Are you sitting comfortably?
Emer Emily Neenan, Group A
A group of ten people, from ten different countries, sits down together on the floor in a circle, because the furniture in the room is immobile and too far apart. It’s more comfortable to have a conversation closer together and all on the same level. Although some people are more comfortable on the hard floor than others! (Spare a thought for your pregnant author, who keeps getting pins and needles!)
What does comfortable mean? I previously wrote about the process of learning to understand one another in a shared working language but with very different native languages, backgrounds, fields of study, etc. Part of that work involves making sure we all understand the same thing when we use a word. So, what do you understand by the word comfortable?
Discussing Public acceptance of the extraction industry, we took apart the word acceptance. Does it mean the same as support? Does require agreement? Does it involve a level of engagement, or can it be passive? Does it include satisfaction?
We could also have asked, does it mean the public is comfortable with the extraction industry? And does that imply they are tolerant of the extraction industry, like you tolerate your old comfortable shoes, even if they’re not ideal? Or does it mean they highly approve of the extraction industry, like you love your comfortable bed after a long day?
So far in this process, we have dozens, maybe hundreds of questions like this, and no answers. We’re not looking for answers, we’re exploring a topic. We can’t give definitive answers, as the purpose is to find interesting questions for future research to address.
But as the questions pile up and cross over and contradict and give rise to misunderstandings which give rise to more questions… it’s not comfortable.
It’s comfortable to ask a question, discuss it, come to an agreement, and produce a satisfactory answer. But that’s not what the purpose of the workshop is.
It’s comfortable to work with a group towards a specific, shared common goal within a given framework. But the workshops have been left very open-ended and unstructured.
It’s comfortable to stay in our own chairs, in our own fields, in our own experiences and expectations, knowing our own answers. But instead, we sit together on the floor and ask question after question after question...
Bridging the gap – what happens when you engage
Claire Burch, Group B
I am not a geologist. I’ve never seen a mine (and if I have, I had no idea it was one). I grew up in a country where coal mining was the epitome of the three d’s – difficult, dirty, and dangerous – and it was the only mining we talked about. As an individual working in the field of environmental sustainability, I am incredibly guilty of viewing all mining the same as coal mining. It needed to stop. I was also convinced that mining companies were exploitative in the developing world and that they extracted what they needed without engaging with local communities and left nothing but an empty mine behind when they were finished.
After a more extensive introduction to the world of mining a few months ago, I came into this workshop ready to be convinced that I was wrong. I applied for this workshop because I am interested in how we can effectively bridge the gap between social and natural sciences as well as effectively engage stakeholders as we continue with development. I did not come thinking I would become immersed in the world of mining. I’m so glad it turned out this way, though.
We started the day with a lecture by Dr. Goda Perlaviciute on public acceptance phenomena within the energy sector. Ultimately, this lecture emphasized the powerful impact trust in the entities involved (whether this be the government or the industry), as well as the ability to impact large decisions, have on public acceptance of energy projects. These two are not both necessary for public acceptance, however, which was not what I would have expected but represents a key finding and an important lesson. You need one or the other. If trust in the entities involved is lacking, you need to be sure to allow stakeholders to engage in the decision-making process actively. If allowing stakeholders to be involved in decision-making is not feasible, you need to be sure there is a strong sense of trust.
The workshop I am participating in is focusing on how we can actively engage stakeholders and encourage co-existence in future mining projects. Today, we oriented ourselves around case studies, both the good and the bad. We talked about a mining company that was doing right by the community and is engaging in an active and open line of communication. We also talked about the bad – the stories that I had heard, echoed by others. What was inspiring, however, is that many of my colleagues in that room work or research within the realm of mining. They were the ones who were recognizing what had been done wrong, but they were also the ones who wanted to do it right. They had brilliant ideas about how things could be done better. I left the workshop today feeling hopeful and inspired.
It’s only day three, and I can confidently say my opinion of mining has changed. By actively engaging with individuals in this sector, I have come to realize how necessary it is and how wrong I was.
If circular economy is the answer – why aren’t we doing it?
Brittany Marshall, Workshop C
Sarah Caven asked one simple question that carried the weight of one-thousand implications:
“If circular economy is the answer - why aren’t we doing it?”
This question kicked off a week of defining the ins and outs of the physical supply chain, the people system that surrounds it and the ways we could challenge status quo to make a positive change.
We divided the supply chain out into it’s key actors and stakeholders - mining, processing/manufacturing, consumers, waste management, government, international bodies, etc. - and defined the trends, needs and opportunities for each. Clear links developed across supply chain opportunities and trends, and an opportunity for consumers became an equally opportune action for the mining industry. We began putting a story together around the mutual benefits of a circular economy - for the environment, for society and for the economy (in the frame of the mining company).
Over the next 2 days, we will develop a road map, and (equally) a call for action for mining companies to leverage the circular economy for a more sustainable and profitable future.
Emilio Castillo, Workshop D
With only a few available hours, Wednesday needed to be as productive as possible to define the rest of the week. After brainstorming and defining a "divide and conquer strategy" on Tuesday, we had to focus on getting things done. Responsible sourcing began as straightforward concept, then an obscure idea and finally, somewhat tangible. The concept flows directly from sustainable development goals, but there is still debate in what we should expect from people and companies. In practice, consumers and producers play different roles that are magnified when it comes to minerals: should we focus more on countries rather than individuals? Metals consumption and production are not taking place homogeneously in the world. Consumption challenges appear mostly in the global north and production challenges in the global south. Questions arise. Are they consuming too much? Should they limit their production? How can we achieve an efficient level? Who will bear the cost and benefits of restricting metals? Are we willing to give up comforts of modern life? Is it the right thing to do? Responsible consumption of metals deals with informed decisions. For example, labelling and rankings help consumers to weight values not always reflected through the market price. However, it is difficult to leave everything to final consumers and we should be more interested in manufacturers. Do they have at least a conflict minerals policy? Responsible primary production, however, is less clear. Deposits and local conditions differ. Water, energy and land use are not clearly comparable, and efficient production standard does not seem something that regulation needs to further push. The world set ambitious targets for the next decade. From the stone age through the silicon age, How will minerals keep supporting people's material needs? We still have things to do, but we do have a goal. We are halfway there.