The Scale of Extraction

Mining makes up a small percentage of world GDP and an even smaller percentage of the labor force, so it is mostly “out of sight, out of mind” as an industry.  Look at the pictures below, however, and it will no longer be out of sight!  Though, I can’t say the same for out of mind…

Click on the pictures to view them or right-click them and open them up in a new tab.  All pictures were taken from Google Earth.

Below is the Bingham Canyon copper mine in Utah, USA, and the downtown portion of Boston, MA, USA for size comparisons.  If you look carefully you can make out a landslide in the pit.  The landslide is almost as big as the financial district of Boston!

Bingham Canyon Mine and Boston

Below is the Mission copper mine in Arizona, USA and downtown Boston.

Mission Mine and Boston

Below is the Chuquicamata copper mine in Chile.  It looks like downtown Boston can fit right into the pit, with room to spare!

Chuqui Mine and Boston

Below is an entire copper mining complex consisting of the Chuquicamata mine and the Radomiro Tomic mine in Chile.  The complex includes leach pads, smelters, equipment storage areas, and waste rock piles.  The entire complex is as long as Manhattan.  The waste rock pile or leach pad (looks like a hand fan) in the top of the image covers a larger area than does downtown Boston.  That’s a big pile of rocks!

Copper Mining Complex Chile and Manhattan

Below is the Yanacocha gold mining complex in Peru.  It is almost as long as Manhattan, and definitely wider.

Yanacocha Gold Mining Complex and Manhattan

Below is an iron ore mining complex near Hibbing, Minnesota, USA.  It is also almost as long as Manhattan.  I have little doubt that some of the iron from this mine made it into the infrastructure of Manhattan.  In fact, it looks as if they are mirror images of each other:  flip the mine over and out pops a city.

Minnesota Iron Mine and Manhattan

Finally, here is an industrial agriculture mining complex in a northern section of Texas, USA.  You may not think of this place as a mining complex, but here, industrial agriculture is “mining” topsoil and fossil groundwater.  In other words, these farms are eroding topsoil faster than it can be replenished and pumping out groundwater much faster than the aquifer below is recharged, and let’s not even get into fossil fuel and fertilizer use.  The state of Rhode island is given as a size comparison to this particular industrial process.  Manhattan and downtown Boston are also included, but they are obviously dwarfed by industrial agriculture.  Agriculture can be done sustainably (and a good amount of it already is) but as long as energy and water are considered “cheap” it will also be done unsustainably in marginally arable places like the one pictured below.

Industrial Agriculture and Rhode Island

Even though mining is a small part of the world economy its environmental impacts are obviously enormous.  Also, the rest of the industrial economy can’t operate without mining so it is ignorant to think that just because it is a small part of the world GDP, it is relatively unimportant.  It is easy to think of the economy just in financial terms, but, as these pictures show, there is a physical economy hidden beneath the cloak of finance.


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