Mining and photography

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Wayne, Mar 8, 2007.

  1. Wayne

    Wayne Subscriber

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    All of the metals we use come from mining at some point. Obviously (is it obvious?) photographers use a very small portion of all the metals mined today, but nevertheless it all comes from mining. We've all read about mining disasters that have become environmental nightmares. There are examples all over the US of A and probably the world. Whats done is done, and we cant change the past. But can a precious metal photographer oppose NEW mining of precious metals, either in specific instances or as a general rule, without being a hypocrite?

    Is there a way in the future that we (photographers and the metal-photographic industry) can ensure that the metals used in our art-craft come from recycled or other environmentally responsible sources? Or do we have to accept that new and potentially disastrous mines will need to be developed to keep us in supply? Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems that it should be possible to base our relatively small useage on something(s) other than NEW extraction of metals. Is there already enough silver and platinum on the earth's surface to keep us happy for many years to come, without having to dig for more?

    Serious, thoughtful and hopefully informed replies only please. I'd like to keep this out of the soapbox, if there still is one.


    Wayne
     
  2. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I don't think being a consumer of something in any way disqualifies one from being an advocate of responsibility regarding the procurement of the materials for that product, but rather quite the opposite.

    Regarding metals mining, its pretty hard to start a new mining operation these days. Finding undiscovered ore loads is only the beggining of the problem for a mining enterprise. The greatest problems today are the legacy mines, with their left over tailings.

    The largest problems after that is probably coal mining- not because of the mining practices, but because the product of coal mining is burned, and results in pollution.

    When I look out over dead horse point here in Utah, and am denied the limitless view of my youth because of the unfiltered pollution of massive coal burning in China, and it shows that we as a species, and stewards of our nest, have a long way to go.

    Now before anybody gets a twitter and heads us to the SB, the previous paragraph is simply a statement of fact, that has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt. Its not anti Chinese to observe that the newly visible pollution in the southwestern US has been proven as originating from coal burning in China.

    Hopefully the US and other countries can work with China and other countries with unrestricted coal burning to modernize the polluting plants, but I won't hold my breath.

    The southern Utah air quality problem isn't alone, and the idiocy is certainly not restriced in any way to asia. I bring it up because it is something observable in my neck of the woods. Insert your observation where appropriate.

    Twenty miles from me is a certain copper mine. Over the last hundred years or so, a mountain has been turned into a correspondingly deep hole in the ground. To look in the mine is to stand at the abyss of J's post. The operation is on such a scale that it is literally mind boggling. But I use wire everyday- miles of copper wire underlay my every activity. The mine doesn't do quite as well as years past, not because the ore isn't as rich but because the operation is properly required to meet certain enviromental safety standards. It has become cheaper to wreck some region in say- South America.

    Almost every modern thing you use contains copper in some form. Do we stipulate that our cars, houses, appliances, TV's, stereos, cameras, and electronic devices, etc etc. contain only copper from the "enviromentally responsible" mines like this one in Utah?

    Nope. I couldn't if I wanted to.

    The monkey does what serves the monkey. Can't let go of that cookie to get the hand out of the jar. And so it goes.
     
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  3. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    As you note, the tiny demand that photographers create in the overall metals market is barely perceptible (if at all). So I, for one, am not bothered by whether that small amount of metal I consume as a photographer originates from new or recycled sources. Simply put, our cumulative demand is too small to matter either way.
     
  4. jimgalli

    jimgalli Subscriber

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    deleted by poster.
     
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  5. Wayne

    Wayne Subscriber

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    So if some conglomerate wanted to open a new sulfide mine, would you support it, since it doesnt matter to you where your metals come from?

    I'm not trying to tell you what to think, but I couldnt support it. And yet I cant deny that thats where my silver may be coming from. It doesnt matter to me thats its a small amount. If my demand is contributing to the development of new mines, even in a small way, I'm partly responsible for that. I'm not going to deny that. I'd love to, but I cant deny it without being "in denial".

    Even the best and cleanest of mines is highly destructive. I live near an area that is a mining moonscape for miles and miles and miles. I'm not comfortable with helping create new areas like that, it goes against everything I value.

    So the options as I see them

    1) ignore my discomfort, pretend I'm not partly responsible even though I clearly am
    2) quit photography
    3) try to find better ways of doing things that help ensure I'm not contributing to new problems/disasters

    Now #1 and 2 dont have much appeal to me, so I'm hoping #3 might have some potential. I dont know what I can do as an individual outside of coating all my own film and paper with recycled metals. That sounds like a lot of work though. It would be nice, IMO, if we could somehow get the photographic industry to take an interest in doing this on a commercial scale.
    I would be willing to pay more for products that I knew were made from recycled metals. Would anyone else?


    I'm just thinking out loud and seeing where this might lead...
     
