Mining and morality: upcoming lecture at UBC’s Green College

B.C.’s dependency on mining is set to increase in the future, creating a moral dilemma. The need to continue increasing the output of the mining sector for different materials, clashes with protecting the environment and culture of the areas where the materials are mined.

Three associate professors from different schools within the university will come together for the lecture Do We Have a Moral Duty to Protect the Environment? It’s Complicated! on Feb. 6 at the Coach House, Green College on the UBC Campus.

Emily Huddart Kennedy (School of Sociology), Fionn Byrne (School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture) and Nadja Kunz (School of Public Policy and Global Affairs and Norman B. Keevil Institute of Mining and Engineering) will discuss their perspectives on cases of contrasting morality as it relates to environmental protection from their areas of expertise.


Kunz’s focus will on water management and stewardship in the mining sector and its transition toward more sustainable operations.

Nadja Kunz works to improve water sustainability practices the mining industry. | Photo courtesy of Nadja Kunz

“When many readers think of the mining and metals sector, their minds may drift to the negative social and environmental impacts that mining can cause,” she says. “Sometimes it can be easy to forget the extent to which we rely on minerals and metals as fundamental building blocks of modern society, from infrastructure, vehicles, and electronics to soaps and medical devices.”

The Glacier Media Group’s site, agrees that our dependency on mining is set to grow in the future. By some estimates, electric cars may require about four times more copper than gasoline-powered vehicles.

Kunz says Canadians especially have an important role within creating sustainable change, as Canada continues to rely on materials produced through environmentally damaging methods.

“I would also argue that Canadians, and particularly British Columbians, have a moral duty to improve the sustainability performance of the mining and metals sector at a global scale. Not only are we consumers of mined products, but it is a key sector within our economy,” she explains.


In observing British Columbians’ dependence on mined materials, Kunz points out the differing levels of environmental morality relative to public policy within the mining and metals sector.

“In my experience, discussions about environmental protection or sustainability as it relates to mining projects can quickly become polarized. A key challenge is that within our society, we may have different interpretations of sustainability and competing viewpoints about what actions are most important to get there,” she says. “I feel a lot can be learned from listening openly to those who may have different moral values, and showing respect for one another as people.”


Kunz has years of experience working in mining companies, communities, and governments around the world. Overall she has a positive outlook on the future of this industry and how Canadians can contribute toward more sustainable efforts moving forward. She recognizes the difficulty in shifting perceptions and actions within the mining community but is optimistic about creating systems and programs to alleviate environmental degradation.

“Community participation is so important! There have been some fantastic examples of how concerns raised by Indigenous rights-holders or community members have changed the practices of mining companies or, in some cases, prevented the development of projects in environmentally or culturally sensitive regions,” she maintains. “We are also very lucky in Canada and particularly B.C. to have a regulatory framework that allows community voices to be heard during the environmental approval process of new mining projects.”

Along with her fellow lecturers, Kunz plans on discussing these topics in more detail with an interdisciplinary approach that fosters awareness of local sustainability and morality.

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