Introduction

Living systems preserve life by resisting the tendency to molecular disorder. Continuously they strive to defend their structural integrity by extracting energy from the environment returning the dissipated energy back to the environment in the form of toxic waste.  Both the accumulation of toxic waste and the flow-through of dissipated energy are existential threats to all life forms. Entropy is a measure of dissipated energy. More importantly, it is a reflection of the waste produced when work is done for the improvement of the quality of human life: [be it] the struggle of the species in an ecosystem, the biological reactions of a living organism, even the politics of a societal system.  

Indisputably, to improve the quality of life work must be done. It is mandatory. But work demands effort and the end-product of effort is an increase in entropy.  Hence the object is not the abolition of entropy: that is conceptually untenable. The objective is to reduce non-essential entropic generators so that the end-products are not deleterious to existing life forms.  Undeniably, it takes energy to produce energy. But non-renewable energy stores are voraciously exploited and exhausted. It is, therefore, ethically unjustifiable to consume resources at current rates without jeopardizing the well-being of future generations. Left unchecked, technological end-products will randomize vital life-sustaining molecules eliminating innumerable species including Homo sapiens.  The evidence is already manifesting itself. According to a 2019-UN report, a million species are at risk of extinction and humans are to blame.[1]

Forests and Deforestation

Uncontrolled plundering of the earth’s resources is manifested in deforestation. Runaway forest clearings irretrievably destroy the ecosphere and the resident flora and fauna. They are the lungs of the earth in that they sequester CO2, the major contributor to climate change. According to the Mauna Loa Observatory, CO2 levels have hit 415 parts per million – the highest ever seen in the atmosphere.[2] In the main, trees regulate climate, prevent excessive runoffs, conserve top soil and are home to 300 million people. They provide a safe habitat for a wide range of plants and animals life and are a valuable resource of biopharmaceuticals, food, timber, and fuel (Fig 1). Given their life-sustaining role, the alarming rate of forest destruction is soul-stirring.[3]



Fig 1. With his natural habitat destroyed, where will this baby live?

Deforestation is the permanent destruction of forests. Typically, deforestation is the clearing of broad swaths of trees without establishing future prospects for regrowth.  The deforested lands are often converted into farms, plantations, roadways or reserved for urban development.  Countries at extreme risk of deforestation include Brazil, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, DR Congo, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. High risk countries include most Latin American countries, the Congo Basin and Australia. (Fig: 2). Progressive Canadian Laws demand that all harvested areas be reforested – a model to be adopted by all countries.

In the last 10, 000 years, over half of the world’s forests have been destroyed. Among the consequences of deforestation are desertification, climate change, topsoil erosion, flooding, famines and mass extinction of species. Laos exemplifies the dire consequences of aggressive deforestation and needless animal slaughter. Today, a pathetic 400 of these magnificent animals roam the wilds of the country once referred to as The Land of a Million Elephants.[4] Indeed, it is agonizing to contemplate that within our lifetime, these sentient beings will be no more (Fig 3).


Fig 3: In The Land of the Elephants, only a few Roam Freely.

Mining and Deforestation

Globally, approximately 60 billion metric tons of resources are extracted from the environment every year – nearly double that from three decades ago.[5] The reality is that mined materials contribute vitally to the social matrix. They are needed to build roads, buildings, automobiles, computers and satellites. Mining is also economically important to producing the countries.[6] Non-essential applications include the manufacture of jewelry, textiles, household decorations and of course gold-plated toilets.  Who can survive without one of these!

