The view from England: Last word on a misguided industry

Much of the mining industry's total exploration effort goes towards searching for gold, a metal that the world doesn't need, says Chris Hinde in his final column. Adobe Stock/Mishainik

‘Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd’ is an ancient and historically important phrase but not one that is widely recognized. ‘Do the little things in life’ was the message of guidance to the Welsh from their patron saint, David, some 1,500 years ago, and it remains a well-known maxim in the country.  

The phrase comes to mind as we recently celebrated the 900th anniversary of David’s canonization by Pope Callixtus II (1065-1124), who decreed in 1123 that two pilgrimages to St. David’s tomb in Pembrokeshire was the equivalent of one to Rome, with three trips to this corner of west Wales counting as one to Jerusalem.  

David (Dewidd in Welsh) was born between 462 and 512, and is believed to have been the grandson of King Ceredig ap Cunedda (420-453). Renowned as a preacher, David founded 12 monasteries, including Glastonbury and Mynyw. His teaching was centred upon the latter monastery (called Minevia in Latin), which is now St. David’s cathedral in what is the U.K.’s smallest city.  

David prescribed that his monks had to plough the land by hand, drink only water and eat only bread (albeit flavoured with salt and herbs). No personal possessions were allowed in his monasteries, and the evenings were spent reading, writing and praying. He died on Mar. 1, 589, which has been celebrated as the National Day of Wales since the 12th century.  

St. David’s strictures are rather ignored nowadays (not least amongst passionate Welsh rugby supporters) but his ‘do the little things’ maxim continues to be widely observed amongst a kind and caring nation.  

Unfortunately, I don’t think St. David’s message works properly at the corporate level, where doing ‘big things’ should be the guiding principle. It will be unpopular, but I believe that a fundamental reset is required for the mining industry. This should stem from recognizing three things.  

First, our institutions and organizations have failed us. They are too weak, and need to go on the offensive, and with teeth. Our trade bodies and professional associations need to identify and weed out those companies and individuals that transgress the agreed standards. In addition to throwing them out, they must be denied speaking slots at conferences and advertising space in our magazines, and access to finance and professional services should be made extremely difficult.  

We need to win back the trust of the public, and we are not going to do that while we fail to police our own industry. Even the largest companies should be named and shamed, and their directors barred (and we can all think of recent examples).  

Second, we should acknowledge that there is a fundamental difference in the added-value characteristics of precious metal (and gem) mining and the extraction of ‘useful’ metals and minerals. Unlike the major metals and energy minerals, the majority of gold mining activity has proven unable to anchor socioeconomic development and social sustainability.  

More than half of the mining industry’s total exploration effort (and financing) is devoted to the search for a metal that the world doesn’t need (we are only adding 2% per year to the existing gold stockpile of some 190,000 tonnes). It is obviously going to be difficult, but let’s at least try to focus on what is required for the energy transition and global economic growth.  

Third (and not unrelated to the above), let’s also recognize that mining ‘smaller for longer’ has societal benefits over size. We need to change the paradigm to give more advantage to long-life operations so that stakeholders have a chance to develop secondary industries. Changing fiscal structures to facilitate communities (not individuals) gain equity in local mining operations will also help cement socioeconomic relationships.  

The ever-better implementation of rising safety and ESG (environmental, social and governance) standards is a given. In addition, we need to be thinking of mining’s utility (i.e. what metals and minerals does society actually need from us) and our relationship with local stakeholders (incorporating a ‘social’ element into a project’s net present value calculations would be a start).  

I feel able to pontificate on these contentious issues because after three years as a regular columnist for Northern Miner, and 35 years since writing my first column (in 1988 as the editor of Mining Journal), I am laying down my quill.  

Soberingly, I’ve reached 70, which, according to the Bible (Psalm 90:10), is the usual ‘length of our days’ (the King James ‘Authorized’ version of 1611 referred to this as a lifespan of ‘three-score and ten’). However, I intend to target the Hindu celebration of living to see 1,000 moons. To save your calculations, that is two months shy of 81 (marked in India by the Sahasra Purna Chandrodayam ceremony). Just 134 full moons to go; wish me luck!  

Dr. Chris Hinde is a mining engineer and the director of Pick and Pen Ltd., a U.K.-based consulting firm. He previously worked for S&P Global Market Intelligence’s Metals and Mining division. This is his last column for The Northern Miner.


1 Comment on "The view from England: Last word on a misguided industry"

  1. Chris ==
    I read your column and found it worthy of a final missive.

    It’s been a privilege to get to know you, work with you occasionally, and benefit from your knowledge and experience over many years. Perhaps after a few months of retirement, you’ll change your mind and decide you have something more of value to contribute as you have for so long. Make sure you let your many industry friends know if that happens. And maybe you’ll decide to attend Minexpo 2024 as a ‘retiree’. If so, please look Parker Bay up and I’ll find a place to buy you a drink or more.

    And assuming you find ‘greener pastures’ after your last column, I hope you get at least 134 moons of enjoyment.

    Kind Regards, Peter Gilewicz

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