Mining targeted by “Gretathunbergs” and Social Media -

Mining targeted by “Gretathunbergs” and Social Media

Mining targeted by “Gretathunbergs” and Social Media

There were times when geology was one of the most in-demand professions. And when it was my time to make a career choice there was no other option but geology, especially considering the example set by my father and uncle - well-respected geologists.
I have spent my entire conscious life in the mining industry. I have been involved in conducting feasibility studies almost for all mining projects in Armenia and led the group of geologists that discovered Amulsar - the first largest gold deposit discovered after Armenia's independence. Therefore, I am perfectly aware of the peculiarities of the entire mining process and of all the development opportunities that the mining industry and this profession can create for any state and individual.

But now I must regretfully note that year by year geology or other professions in the field of mining (metallurgist, mining engineer, etc.) are becoming less popular. In the 60s and 70s, there were more than 10 applicants per place in the Faculty of Geology of YSU, today the enrolment rate is so low you can count the students on a hand. And although it is among the highest-paying jobs, finding a good specialist has become a real challenge. In my opinion, this situation is a result of the consistent discrediting of the mining industry, which we have been witnessing at least for the last 10-20 years. Despite the significant role that the mining industry has in the economy of Armenia, the sector is not properly valued, and the public perception of it is negative.

“Bread Factory”

Mining like any other economic activity is not problem-free. It has a certain impact on the environment as do agriculture, construction, or any other human activity. For instance, every year 7 million hectares of forest are cut down in the world driven by agriculture, chemical fertilizers in use affect the quality of soil and water, and 70 % of freshwater resources are used up in this sector, anyway on various platforms you can regularly find demands to abandon mining and discussions to look for an alternative.

It would be the same if we demand to close down a bread factory supplying an entire community and try to find an alternative instead. And while we experiment, shutting down the bread factory will have irreversible consequences on the future of the community.

Mining acts as a bread factory for the state budget used for everyone: pensioners, teachers, state employees, socially disadvantaged families, and others. To understand which sector “feeds” Armenia all you have to do is to check the list of the 1000 largest taxpayers.

On that account, I cannot stop asking myself why there is a negative perception of the mining industry and why it is so easily targeted by the public. This extreme attitude towards mining is not in the interests of either the state or the public.

The Era of “Gretathunbergs”

In my belief, the reason mining makes an easy target is that the tangible benefit of any economic sector is more measurable to the public than the amount of taxes paid to the state budget. For common people, who are not directly involved in a mining project, the benefits of mining are not tangible. The situation is different, for example, for a telecommunications operator, if we stop their activity people will be left without a means of communication. Therefore, there is no debate about whether telecommunication is needed or not.

Along with that, the environmental movement has gained momentum all over the world, also targeting the mining industry. Greta Tunberg, a 20-year-old environmental activist fighting against climate change, today challenges the governments of the world's leading countries and reputable companies. The Swedish activist has recently been protesting against the further expansion of a coal mine in Germany. Interestingly, Thunberg gained popularity mainly through social networks. And although she has no professional education, today millions of users follow her on social networks. Social networks have become platforms that, if used properly, can form a public opinion on any phenomenon.

According to data from 2021, more than half of Armenia’s population - 61.7% - is a Facebook user. Therefore, public opinion in Armenia is also mainly shaped by Facebook. We are witnessing how various individuals and groups without any professional education, having financial or other interests, have been presenting themselves as industry experts, and environmentalists for years and filling social platforms with all kinds of manipulative, absurd, and illogical theses and misinformation about mining. As a result, the sector is discredited, and a negative public perception is formed.

In the case of Armenia, the spread of disinformation and theses have also become a national security problem. They not only target the backbone of Armenia's economy, but the Azerbaijani propaganda machine skillfully uses them against us, as happened against the background of the recent situation unfolding around Artsakh. Accordingly, shaping the right public perception about mining, and preventing the further spread of misinformation is the responsibility of all of us, including the state and mining companies.

It is necessary to provide the public with professional and objective information and to actively collaborate with the public, using all the means created by the digital age.

The voice of mining companies and specialists should be heard over all the "environmental" noise so that the public at least has a choice when forming an opinion.

As for the state, it has a large toolkit to identify the real problems of the sector, take actions to solve them, and carry out awareness-raising activities about the mining industry, preventing the spread of misinformation.

If we were all more consistent in this matter from the very beginning, possibly today, the public perception of mining would have been different, and mining projects would not be an easy target.

Hayk Aloyan is the managing director of Lydian Armenia.

These views are his own.


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