Although gold is essential to some manufacturing processes, the ornamental use of gold unnecessarily fuels entropy and an affront to human ingenuity. Available figures show that in 1998, US companies extracted 7.2 billion tons of gold ore of which only 0.00033% or 230 metric tons was converted into gold. The rest, including arsenic, cobalt, cyanide, nickel, mercury, lead and zinc ended up in the environment as toxic waste. The good news is that the amount of extracted ore is declining and in 2016 the US extracted less gold than in 1998. In the state of Nevada, most of the gold came from open-pit mines. The proliferation of toxic waste dumps and barren tracts of land expose of the adverse effects of mining operations.  Even more horrifying is the loss of biodiversity, erosion, contamination of surface water, ground water, and soil associated with gold mining. Considering that over 52.44% of mined gold supports human vanity, one has to ponder the necessity of compromising the integrity our forests, wildlife, air quality, water and personal health to soothe the egocentric desires of humans. Startlingly toxic concentrations of mercury were found in the air in three northern Nevada mines and the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality has reported alarming levels of mercury in the water in the water of that State.[7] Perhaps, Gandhi was right when he bellowed: The world has enough for everyone’s needs, but not everyone’s greed. (Fig 4)




Fig 4: Mercury Pollution in Nevada Gold Mines[8]

That mining destroys the environment and one of the main causes of deforestation is a foregone conclusion. The process itself involves clearing and burning thousands of hectares of trees and other forms of vegetation. With the ground stripped of its integrity (Fig 5), bulldozers and excavators further mutilate the area extracting metals and minerals leaving barren habitats of death and destruction (Fig 6).[9]  Long after the mines cease operations, the heavily contaminated area is simply abandoned, never to recover. The scars on the earth’s crust tell a harrowing tale.


Fig 5: Open pit Mining in the Philippines

Fig 6: Open Pit Mining in British Columbia.

Gold processing operations require mercury and cyanide. Even in small quantities, they pollute the environment significantly. Approximately 66% of Colombian gold is extracted illegally. Over 84,000 hectares were deforested through such operations in the Choco area – one of the most biodiverse regions in the world.  Illegal mining practices has raised river beds leading to extensive flooding and destruction of the fluvial ecosystem along the Quito River. Local residents invariably end up with lethal levels of mercury in their systems. In a 2017-raid, the Colombian Government authorities seized 45 illegal mines, 42 backhoes, 52 dredges, one bulldozer, two sorting grids, two motorboats, and 27,460 gallons of fuel from what was considered a small operation (Fig 7). [10][11]

Fig 7: Illegal Gold Mining in Colombia

Although legal, such mining operations are not without disastrous consequences to the community and environment. The 2014-breach of the tailings dam of the Mount Polley open-pit copper and gold mine was hailed as the worst environmental disaster in British Columbia. The collapsed dam spilled 25-million cubic meters of toxic waste containing selenium, arsenic and mercury into the pristine Quesnel Lake and adjoining areas. The environmental horror polluted the water supply, decimated the sockeye salmon population and destroyed untold hectares of forests (Fig 8).  As is so common in these disasters, the mine owners repeatedly disregarded warnings that the waste water level of the Mt. Polley tailings pond was too high.[12]




Fig 8: Mt Polley Dam Breach: It Polluted the Waterways and Destroyed Adjacent Forests.
[13]


The devastation caused by the 2015-Mariana dam breach was considered one the worst environmental catastrophe in Brazil’s history and is still under investigation.[14] The collapsed dam killed 19 people and contaminated wide tracts of land near the city of Mariana. Not only were the mining towns affected but the torrent of toxic sludge that inundated the waterways, devastated fish stocks and ruined thousands of hectares of forests (Fig 11).[15] The process of obtaining permits in Brazil is deeply flawed. According to experts, Brazil’s weak regulatory structures were responsible for the dam’s failure. So far, no one has been arrested in the Mariana case and no fines paid. Currently in Brazil, there are 790 mining waste dams. Of these, 204 of them are potentially dangerous.[16][17] But Brazilians have not learned.




