I published this post here on Dec 2, 2021. I submitted an excerpt to the Chronicle Herald the same day. The Halifax Examiner discussed it in their December 3 Morning File. Then the Herald published it on December 17, illustrated with a cartoon by Bruce MacKinnon. And on January 4, The Advertiser Register published the same piece as a guest column. I thank these media for giving me this exposure.
On November 15 and 16, I attended the virtual “Nova Scotia Precious and Critical Mineral Show” of the Mining Association of Nova Scotia (MANS). It was a technical symposium of two half days, each of which was introduced by a government official. The Monday morning was kicked off by brand new Minister of Natural Resources Tory Rushton and the Tuesday morning by Director of the NS Geological Survey Diane Webber (the only woman of the event). There were twelve talks. All the talks are posted here.
MANS is a member-based organization. 65 of its members are from the quarrying and mining business and 1 is law firm Cox and Palmer. It has a Board of Directors and two staff members, Sean Kirby and his wife Sarah, who operate from their home. MANS is a lobbying organization and a propaganda machine. In March 2020, the Halifax Examiner’s Joan Baxter wrote an excellent article about MANS’s not so subtle practices.
I’m a retired geologist, I’m fully aware that the energy transition requires a massive shift in material needs at a scale that almost nobody can imagine. This is an opportunity, but also a risk. Society has left resource extraction exclusively to the private sector, with the result that our planet is in a climate and biodiversity crisis that is also of a scale that almost nobody can imagine. Resource extraction typically makes a few people extraordinary rich but its societal impact costs all of us in environmental cleanup for decades or centuries after the extractive industry has upped and left. There’s hardly a good news story to tell.
In recent years, national and international agencies have formulated which critical minerals will play an essential role in our future. The Geological Survey of Canada has produced such a list as well. You can find it here. Highly reputable international organizations such as the EU and the World Bank have published superb and thought provoking reports on this urgent issue. See for example here and here and here and here. CBC reporter Alexander Panetta recently published an excellent article about Canada and its actual lack of critical minerals.
So I was interested in this symposium. Some observations:
- There wasn’t a single representative from any of the First Nations. Several years ago I attended a similar event in New Brunswick, which started with a sweet grass burning and smudging ceremony led by Mi’kmaq elders. I realize you can’t do that in a virtual symposium, but the complete absence of any First Nation representative was jarring.
- And – in extension to the above – not one speaker had the good manners to articulate a land acknowledgement. It’s been seven years since the Truth and Reconciliation Report was published but the colonial attitude of this sector clearly hasn’t changed one bit (there is also no land acknowledgement on the MANS website).
- The 12 technical presenters were all white men, a lot of them older than 60. I suppose that explains the above two points to some extent.
- Four presentations (two about critical minerals, two about gold) pertained to mineral claims located in southern Nova Scotia, in the highly fragmented habitat of the critically endangered Mainland Moose which has been much in the news because of clear cutting and protests against clear cutting. That area also happens to be a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. None of the presenters mentioned this. One presenter, when asked about environmental aspects of a gold claim in that area sighed “well, there’s always something” and then mentioned that the area is the habitat of the eastern ribbon snake, a subspecies of “a very common snake”. Clearly he thought this was an annoying detail. Mainland Moose were not mentioned. Not one question was asked about habitat fragmentation in this area.
- Almost half of all presentations dealt with gold. In case you missed it: gold is a problem. It’s not a critical mineral (i.e. it isn’t essential for the energy transition), almost all of it is mined for jewelry or bullion and since it’s completely inert, the bit that we do need for medical and technical applications can easily be obtained from recycling (if we had the right processes in place). See the article by Joan Baxter mentioned above. But MANS (Sean Kirby) and its members push gold relentlessly and the less informed citizen is led to believe that it’s a really important mineral, when not one National or International Agency lists it as such. One of the presenters, frustrated by the stalling of the exploration of a gold claim in Cape Breton as a result of objections by First Nations, admitted that Gold isn’t a critical mineral but that “we need to mine gold to pay for developing other minerals”. Sean Kirby enthusiastically agreed. Really? I’m sorry but this is a strange financial model, one that is valid only if we leave the development of natural resources exclusively to the (taxpayer sponsored) private sector. If we as a society create a different model for producing the materials that society needs rather than just the stuff it wants, then this statement no longer holds water. Director Webber politely refrained from comment when asked by MANS-man Sean Kirby about progress on this project (she also wisely refrained from comment when he pressed her about the Nova Scotia Uranium ban).
- One presenter who reported on yet another future gold mine in eastern Nova Scotia shrugged a question about environmental impact off with “there’s just some stunted trees and bogs there”. I would like to remind the entire resource sector that this is exactly what the developer of Owl’s Head thought he was buying: stunted trees and bogs on a headland sticking out in the ocean. And maybe the mining sector should begin to read about the importance of wetlands as critically important habitat and carbon sinks (see for example here). The same speaker also triumphantly reported that when they contacted the local community about the potential impact of the mine “all we got were resumes”. Gleeful snickering followed plus a few off-hand remarks about the excellent working conditions in the sector. Of course this statement can’t be checked, it said more about the attitude of the sector than about the reality.
Only one presentation impressed me. It was by Don Bubar, the President and CEO of Avalon Advanced Materials, a Toronto-based company. Mr Bubar talked about the possibilities for extracting Tin and Indium, both critical minerals, from mine waste at the historic East Kemptville mine in South Nova Scotia. Mr Bubar talked about the need for a circular economy and about the innovations necessary in order to extract critical minerals from mine waste. This talk made my day.
Nova Scotia nor the rest of the world needs another gold mine. The currently operating Touquoy gold mine site is a 300 hectare (561 football fields) hole in the ground and the proposed Beaver Dam gold mine will be 1.5 times that large. Touquoy has already been charged with at least 32 environmental violations.
This month Nova Scotians have an opportunity to provide feedback on the potential development of the Beaver Dam gold mine in eastern Nova Scotia. The Halifax Examiner’s Joan Baxter wrote about the stiff resistance to this plan here. The CBC’s Frances Willick also reported on this project. In case you want to send feedback on this mine proposal, that page is here
MANS is useless. It actively undermines a balanced discussion about our role as humans on a planet ever more under threat. It could be making a contribution to helping Nova Scotians navigate the discussion about our role as humans on a planet that suffers from habitat destruction in a manner that is now jeopardizing humanity’s own future. But no. MANS’s only objective is to reduce government interference in their ambition to disembowel our Province as much as possible. Their website states that the government’s goal of protecting 13% of Nova Scotia is too much (the current government has increased that to 20% by the way). They pay lip service to “environment” but they mostly waffle about how reclamation makes old quarry pits and open cast mines “beautiful”, thus completely ignoring the fact that wilderness is incomparable with reclaimed mines turned into parks. They refer to the term “critical minerals” only as a justification towards their goal of private profit without providing any deeper insight. They make no contribution to a balanced debate that we so badly need. Anyone who raises the slightest objection to their bullish talking points is called an obstructing environmentalist and is blocked from their social media platforms.
The Earth Resources industry sector has the Nova Scotia government in its pocket, just like the Forestry sector does. Unless citizens force deep and profound changes in the manner in which we treat the natural wealth that we’re responsible for, catastrophic climate change and biodiversity collapse will continue unabated. We still have a chance, in Nova Scotia, and we’ve made a few gains (Alton Gas and Owl’s Head are recent small wins) but as long as organizations such as MANS continue with their opportunistic and bullish propaganda, brainwashing those who haven’t had the opportunity to delve deeper into the subject, I’m not optimistic.