Why We Can’t Shy Away From Our Industries’ Role in Climate Change

"Contributing to climate change solutions involves acknowledging the challenges created by the past," says Komatsu Mining President and CEO Jeff Dawes.
scenic forested hills with wind turbines on distant horizon

“Why We Can’t Shy Away From Our Industries’ Role in Climate Change” was written by Caley Clinton, Manager of Marketing Communications at Komatsu.


Komatsu employees helping reforestry efforts
Komatsu employees helping the reforestry efforts of Green Forests Work

To solve today’s climate challenges we must not shy away from confronting the contributions of our past. Take the legacy of mining, for example. Minerals are more essential than ever to the growing needs of modern society: copper and gold for our phones and tablets, the 582 tons of coal necessary to create the steel and concrete required for a 2-megawatt wind turbine, and the zinc and selenium that goes into solar panels.

But support for mining projects to deliver those essential minerals has waned over time, as the ramifications of outdated decision making has taken root in affected communities. In the Appalachian region of the eastern United States, 1 million acres of former forestland remains inhospitable to native trees and dependent wildlife decades after mining on those lands was complete. Why? Because when the United States first began regulating the closure of mine sites in the 1970s, with a focus on eliminating erosion concerns, there was not yet an awareness of the challenges those early reclamation methods would have on future tree growth. And with the responsible companies long since cleared of their obligation to those sites, it falls on others to pick up the torch.

Why We Can’t Shy Away From Our Industries’ Role in Climate Change
Komatsu Executives, along with members of the Green Forests Work, University of Kentucky and U.S. Department of Agriculture and Forest Service, planted red spruce saplings at the site of a former coal strip mine in the Monongahela National Forest, W.V., May 16, 2019.

Thanks to researchers, forestry professionals and the non-profit group Green Forests Work (GFW), a method was developed to restore native forests to these formerly mined lands. But the work to implement and reclaim these legacy mind lands requires the support of many.

Happily, the mining industry is not shying away from embracing the mistakes of the past to improve the situation for the future. Dozens of mining companies have contributed to GFW plantings and site overhauls. This year, GFW announced a partnership with global mining, construction and forestry equipment provider Komatsu to further spread the forest reclamation approach and reclaim another 1,000 acres of legacy mine land in Appalachia.

Of the partnership, GFW Founder Dr. Chris Barton said: “We’re taking what we’ve done here in Appalachia and hopefully moving it to other parts of the world. We see this as an opportunity for doing the same type of engagement with local communities on a global perspective. With the help of Komatsu and their global footprint, it will open doors for us in places like South Africa and Australia and really take what’s been a very positive program here in the United States and spread the wealth elsewhere.”

Komatsu America Chairman and CEO Rod Schrader said the company is honored to be part of a necessary solution to climate challenges tied to its core industries of mining, construction and forestry.

“Our equipment digs the earth and it’s part of our job to make sure that we’re good stewards of that earth and doing things that are helping our local communities,” Schrader said. “It’s really our role to make sure that we’re supporting these efforts with our time and our resources.”

“Our equipment digs the earth and it’s part of our job to make sure that we’re good stewards of that earth and doing things that are helping our local communities.”

GFW also trains nearby residents to contribute to the reforestation work, creating what Barton calls “a regenerative economy” to create jobs and put money back into areas that were impacted.

“It’s been exciting to see what Green Forests Work is doing to engage the local communities after the departure of mining in these areas,” said John Koetz, president of surface mining at Komatsu. “It’s been very tough economically and they’re providing jobs and they’re providing opportunities to reinvest in these communities.”

Contributing to the climate change solution has involved acknowledging the challenges created by the past, said Komatsu Mining President and CEO Jeff Dawes.

Why We Can’t Shy Away From Our Industries’ Role in Climate Change
Komatsu prepping the land for GFW’s work

“I worked in mining companies and I dug these holes,” Dawes said at a May planting event with GFW. “So for me this was kind of like closing the loop; helping bring things full circle. Our role started with our equipment mining the necessary minerals and now it’s being used to reshape the land for natural forests to return. It’s a cycle necessary to complete the whole cycle of mining.”

“Our role started with our equipment mining the necessary minerals and now it’s being used to reshape the land for natural forests to return. It’s a cycle necessary to complete the whole cycle of mining.”

Finding the solution began with the government, Barton said, who began researching better reclamation methods as soon as it became clear that the initial regulations were not supporting tree growth.

What more could the business community do to support and implement necessary changes if it first embraced the causes and embraced its role in finding solutions to climate change? Let’s not wait to find out, the time is now.

 

To learn more about GFW and their partnerships, check out this video from a May planting with Komatsu:


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