Warr, B 2019, 'Designing contextual, efficient, and resilient land regeneration systems for mine closure under conditions of extreme uncertainty and resource constraints', in AB Fourie & M Tibbett (eds), Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Mine Closure
, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth, pp. 35-50.
This paper provides personal and professional reflections on characteristics of the economic, environmental, and social system within which we all operate and which are of particular relevance to the mining industry, before describing briefly a very promising approach to mine facility regeneration that was designed on the basis of these reflections and which has been successfully piloted in Chingola, Zambia. The paper is organised loosely into four sections each dealing with a dimension of coupled economic-environmental-social systems; the last presenting a specific example of a world first pilot of the regeneration of a disused copper tailings facility in Chingola, Zambia—a project designed following reflection on the system itself. The three characteristics considered are:
1. Environmental systems are complex, not just complicated. Humans find complexity hard to manage but benefit from their resilience.
2. Economics is about more than just prices and efficiency. There are thermodynamic constraints, nonpriced goods and services, trade-offs, and strong dependencies that convenient assumptions cannot override without sacrificing resilience.
3. By mimicking and managing certain characteristics of complex systems that are both efficient and resilient, we can identify and develop holistic regenerative business models for mine closure.
The first topic deals with the topic of complexity and seeks to illustrate how our tendency to silo disciplines, to seek simplifications, and apply reductionist thinking is poorly adapted to the current set of problems we face as a species—where resilience or agility is of the utmost. The second topic considers how reductionist thinking has given rise to some absurd economics and how an economic system that has arguably sacrificed resilience for efficiency can predate itself. Here, I consider the overlooked role of natural resources and technology in economic growth providing a framework, ‘exergy economics’ that reveals the importance of efficient natural resource extraction, processing and consumption in driving economic growth. It also reveals how the global engine of growth could falter with drastic implications for mine closure plans, as well as some aspects of the technical challenges that the industry faces in the future. In the third section, we look at the history and future of mining and mining-related activities in Chingola, Zambia, and describe how our project seeks to provide a new option in the seasonally dry tropics and the relevance of our approach more globally.
Keywords: inclusive regeneration, copper tailings, phytostabilisation, complexity, resilience, efficiency
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