Potential Downsides with Mining for Metals and Coal

Mining truck working in an open-pit mine in Western Australia.
The mining town of Kalgoorlie-Boulders, Western Australia.
The Super Pit at Kalgoorlie-Boulders, Western Australia.
Ghost town-like sight at Andamooka, South Australia.

As explained in a previous chapter, Australian-based mining companies and the Australian government can make large profits from the country’s metals and coal. Relying on the underground riches, however, is both economically risky and potentially negative for the environment.

Economic concerns

To bring up the economic risks, firstly, world market prices for metals fluctuate significantly. Just as prices can increase quickly, sometimes they go down fast and unexpectedly. This means that investments in mining sites that once looked profitable could turn out not to be, resulting in mining companies abandoning certain ventures. Apart from companies losing money, this could lead to hundreds or thousands of mining workers losing their jobs.

Laid-off mining workers and their families often leave rurally located mining towns to look for jobs elsewhere. This, subsequently, turns prosperous little towns into ghost towns, with the few inhabitants who are unwilling or economically unable to leave the ghost towns finding themselves in a community with less restaurants and stores and decaying infrastructure. The remaining residents, in other words, get it tough, with the reason being a lack of maintenance and traders closing up shop due to too a lower number of inhabitants remaining to pay for goods and services.

Environmental concerns

Other risks with mining, as previously alluded to, have to do with the environment. Digging and drilling for coal and minerals scar the earth and leave vast open pits without vegetation. Though breathtaking in their own right, these pits are often considered esthetically unattractive or out of place. In addition, the large excavations encroach on habitats of local animals and plants, and may also be situated in places of cultural value for humans.

Lastly, continuing on the topic of environmental concerns, the waste products from production and usage of metals and coal can have serious negative environmental impact. Not properly taken care of, these waste products, for example, can leak into nature and make water and plants toxic.