Extracting land and information

One could call them scars, those in the earth’s crust that dominate the satellite images in Google Maps while I browse through the aerial view of the northern landscape. The images are locations of the mining industry in different parts of Finland. By seeing them I am hoping to find some meaning in these cuts, in the toxic lakes surrounding the mine site, and in the industrial buildings that are the heart of those places, refining minerals and ore, crushing and reforming them into something of use to the industrial and post-industrial needs. How the mine defines the surrounding nature, how the remaining nature relates to the mine, almost succumbing to its presence, and how the not-so-distant human settlements loom on the rims of the mine site, underlying the point that this is something man-made, our mark on nature. In a way like Edward Burtynsky with his photos of the Anthropocene, I am trying to understand man-made change through visual output. Instead of a lens of my own, I have chosen the satellites covering every inch of this planet.

Lake Lefroy, Western Australia [1]

There are 44 mines in operation in Finland [1]. The total land extraction amount they amass was 115,1 million tonnes in 2019 [2]. The biggest extractor is Kevitsa, near the town of Sodankylä in the Arctic Circle, which extracted 39,5 million tonnes of land in 2020 [3]. The amount sounds gigantic, like some entity pushing their metallic claws deep into the already disturbed and fragile biosphere. But to put this amount into perspective, the yearly amount of extracted land in the world sums up to almost 90 billion tons [4], a sum so enormous that it escapes the mind’s ability to comprehend it. It becomes just an abstraction, a vast row of numbers escaping to the fringes of the conscious mind. In a mine like Kevitsa, the yearly amount of mining waste is 38 million tonnes and from that only 7 percent is utilized in the mining area. The non-useful material will end up in designated dumping sites.

Kevitsa open pit mine, Finland [2]

Waste generated by sector and type in Finland, 2019 [3]

The largest extractor is also the most power hungry. Kevitsa produces 424 GWh of electricity every year [5]. The Mining industry in Finland as a whole used 2,1 TWh of energy in 2014 [6]. This is a small fraction of Finland’s yearly usage of energy, that rounds up to 81 terawatt-hours [7]. So, how can the scale of this be show? If we compare this to Bitcoin mining, its estimated annual consumption is around 117 terawatt-hours [8]. It’s more than the whole consumption of Finland. If we make the comparison scale even larger we can look at the amount of energy the global mining industry uses yearly. While I’m writing this, the counter on the website The World Counts  – a site that calculates in real time things related to the human impact on this planet –  is over 50 billion gigajoules [9]. That is around 14 028 terawatt-hours. Almost twice the amount of energy China (7 510 TWh) used in the year 2020 [10].

Deepest man-made open pit mine in the world, Bingham copper mine in Utah, USA [4]

The further I reach in my study to understand what mining is the more information I accumulate: the minerals excavated, carbon footprint, water usage, toxic chemicals used, and so on. The list adds up and I become overburdened by the information I process. It’s all related to the rising demand of raw materials needed to keep the information society running. From devices needed for crypto mining to communication gadgets, the depletion of Earth’s resources is fast and gaining speed every year.

Rise in consumption of mineral resources between 2000 – 2018 [5]

Maybe, this age will leave its marks on Earth’s crust. Our usage of its finite resources will lead to building a new sediment on top of natural one, one made out of communication, like from the apparatuses made to connect us. We will become etched to the deeper time of Earth itself and maybe some variation of us will mine it to their yet not known needs in the distant future.

 

References:

[1]&[2] Liikamaa, Terho. 2020. Ajankohtaiskatsaus: Malminetsintä ja kaivosteollisuus 2019. Turvallisuus- ja kemikaalivirasto (Tukes). https://tukes.fi/documents/5470659/21595777/Ajankohtaista%20malminetsinn%C3%A4st%C3%A4%20ja%20kaivostoiminnasta%202019/9f411a5a-3972-0ced-1582-1195f8f98596/Ajankohtaista%20malminetsinn%C3%A4st%C3%A4%20ja%20kaivostoiminnasta%202019.pdf

[3]&[5] Kaivosvastuu. 2020. 2020 Boliden Kevitsa Mining Oy. https://www.kaivosvastuu.fi/yrityskortti/boliden-kevitsa-mining-oy-2-2-2-2/

[4] IRP. 2020. Resource Efficiency and Climate Change: Material Efficiency Strategies for a Low-Carbon Future. Hertwich, E., Lifset, R., Pauliuk, S., Heeren, N. A report of the International Resource Panel. United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi, Kenya. https://www.resourcepanel.org/reports/resource-efficiency-and-climate-change

[6] Yle. 2015. Kaivosteollisuus putsaa Talvivaaran tahrat – tiesitkö nämä faktat. https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-8325835

[7] Tilastokeskus. 2021. https://www.stat.fi/til/ehk/2020/04/ehk_2020_04_2021-04-16_tie_001_fi.html

[8] Huang, Jon. O’Neill, Claire. Tabuchi, Hiroko. 2021. Bitcoin Uses More Electricity Than Many Countries. How Is That Possible? New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/09/03/climate/bitcoin-carbon-footprint-electricity.html

[9] The World Counts. 15.11.2021: https://www.theworldcounts.com/challenges/planet-earth/mining/energy-use-in-the-mining-industry/story

[10] Statista. 2021. Electricity consumption in China between 2010 and 2020. https://www.statista.com/statistics/302203/china-electricity-consumption/

Photo & illustration credits:

[1] Burtynsky, Edward. 2007. https://www.edwardburtynsky.com/projects/photographs/mines

[2] Google Maps

[3] Tilastokeskus. 2021. https://www.stat.fi/til/jate/2019/jate_2019_2021-06-16_tie_001_en.html

[4] Google Earth

[5] Michaux, Simon P. 2021. The Mining of Minerals and the Limits to
Growth. Geological Survey of Finland Report 16/2021: 4. https://tupa.gtk.fi/raportti/arkisto/16_2021.pdf

 

 

 

 

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