  6. Moopheus

    Moopheus Subscriber

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    According to these supply & demand figures from the Silver Institute (a trade org), photography is a shrinking but still quite perceptible segment of the silver market. At least in 2005. I would assume though that these figures include all photographic products, whether for medical, technical, etc. usage.

    http://www.silverinstitute.org/supply/index.php#demand
     
  7. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    My goodness, how you rush to hyperbole!

    Simply put, I am a film photographer. I am already beleagured and beset by the rush to digital and the declining usage of film. So I really have no desire to don a hairshirt over the amount of metals the film market uses in relation to the total demand for various metals.

    If you are indeed burdened and feel guilt over all of then you should consider migrating to digis. Then you can consider the disposal problems to the environment of such gear upon its inevitable obselesence.

    As a matter of fact, I am very environmentally aware but old enough to have moved beyond absolutes. And keep in mind that even Al Gore had to use film to make "An Inconvenient Truth". :wink:

    And now I will end further posting to this thread. Ciao.
     
  8. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    At this point #3 is a no brainer.

    Quiting photography over silver mining? Well, it seems like your kind of picking a minor thing that will make little difference. Driving a more economical car, purchasing things that have less packaging, recycling, etc all make actual positive measurable impacts on a local level. In regard to Georges statement above, D**** is hardly a green pursuit, when one considers the amount of metals and other nasties encased in those slick plastic cases that are bound for the landfill in a few years.
    Silver will be mined regardless of photography. As will any other metal. The proper course is to turn your fixer in to have the silver reclaimed. If you do that, your net impact is pretty near zero.
     
  9. Wayne

    Wayne Subscriber

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    Those are some interesting stats Moopheus. I'm a bit surprised by photography using 10 million pounds of silver. Thats a lot higher than I would have guessed. Its also interesting that scrap silver exceeds the demand for photographic silver.

    In theory at least, it could supply 100% of our needs, especially as demand declines further.

    J, the reason I brought it up is because there ARE new mines being explored in my area every day. Some of these would be truly new, if approved, while others would be using sulfide mining to work over previously mined areas.

    Wayne
     
  10. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Rather than giving up photography which is basically symbolic, and largly meaningless to the mining industry, it may be far more satisfying to get involved in in the organizations in your area that are concerned and tasked with regulating and overseeing the mining industry. Add your voice to the desire that it be done right, if done at all. Just my 2 cents.
     
  11. Wayne

    Wayne Subscriber

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    Umm.... I said I wasnt telling you what to think but you seem to have taken it that way anyway. I was asking a serious question, and not pre-judging your reply. Chill.


    Wayne
     
  12. Wayne

    Wayne Subscriber

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    Yes, I thought of that but I dont know of any way of doing it right. I'm already involved in trying to make sure its done with the least impact, and I would be whether I was a photographer or not. But there is no such thing as an environmentally neutral mine, AFAIK. Some are worse than others obviously but to the best of my knowledge most are still quite destructive.

    Wayne
     
  13. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Sounds like there might be an opportunity for good photography exhibit or book to be created, don't you think?
     
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  15. Wayne

    Wayne Subscriber

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    Actually the fact that I will be doing some writing obliquely relating to after affects of mining is what got me thinking about it first. I know you are half-joking but a photographic expose of silver mining would really leave itself wide open for ridicule, like Al Gore speaking out on global warming.


    Wayne
     
  16. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Almost all metals and non-metals that we use in all forms of life are mined. Arsenic and Selenium and Sulfur are mined. They are used mainly in digital photography but sulfur is used in analog photography. Gold is used in photography. Rhodium, Iridium and Osmium are used in photography.

    What are you going to say about the use of metal in coins everywhere in the world. This all comes from mines. Oh, and don't forget coal, still in heavy use in some areas.

    Silver represents such a tiny fraction of all of these that this whole thread is virtually a joke if it points only to silver.

    If you want to fully eliminate the problem, remove all wiring and plumbing from your house, all nails, the appliances, the doorknobs, the locks and the snaps and zippers on your clothes just for starters.

    Add to this all jewelry including diamonds.

    Oh, BTW, most salt in the US is mined as well. No more table salt for you!

    Now, you are PC in this regard. And, miners will be safe.

    PE
     
  17. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member

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    Speaking of PCs... is it possible that the environmental damage created (as we type and speak) by the computer industry is far more significant than the environmental impacts of photography. Perhaps we should turn some environmental conciousness toward reducing computer usage. We might be doing double-damage by using a computer to talk about our photography. :surprised:
     
  18. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member

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    To be fair, Wayne, you also have to include some consideration of the environmental conciousness that was introduced to the mining industry about 30 years ago and how those regulations/policies has changed the way they do their business. Although we have many, many bad examples of past mining practices still haunting us, we have many examples of better mining practices that are with us today that seek to minimize negative effects on the environment. These practices have drove many mining companies out of existance; they simply could not afford to stay in business once the environmental protection requirements were levied on them. Those that remain actively mining today are mining with broader goals (a blend of corporate profit AND environmental protection) and have made significant committments to environmental protection and restoration. These companies need to be given credit where credit is due!
     
