I love geologists. I believe a lot of them are more enthused about mining projects than is warranted by economic science, but that goes with the territory.
A few years ago my wife and I went to Alaska and visited Denali National Park with hopes of seeing the peak, but the mountain was socked in that day. Fortunately, a couple geologists were putting on a presentation for the public at the visitors center, so we learned about the local geology.
A young geologist explained that a tectonic plate was coming into the Denali area at the rate of 8 millimeters a year and was leaving at only 5 millimeters a year. So, of course, it was piling up. I commented that a millimeter isn't very big, and he enthusiastically informed me that if I would just move a millimeter a year, in a million years, I would have moved a kilometer. After a little reflection, I realized his statement was correct, even if it wasn't likely.
That leads us to a problem in our society. Tectonic plates move a few millimeters a year, and money moves at the speed of light. If you want to study the former you have to have a bunch of the latter. We've structured our educational system so that students must spend an obscene amount of money to study a subject they love. I'm not prepared to criticize young geologists who go to work for penny-stock mining companies when they have massive debt to pay off.
I've heard presentations from several geologists affiliated in one way or another with the University of Minnesota Duluth. They tend to be accurate in their presentations. They inform us that the Duluth Complex is huge and that it is low grade. When they are optimistic about mine development, it's up to Minnesota citizens to provide the skepticism inspired by history and economic science.
Our history is not reassuring. I started working in the mines in the late 1960s. After about 10 years of good times, the contraction started and the industry shed 10,000 jobs. Since then the record has been one of bankruptcies rather than job creation, in spite of enthusiastic support for mining.
Economic science has been either ignored or corrupted. Our great pride in developing a method to process low-grade taconite led us to ignore that low-grade ore could not compete with richer foreign ore bodies without import duties, subsidies, and gutted environmental regulations. When President Donald Trump placed import duties on foreign steel, he destroyed more jobs in American manufacturing, including in Minnesota, than he saved in American mines. When I was helping build Hibbing Taconite in the 1970s, I would have had a hard time believing that in a few years Hibbing would have more employees in health care than in mining.
I hope all our young geology students find rewarding careers. I got most of my formal education before plate tectonics made it into the educational curriculum, and it's really impressive to witness the great advance in knowledge of the universe that has been made by our geologists.
I'm getting to be an old man. Perhaps when the end comes for me, a few UMD grad students in geology could make a field trip to Denali and leave my remains on one of the foothills and let me zip along for a few million years while I gaze down on this beautiful earth that so badly needs our protection.
Bob Tammen of Soudan is a clean-water activist and is retired after working as a miner and master electrician.