Scientists predicted the global environmental disaster as early as in the second half of the 21-st century
The International European Symposium EUROCK 2018 took place in Saint Petersburg. According to its participants’ opinion one of the major challenges facing humanity is the constantly growing consumption which cannot be ensured without expanding the production of commodities and, as the result, without damaging ecosystems. “Forpost” tried to find out if our civilization will be able to avoid the worldwide catastrophe.
Technogenic influence on subsurface resources and the atmosphere was recognized as the main cause of multiple ecological challenges of the 19-th century long ago. Mass extinction of hundreds of thousands of species of flora and fauna, melting of polar icecaps, forest loss, pollution of the global ocean are the problems that our planet confronted in the result of human quest for technological progress. However, the list of problems does not end here.
Although, taking a step back from technological advancements would mean backsliding to the Stone Age. Practically all benefits of civilization whether it is electricity or heating in our homes, automobiles, smartphones and many other things, may be produced only if extracting companies will offer raw materials necessary for their production to the market .
“One of the most serious challenges is minimizing ecological risks. It’s clear that any technology which is applied to developing subsoil resources has an impact on biosphere. But in order to sustain the progressive development of social environment we need to continue production and processing of mineral resources. That is why the question is no longer whether to produce or not , but how to cause the lowest possible harm to ecology by using the best equipment, advanced technologies, tightening the requirements to core businesses “, says Vladimir Litvinenko, the rector of Saint Petersburg Mining University
The Director of the Institute of Integrated Reserve Development of the Russian Academy of Science Valeriy Zakharov says that globally growing populations and improvement of quality of life provoke enhancement of industrial influences on rock mass. Nowadays 200 tons of rock is mined per person per year and if we do not improve the techniques and technologies of developing the deposits, then by 2050 the volume of production will increase fourfold. This will signify a specific “red line” and if we cross it - it will be impossible to prevent a global catastrophe.
“Mineral deposits favorable for development are being rapidly depleted.Tthe depths of the extracted matter are growing downwards. Rock bursts and methane outbursts causing loss of life in various parts of the world complicate the situation. It is necessary to respond to these challenges effectively and to find solutions which will allow to promptly reduce mortality and impact on environment as well as to increase profitability of production", says Valeriy Zakharov.
According to the researcher, it is imperative to take the process of organizing production to a new qualitative level. Furthermore, the mining operations should be interpreted as an integrated complex set of actions which requires consistent scientific support from the start up to the completion of a pit, a mine or a well operation. Establishing such a system is impossible without improving engineers’ level of professionalism.
“We must not merely train and provide our students with up-to-date knowledge but we must motivate recent graduates to continue self-improvement. For the sake of our sector development, lifelong learning becomes a must for them. Every morning waking up, they should say to themselves, ‘Let’s learn something new today’. Then, coming back home, they should clearly account what they have learned. Such approach would allow to reduce risks related to geo hazards and to decrease influence on environment”, acknowledges Sergio da Fontoura, the ISRM vice-president for Latin America.
Extraction and processing methods are becoming more sophisticated and knowledge-intensive. Requirements to specialists working in this industry are continuously rising, whereas the system of higher technical education does not take this tendency into consideration. Many universities do not think at all about improving their educational standards and even simplify their curriculum to attract enrollees.
“Subjects, which define the future of the industry, such as strength of materials, descriptive geometry and higher mathematics are disappearing. They not only equip students with knowledge, but form specialists. They activate neurons that make it possible to make adequate decisions”, complains Vladimir Litvinenko.
The rector of Saint Petersburg mining university is convinced that a graduate of any, even a top university should not automatically get the status of an engineer alongside with the diploma. To become a really qualified specialist a graduate must work 2-3 years at production site, and only then be evaluated by the professional community. Eminent colleagues’ acknowledgement will not merely facilitate the young engineer carrier growth but will also be a stimulus for further personal development.
Presently the demand for highly qualified workforce is stronger than ever. Specialists forecast that it will keep growing. But is a university or a system of postgraduate studies able to offer a sufficient number of professionals to the market? Those high-level specialists who in 20-30 years will have to give sound forecasts of environmental impacts of operation facilities and reclamation activities, to introduce environmentally friendly technologies? Whether the humankind will manage to avoid ecological disaster depends, first and foremost, on this question.