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The course: Earth’s resources and the environment

A common saying among geologists is: “If you can’t grow it, you have to mine it.”

Mining might conjure up an image of an old-fashioned prospector with a gray beard, or of a person emerging from a dark cave with a hard hat and a face covered in coal dust. The mining industry has come a long way since then, but at its core it is still the basis of materials for our way of life.

Andrew Martin, assistant professor in the UNLV Department of Geosciences (Anjanette Arnold/UNLV)

“If we want the lifestyle we live, we have to be mine,” said Andrew Martin, assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences.

While technology and energy are becoming “greener,” there are still resource costs to consider, he says. “We’ve gone from Model T Fords to all-electric Teslas, from burning coal to solar cells and wind turbines – we’re using a much greater diversity of different metals.”

The course: Earth’s resources and the environment

Earth Resources and the Environment (GEOG 335) examines the range of Earth’s resources, such as metal ore deposits and quarries, and examines the environmental impact of mining, use and disposal. The class also includes renewable energy sources, along with basic – but often undervalued – resources such as soil and water. All these resources are examined through a socio-political, economic and sustainability lens.

Why is it taught?

“There is a huge gap between society and where we think our resources come from,” Martin explains. “One side we are really focusing on is the idea of ​​the green energy transition. If everyone has an electric vehicle, where do we get all those resources?”

The course is a core course for earth and environmental science majors to give them a holistic understanding between the geology and environmental impacts of mining.

Who teaches it?

Although Earth Resources and Environment is a long-standing course, this is Martin’s first year teaching the class. A native of the United Kingdom, Martin was drawn to UNLV because of Nevada’s rich resources. “We have world-class mineral deposits in Nevada and just across the border in Arizona. I work a lot in Northern Nevada at the Carlin Trend, the second largest gold mining area in the world. Actually, the Silver State should be called the Golden State,” says Martin.

What is something students might be surprised to learn?

Students are often surprised when they study the strong connection between geology and global politics. Looking through a geopolitical lens, they see the historically strong link between countries rich in energy resources and power.

“Whoever has the primary energy source, which used to be coal or oil, has the power,” says Martin. “That is currently changing again; now it is the one that has the crucial minerals we use in green, low-carbon technologies.”

How does this course connect to students’ future careers?

“The link between geology and the environment will become more important over time. There are no ifs or buts,” says Martin. Students studying geosciences or earth and environmental sciences can expect many career opportunities in mining – from mineral exploration (finding the deposits) to environmental monitoring and remediation (returning the land to the same or better condition after mining).

A high-level view of a gold mining site in Nevada. (Courtesy of Andrew Martin)

UNLV is building a strong relationship with Nevada Gold Mines, allowing students to “mine for experience” and preparing them for research and post-graduation success.

What should even laypeople know about this course?

The most sustainable thing you can do is simple: don’t buy anything!

“Buying a new electric car is not necessarily green,” says Martin. “Instead of buying a brand new car or a brand new iPhone every three years, you know it’s the green thing to do: just to make your stuff last a long time. Because there are no resource costs involved.”

The reading list

Martin recommends the TED Talk: The Blind Spots of the Green Energy Transition.