The True Cost of Mining
A 2017 government report states that the mining industry that year directly employed more than 426,000 workers across the country. This number includes extraction, smelting, fabrication and manufacturing. An additional 208,000 people and 3,700 suppliers provided products and expertise to the industry and mining employed more than 16,000 Indigenous peoples in 2016. This number includes 11.6% of the mining industry’s labour force, making it the second-largest private-sector employer according to the NRC, Stats Canada 2016 Census. Seven companies dominate northern mining and create around 4,400 of the 37,000 jobs in the territories. The average worker in the arctic earns $76,333 per year. This sounds like a reasonable wage until you factor in the 42% higher cost of living over the national average.
We can find an abundance of information breaking down the economic impact of developing and producing the mining industry. Still, it’s not easy to see all of the other implications in laid-out PDFs or statistical documents. For example, to open a gold mine in Ontario, there are pretty infographics that show positive-looking pictorials of picturesque cartoon landscapes with child-like images of gravel trucks and some mining equipment peppered throughout the image. Text accompanies these pictures in simple, bold lettering, boasting about the 1,500–1,900 jobs this new mine will bring to the region annually within the first three years. The information shows the local GDP contributions during a collective estimate of $201 million per year during the construction phase. Then over the same pristine grassy landscape is a clip art representation of a completed factory with no emissions stacks.
The industry pictograms and sell sheets are all meant to make you feel comfortable investing, working in or supporting the mining industry. By investing your money or time, you are helping create jobs, creating a more robust economy, building wealth, and making Canada stronger. Right?
Since 2016 mining, Canada-wide, has brought in between $40 and $50 million per year, including multiple mining sectors beyond extraction. But what are the costs to the environment, the medical system within the mine region, and climate change? What are the daily personal prices to work in industrialized jobs in a capitalist model? How much in subsidies do our public tax dollars pay to make the few private investors their profit? I would like to believe our environment and health are essential; however, most of us brought up in this system seem only to understand as it exists through a Eurocentric-colonial lens celebrating unrealistic economic growth. The “what is this doing for us” mentality. So let me break this down in that format because simply wanting to exist doesn’t seem to please the economy.
The years 2010–2018 have a lot of information available for both environmental and economic positions, so I will be using this timeline as my base to represent impacts. I would love to describe our current period; however, not all information is complete, and events are still unfolding.
The government of Canada released an infographic labelled Canada’s Mining industry today and tomorrow with the subtitle Innovation Ecosystem. While this title, Innovation Ecosystem, is concerning, let us focus on the sectors it encompasses so we can fully appreciate the scale. Their “ecosystem” includes industry interpretation of mining and exploration, equipment manufacturing, venture capitalists, service providers, institutional funders, governments, academia, associations, research and development centers, start-ups, and other industries associated with clean-tech, genomics, aerospace/defence, to name a few.
To get to the impacts on our environment now, let’s look back in time.
Previous Story: Introduction
Stay tuned for MINING: GOLDEN YEARS — THE HISTORY OF MINING IN THE TUNDRA.