MINING.com editor Frik Els sat down with the chair of the upcoming Resources for Future Generations conference (RFG2018), John Thompson, to discuss trends in mining like responsible sourcing, as well as the conference’s drive towards educating consumers about resource issues. John Thompson is currently the Wold Family Professor in Environmental Balance for Human Sustainability at Cornell University, as well as a Director of Geoscience BC. In this interview, John talks about how RFG2018 aims to encourage geoscientists, policy-makers, and other stakeholders to take action on sustainability problems.
MINING.com: Thank you for joining me today, John. Can you explain how the Future Generations conference came about?
John Thompson: There’s an international organization called the International Union of Geological Sciences which runs a major geological meeting every four years. Canada bid to host the 2020 conference and came second, but organizers suggested creating a new event to focus on resources for the future. Canada agreed, so it kind of grew from there. It’s got a bigger science component and resources are focused around energy, mining, minerals, and water. It is an international conference but obviously, with a focus on Canada.
MINING.com: I get the impression that this is less of an industry talk shop, and more of an educational discussion with a broad view of resources?
JT: There’s still a big research component with researchers presenting lots of technical sessions. It will include a bit on science, but also on mining issues and environmental issues. Our non-technical sessions will be around societal roles – so everything from government policy, Indigenous issues, ethics, and education policy.
MINING.com: Is the idea to have it annually?
JT: It’s already clear that we’re going to have good participation, including many international delegates. Ideally, we want people to take notice of these resource issues and gain a better understanding of where it fits into our lives. If we succeed, it should happen again whether it’s annual or not.
MINING.com: MINING.com attracts many readers from environmental groups, students, and other outside groups, but my impression is that a lot of people are unaware of what mining is really about. Something like this brings the message to the wider world. It’s long overdue.
JT: Most people have a rudimentary knowledge, at best, of where things come from. I think they’ve never been given the information in a way that’s easily understandable, and hopefully at this conference we can address some of that. People should realize that there are choices and trade-offs to be made if we want to have a high – or even basic standard of living. If we want to have all the gadgets and toys, and if you want clean energy on top of that – it’s extremely complicated. So, our goal is getting people to realize the scope of these resource and sustainability issues in mining.
MINING.com: Are you planning a marketing campaign around the conference to reach people on street level?
JT: Yes, that’s the idea. As we get closer to the conference we are focusing more on public outreach. Our goal is to generate lots of material and discussion out of the conference – cool science, research results, technologies, materials and metals and energy – just to attract interest around the role of resources in our lives.
MINING.com: Do you have a target of what you think the conference will attract in terms of number of people?
JT: Around 3,000 but minimum is around 2,000. Looks very promising for that. We might get surprised because it’s very hard to predict how we’re going to play against other conferences. Turns out there’s other water conferences happening in June.
MINING.com: Are you getting any government support?
JT: Yes, federal and provincial.
MINING.com: Is there anything you want to highlight about the conference?
JT: We have a Plenary Program, which is a series of sessions throughout the four days discussing resource issues. Some will be panels, one of them will be one-on-one. We also have a future energy dialogue, with a few keynote speakers. Within that we’re having an innovation forum on the last day, talking about innovation from business, to financials, to social, and technical. As the title “Future Generations” implies, there will be sessions on career training and career planning.
MINING.com: When is it?
JT: June 18-21. On the weekend before it we organized a whole bunch of short courses and field trips. It’s a full week for those who want to do it.
MINING.com: Of all these issues that are coming together, if you had to pick one, which needs the most attention?
JT: I think the social dimensions is the biggest challenge both for energy, and mining and minerals. When I look at future demands and trends, I think technically, we can meet the demand trends. I think we can both exploit what we know of current resources and can discover new resources. But is it possible to do it in a way that satisfies communities around them? And can we do that in a timely manner? If we get that wrong, that will be the stress point in terms of the demand. It’s always hard to bridge that gap between the technical world and the socio-political world.
MINING.com: Thanks for your insights, John.
For more information, visit the RFG2018 website at http://www.rfg2018.org/rfg/2018/home.