Doug Silver’s keynote kicks off MINEXCHANGE 2021 SME Annual Conference & Expo

March 1, 2021

by Margo Ellis, Associate Editor

Hitting broadly on major social license topics and concerns in mining, Doug Silver, pre-eminent expert in mineral economics and well-known public speaker and author, launched the beginning of SME’s first virtual MINEXCHANGE Annual Conference with a powerful presentation titled “Looking Past the Pandemic and into the Future: Long-term Impacts on Business and Life.”

Strongly making the case for how and why COVID-19 is tied to the larger environmental, social and governance (ESG) mandate that is central to mining’s future, Silver offered a sweeping review of COVID’s implications on not only the mining industry but also many others, including retail, tourism, banking and real estate. More important, however, and the main theme of his presentation, is how all of these facets of our global economy and the use of natural resources are inextricably linked and interconnected. Silver even goes so far to argue that ESG is actually more important in mining than COVID and mega investors are starting to force corporate behavioral changes within this new paradigm.

Citing a book by Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, Silver captured a central tenant and shift that no longer prioritizes short-term profit over environmental harm. Schwab writes, “Biodiversity is the diversity of life. We will find that the economics of biodiversity is the economics of the entire biosphere.” Summarizing this point, Silver commented, “What this tells me is that our cash flow models are overstating our profitability and until we understand the cascading effects of what we’re doing to the environment, we’re going to continue to miscalculate.”

Silver further detailed the mining ecosystem and discussed the need to transition to an approach that is “cradle-to-cradle rather than cradle-to-grave of repurposing sites and thinking beyond a mentality of ‘mining, shut it down, move away.’”

Shifting to more COVID-centric themes and the short- and long-term implications of the pandemic, Silver continued with a focus squarely on how these changes to our everyday lives and way of doing business have been permanently altered. He talked about the often-heard refrain of “when we get back to normal” that is actually a myth as we move forward. Or perhaps viewing it as the new normal — because there is no going back — and we should instead look for ways to adapt in the future.

Touching on technology, Silver gave praise to accelerated advancements such as webcasting and video conferencing, drone technology, video streaming, rapid vaccine development and genomic science that should ultimately provide massive advancement in medical solutions. “This could be a very powerful and positive outcome of COVID,” he stated.

Changes to transportation because of COVID, Silver explained, will continue to have lasting effects. “Everything will take longer to move. Ports have been closed or reduced. Quarantining affects travel and countries will become protectionist.” And he spoke about breaking virus transmission paths when looking at international travel and flying — possibly a need for a system-wide shut-off switch of sorts to stop travel immediately to prevent the uncontrolled spread we had a year ago.

Asking the question “Is COVID the planet’s way of healing itself?” Silver went into ways in which the earth has benefited from reduced carbon emissions from fewer cars on the road and planes in the air. The question then becomes, he posited, is can we take these lessons and learn from them and instead of fighting the inevitable changes that have already happened and will continue to evolve.

Finally, Silver talked about our current use of the gross domestic product (GDP) as our measure of economic health and it’s been found to be inaccurate. What instead needs to be emphasized is inclusive wealth metrics (IWMs) that would slowly replace GDP as a primary. We don’t currently measure the impact on nature and our cascading effects on all species who can no longer be displaced. “Folks, ESG’s time has come,” Silver said. “It’s not really asking us to reinvent the wheel; it’s really asking us to reorganize and report things that are part of a larger ecosystem.”

Silver’s keynote is an insightful and provocative presentation. What’s included here is just skimming the surface, so if you want to view it in its entirety, along with all the other programming and sessions included in this MINEXCHANGE 2021 SME Conference & Expo, please visit https://www.smeannualconference.com/ today and register. There are prerecorded technical sessions, live lectures and keynotes, live coffee breaks, a virtual trade show and expo and more. It’s a great value with unsurpassed content.

 

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