Fig. 9: Consequences of the Mariana Dam Breach

The Brumadinho dam disaster is yet another sobering reminder of Brazil’s corrupt system of government.  In January 2019, upon breaching its retaining walls, the ensuing mudflow inundated the mine’s offices, a cafeteria, nearby homes, farms, inns and roads downstream. In all about 250 people were killed by negligence. The operators had ignored several warnings of safety issues with the dam.[18] The mining process itself posed profound hazards to the ecosystem: waterways become polluted dumpsites of death and the water table is often contaminated by heavy metals. Moreover, toxic gases – methane (CH4), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and hydrogen sulfide (H2S) – are released into the atmosphere. Because the high demand for water in the mining operation the aquifers are drained and the vegetation including the forests ultimately wilt and die. (Fig. 10,11,12).


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Fig 10: The Toxic Sludge from Brumadinho Dam Rupture.[19]





Fig 11: Toxic Mudflow from Brazil’s Brumadinho Dam to Downstream Communities

Fig. 12: Trapped in the Sludge of the Brumadinho Dam: The Tear Tracks Speaks for All.

Conclusion

Increased mining in tropical forests is accelerating environmental destruction due to rising demand for and soaring mineral prices. Mining projects are often accompanied by large infrastructure construction of roads, railways, and power systems. In addition to deforestation, mining also annihilates the ecology of the alluvial plains.

The consequence of such inessential entropic activities is inconceivably gruesome. How much more damage needs to be inflicted on biospheric life before we realize extinct is forever?

Parts of this discussion were excerpted from The Eloquence of Effort. https://www.amazon.com/Eloquence-Effort-Beware-Least-Resistance/dp/0995344000#customerReviews


[1] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/05/ipbes-un-biodiversity-report-warns-one-million-species-at-risk/


[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rP0RVGC895g

[3]https://www.google.com/search?q=deforestation&rlz=1C1CHBF_enCO846CO847&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwir9suan6DiAhWrg-AKHQIHB2gQ_AUIDigB&biw=1366&bih=625#imgdii=VofpDYdkoEqZpM:&imgrc=Z12ZMQpuhNFx0M:

[4] https://www.npr.org/2019/05/12/707525699/a-million-elephants-no-more-conservationists-in-laos-rush-to-save-an-icon

[5] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/05/destroying-home-report-reveals-nature-crisis-190506141326359.html

[6]https://www.google.com/search?q=effects+of+mining+on+the+environment&rlz=1C1CHBF_enCO846CO847&oq=effects+of+mining&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j0l5.20932j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

[7] http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2007/02/20/report-finds-dangerous-levels-of-mercury-near-nevada-mines-and-its-moving-into-idaho-waters/

[8] http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2007/02/20/report-finds-dangerous-levels-of-mercury-near-nevada-mines-and-its-moving-into-idaho-waters/

[9] https://colombiareports.com/66-of-colombias-gold-is-mined-illegally-un-study/

[10] https://dialogo-americas.com/en/articles/colombia-combats-illegal-gold-mining

[11] https://www.huffpost.com/entry/recent-mining-disasters-u_b_5792076?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAH73sn7b1U4Wv3pP1ym6fdu3HxKrc1WoVlWPi2a2iGN-KvLQFXDcvqwDxlDLTHHh_0lN2AmPLDj8hEvLXW85uj8CPst1kEjrqXOcfu2ZndFfVHtWw_3kopKdDyXpew_HlsZRZc8Ia4Ov5uzdYOax9mqjhetP24o4sdTupDwp2yA6

[12] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/mount-polley-mining-fears-1.4235913

[13] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brumadinho_dam_disaster

[14] https://www.newstatesman.com/world/south-america/2019/01/mariana-brumadinho-mining-victims-world-forgets

[15] https://dialogochino.net/21937-brazil-iron-ore-dam-collapse-brumadinho-mariana/


[16] http://fsrn.org/2015/12/full-scale-and-long-term-effects-of-brazils-worst-environmental-disaster-remain-unclear/

[17] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brumadinho_dam_disaster

[18] https://geographical.co.uk/people/development/item/3123-tailings-dam-collapse

[19] https://www.statista.com/statistics/299609/gold-demand-by-industry-sector-share/