Sudbury Day 3

On day three (read here about day two) we spoke more broadly about how the different pieces worked together.

What were the different pieces? One was the GIS map (just a Google Earth map with different layers – representing roads, abandoned mines etc.) Another was a series of system maps (think lots of boxes and arrows connecting them) showing the relationships between the number of mines in an area and the relative sizes of the First Nations and non-Native populations, and then between factors like food prices and educational attainment of parents and the rate of dropout for Native children. Another one of these models looks kind of like a car dashboard and shows the relative social and environmental costs of mines (and allows you to take into account things like the percentage of revenue going to First Nations and the immigration and emigration rates in the area).

Another one of our pieces was one that Terry coded up from scratch. It was an animated, randomly generated simulation that showed how road development could occur once the main road was built to the Ring of Fire. There are a lot of smaller mines in the area for which development was prohibitively costly. Once the first road is built, that all changes. The model also took into account when mines would be exhausted and showed a potential series of histories for the Far North. As you ran the model multiple times you got a sense of what might actually happen. A pattern of road development would at the most benefit a few (not all!) of the communities in an area, if that. Once the mines are depleted, these roads would just be there.

Around midday, Kirsten and I and others (I think Benjamin too) started talking about a way to put all the pieces together. What story could we tell that would motivate looking at the system in all these different ways. We started talking about a set of stories for the North – stories for possible futures. We used a ‘basin’ diagram to convey this but I’ll see if I can do it in words. The North used to be in a pretty stable state. If you can imagine a ‘landscape’ of all possible states, it would be at the bottom of a deep valley. Not going anywhere! But then, things started changing. Resource prices continued to increase, making mining projects more viable. A greater proportion of the world population has discovered and is expressing their desire for minerals. These factors (and others too) made the state of the North less stable and settled. Picture the valley flattening out a little bit: it becomes a lot easier for the ball to roll to other places. What we thought next was that there are two (or more) other valleys close by that the ball could roll into: possible future states for the North. If roads go in, we’ll probably end up with some pattern of development like we’ve seen all over the world. Once roads go in, the system state is going to change. Think of the ball rolling into a deep valley. The transportation system likely won’t change once there is a commitment of a huge amount of money. So the ridges around the valley will get higher. There is no easy way to roll the ball back out.

What we’re excited about is that it isn’t yet the case that we’re in that valley. There are different futures that the ball could be pushed into. If a different transportation system is chosen besides roads (a combination of pipelines and airships, or pipelines and hovercrafts, perhaps), the pattern of development could look quite different. The way we’ve been thinking about it, the population might increase, but it would be in a centralized city (some of whose citizens would be transported by airship to the mines every day). And the city would have things going for it besides the mines. Once they get depleted, the city would still exist – it wouldn’t become a ghost town – because it would have value to add to the regional economy. This value could come in the form of ‘design’ – for new types of spaces or ways of living that are extremely low-impact.

Anyways, I could go on about this idea, but suffice it to say that the concept of narratives of the North was settled on as the framing piece for the other pieces. All the different components – the map, the system models and the simulation – help us understand parts of this different story.

After poking my nose into a bunch of different projects, I settled back in to the GIS project. I tried and failed (repeatedly) to find a KML to CSV file converter (so If you know of one that works, hook a sister up).

Then it was time for dinner (then, it was also 8:30 pm :P ). We had lasagna and a lovely Greek salad (Mark put apples in it to great effect). We had a guest: Doug. He is the chair of Holistic Mining at the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation – a multi-company/industry/academic body with headquarters at Laurentian University. He is a very knowledgeable Scot with a lovely burr. He’s been in the mining industry for a long time and launches into very technical explanations with such ease. I learned so much in such a short period of time.

One of my favourite facts was that most mines being built these days extend 6000 feet below surface. That’s 600 storeys. Add to that that they’re the size of city blocks and you can just imagine the huge inverted, hollow towers spotting Northern Ontario. The scale is crazy.

Another funny story from dinner was the change in “what’s sexy” in mining. Doug explained that when he first started, everyone wanted to work on rockfall and tunnel collapse problems. They were the sexy things because they were dangerous and had solutions that were easy to see when implemented. No one wanted to work on ventilation of the mines because it simply wasn’t that interesting. Now, because the mines are so much deeper, ventilation becomes a bigger problem. Air heats up when it gets lower, and air also gets compressed. If people are going to work 6000 (even 5000) feet below the surface, they need air cool enough to be comfortable.

And what does a chair in Holistic Mining even mean? Good question again (you’re on a roll!). Doug said that he originally wanted ‘Sustainability’ but the university nixed it because they already had a similar-sounding program/department. So holistic was his second choice. Either way, what he’s hoping to do is to make mining more of a closed system – to make sure that whatever’s produced as waste (at any point along the extraction, processing, shipment and production process) isn’t just piled somewhere but goes back into the hole that was created, so to speak. He also realizes that there will be huge demand for minerals as the next 2 billion people (from India, China and etc.) enter the middle class. Mining has to seriously step up its game if it is to supply these needs. So not only does mining need to be less wasteful, it needs to be more productive. His team is working on the technical side of things to help translate innovations in different types of technology to things mining companies will actually use.

After dinner, we did a little more work and then I headed off to bed. We would be sharing all of our pieces tomorrow and I wanted to be fresh (well, as fresh as possible given the circumstances).


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