which is if
that’s the way we want to live how we’re going to make sure we can live that way
and deliver against all these aspirations of sustainable development
and I think we have a whole load of systems and structures set up that make
it very difficult for us to have the right- have an appropriate conversation
about how we’re going to do that, this is not something just for the mining
industry to resolve. It’s something for the whole of society to resolve and that
brings me to the toughest issue within the Sustainable Minerals Institute which is
I think, trying to get that message across, working out how to begin operating in
that sphere, as well as retaining a very very strong focus on providing solutions
to the industry as it’s currently formulating. So Professor Littleboy
thank you very much for this conversation, which I have appreciated
and I particularly appreciate the energy that you bring and a positive sense of
hope for the future. Thank you.

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