  19. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    I replace my Macs every 15 years. That is a lot less often than PC users HAVE to replace their machines. => We can save the world by dumping our PCs and buying Macs. That way we really contribute since we would be using both more environmentally safe computers and camera! :D :tongue: :D :tongue: :D :tongue: :D :tongue:

    Steve
     
  20. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Well, the 386 I use for writing is 15 years old now and (touch wood) still going strong running Wordstar under CP/M.

    Cheers,

    R.
     
  21. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    Congradulations on your fortitude!!! You are almost as stubborn as I am! :D

    Two years ago, I retired my 512 Mac [1984], which was upgraded with 4 Megs of memory and a 68030, as my system data server. Please do not try that at home with an XT or other 8086 based machine!
    :surprised: :surprised:

    Steve
     
  22. Wayne

    Wayne Subscriber

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    Thanks for the replies, I have to go out but I will reply tonight. I do detect a tone seeping in that could cause rapid degeneration of the topic, and I really would like to keep it civilized. I am not insulting, criticizing, or patronizing anyone else's beliefs, attitudes, or actions, so please try to have the same respect for mine.


    Wayne
     
  23. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    The computer industry and digital photography both contribute as much damage to the environment or more than analog photography.

    Most all serious environmental pollutants were removed from analog photo product manufacturing and processing in the 60s and 70s.

    At least this is true of Kodak. Recently, Fuji introduced tellurium sensitization in their products which is a toxic substance. IDK what effect that will have on the envronment. Kodak chose to not use this method of sensitization, nor did they use selenium, another alternative.

    PE
     
  24. Wayne

    Wayne Subscriber

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    Like I said, the writing I will be doing is only obliquely related to mining. Its just what got me thinking about this, along with all of the exploration and new mining operations popping up around the upper midwest.

    From what I can gather, the "state of the art technology" especially in regards to sulfide mining, the type most often being proposed locally, has been in use for too short of a time to determine its effectiveness.

    I know that there have been major environmental problems caused by sulfide (and other) mining operations with "state of the art" technology in the last 10-20 years in the US. Here is just one example

    http://www.bettermines.org/grousecreek.cfm you can read more examples of recent mining debacles by looking under Community Stories.

    I have seen environmental groups claim that all known sulfide mines have caused serious pollution problems. I am skeptical of sweeping claims like that (and I belong to no environmental group) but I think there must be more than a little truth in it. The bottom line seems to be these things are a crap shoot, the environmental outcome for a given mine is essentially unpredictable. I think that is a "fair" as anyone can be. Even the bond that companies often post for cleanup can be inadequate to cover the cost. The spiel about state of the art technology has been around for a long time, I tend not to have much faith in that either. I'm sure that every single mine that has polluted or violated environmental laws promised left and right that they wouldnt. And even "clean" mines, if there really are any, are wasteful energy hogs. But the real question is, are new ones really necessary?

    Are they necessary to produce my photographic silver (or platinum, or whatever)?
     
  25. Wayne

    Wayne Subscriber

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    All very true, but these are mostly distractions from the topic at hand.
    I have no choice but to use the money my government creates in order
    to survive. I have no practical choice but to buy the electricity my
    provider gets in part from coal-fired plants (because I cant afford a
    solar array), but I'm not happy about it and I conserve as much as possible. Photography is more of a choice, I dont need it to survive.

    I'm happy you got a laugh, but several of the new and proposed sulfide
    mines in my area are going to be mining gold, platinum, copper, nickel,
    and possibly silver as well.


    Thanks, I'm well aware that there are other mining products in my life. :rolleyes: I'm also aware that I cant fully eliminate them all and even if I did it would do nothing to stop child abuse or genocide in Darfur (or any number of other things that could also be deemed more important), but that wont stop me from trying to minimize my contribution to potentially destructive new mining ventures in my back yard (or yours, for that matter). I dont know why you find that worthy of such scorn, especially when there appear to be other options available (eg recycling) that could provide much or all of the photographic metals used today without mining.


    I tend to agree, but I dont have any hard data to back it up. I would
    love to see it quantified somehow, since so many people assume digital is cleaner. Thats really a seperate topic, but one I've often wondered about.
     
  26. DWThomas

    DWThomas Subscriber

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    It was back in the 1960s in a metalurgy class, so who knows, but I saw a film on copper production. Part of the final refining process was to electroplate copper onto a pure target from cast plates of impure copper. A sludge would form in the bottom of the tanks which contained the "impurities" -- non-copper junk -- like gold and silver! At the time it was implied that a considerable portion of our precious metals came as a byproduct from refining copper, not separate mining activity. If that's the case, perhaps most of the mining efforts are driven by the need for copper and brass, not silver.

    Just a passing dangerous thought . . .

    DaveT