5

PUBLIC POLICY

The concept of sustainability challenges earth scientists to collect data and develop ideas to assist in the formulation of public policy for mineral development. But attaining the goals of sustainability in mineral resources also requires a public policy response.

Government should help to facilitate activities that sustain mineral supplies—exploration for previously unknown mineral deposits, development of known but undeveloped deposits, technological innovation permitting profitable extraction of minerals from previously uneconomic deposits, and, especially, recycling. Market forces provide considerable incentives for private companies to undertake these activities, but market forces alone are not sufficient to meet all the challenges of sustainability.

Government should act when markets alone do not work well. Markets alone commonly do not lead to appropriate environmental protection, and government therefore has a responsibility to help define what environmental costs (damages) are acceptable and establish standards and best practices in exchange for the benefits of mining. At the same time, in formulating environmental guidelines and regulations, government should help ensure that given objectives are pursued flexibly and cost effectively. Also, markets alone may not ensure that an appropriate portion of the proceeds from mining are reinvested in reproducible capital, such as education; here again government (whether national or local) has a role to play. Finally, markets and the private sector alone will likely underfund (from society’s perspective) activities for which benefits are far in the future, risky, or so widely dispersed that a private company could not easily capture them. Important examples include basic research and develop-



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OCR for page 19
MINERAL RESOURCES AND SUSTAINABILITY: CHALLENGES FOR EARTH SCIENTISTS 5 PUBLIC POLICY The concept of sustainability challenges earth scientists to collect data and develop ideas to assist in the formulation of public policy for mineral development. But attaining the goals of sustainability in mineral resources also requires a public policy response. Government should help to facilitate activities that sustain mineral supplies—exploration for previously unknown mineral deposits, development of known but undeveloped deposits, technological innovation permitting profitable extraction of minerals from previously uneconomic deposits, and, especially, recycling. Market forces provide considerable incentives for private companies to undertake these activities, but market forces alone are not sufficient to meet all the challenges of sustainability. Government should act when markets alone do not work well. Markets alone commonly do not lead to appropriate environmental protection, and government therefore has a responsibility to help define what environmental costs (damages) are acceptable and establish standards and best practices in exchange for the benefits of mining. At the same time, in formulating environmental guidelines and regulations, government should help ensure that given objectives are pursued flexibly and cost effectively. Also, markets alone may not ensure that an appropriate portion of the proceeds from mining are reinvested in reproducible capital, such as education; here again government (whether national or local) has a role to play. Finally, markets and the private sector alone will likely underfund (from society’s perspective) activities for which benefits are far in the future, risky, or so widely dispersed that a private company could not easily capture them. Important examples include basic research and develop-

OCR for page 19
MINERAL RESOURCES AND SUSTAINABILITY: CHALLENGES FOR EARTH SCIENTISTS ment and certain types of data collection geared towards both environmental enhancement and improved extraction. Government would do well to undertake, fund, or in some way provide incentives for these activities. In the context of mineral resources and sustainability, government should play a role in promoting the basic science and technology necessary to enhance the efficiency of mineral production. Although not a panacea, advances in basic science and technology have the potential to replenish our mineral resources and reduce the environmental consequences of mineral extraction and processing.