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The American West at RiskScience, Myths, and Politics of Land Abuse and Recovery$
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Howard G. Wilshire, Richard W. Hazlett, and Jane E. Nielson

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195142051

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195142051.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 09 December 2021

Digging to China

Digging to China

(p.100) 4 Digging to China
The American West at Risk

Howard G. Wilshire

Richard W. Hazlett

Jane E. Nielson

Oxford University Press

Americans like to buy things and own them—barbecues and refrigerators, computers and iPods, cars and bikes, boats and even private planes. Some folks make their appliances last a long time, but manufacturers rely on most people to buy new ones every five years or so. The few critics of our system sometimes charge that items from appliances and vehicles are designed to break down relatively quickly, to prod consumption along. Walking through a showroom or past shop windows, how many people stop to wonder where all the stuff comes from or what happens there? Here is the short answer: Nearly everything you use every day is based on minerals mined somewhere, often leaving behind disfigured land and a toxic mess. Materials still mined in the western United States include metals, particularly gold, iron, copper, zinc, and molybdenum—plus gypsum, borates, and other salts, and most cement ingredients. Mining is the prow of America’s consumer-propelled ship. Its whole purpose is to dig up resources for transformation to consumer goods. But the resources are nonrenewable, so mining progressively eliminates and eventually exhausts them. The processes of exploring for and exploiting mineral deposits consume vast resources also, especially water and energy. Natural processes spread mine pollution into water, soil, and air, at times killing all life in creeks, streams, and reservoirs. Geographer Lewis Mumford once estimated that “Mining’s effects on the earth are now on the same scale as hugely destructive natural forces.” He guessed the minimum amount of material moved by global mining operations at 28 billion tons in 1963—nearly twice the sediment all the world’s rivers carry annually. Determining just how much land may be affected by mine wastes, and how much farther the damage might spread, is more dif- cult. The massive scale of today’s mining operations dwarfs Mumford’s figure. The dominant U.S. mining law offers wide swaths of U.S. public lands to any and all comers, whether foreign or domestic (box 4.1).

Keywords:   Agricola, Beryllium, California, Floodplain, Idaho, Magnesium, Project, Resources depletion, Superfund, Toxic metals

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