At The Space Economy we continually work to explain the benefits of space commercialization. One that has been overlooked by ourselves and the industry has been the ecological benefits of using resources from space. This pertains particularly to the mining industry.
Mining has a tremendous ecological impact on our planet. Mountains are literally removed every year on order to supply the raw materials needed for our increasingly industrialized planet. But this may not be a sustainable or required practice. Space mining would be capable of replacing it and without negative ecological impact.
Asteroids are rocks out of the ground already floating in space. Excavating them has no negative impact on our solar system, as long as it is not done in orbit. Thousands of times more material is also available in our solar system, which can be exploited, with proper infrastructure, which is growing ever closer.
Many space advocates sell it as something which is the future of our race as a means of survival from cataclysmic asteroid strikes and the like or as a means to satisfy the human needs to explore. While these reasons are founded, they do not resound with some parts of the population on earth. Space has to provide some other benefit than simply making money, exploring, and preventing destruction. Space must create a more encompassing return for Earth to be worth it. Ecology is one of those returns. The fact that the commercialization of space will help to solve ecological problems on Earth is a grand reason to work toward space.
Now, certainly many will argue that space mining will still have negative affects on earthen ecosystems. Because dirty rockets must be launched and rocks dropped from the sky.
This view has little credence as it assumes that rocket technology will remain as it is, which it won't, and that the asteroids would have to be delivered as raw materials to the surface of the Earth, which they won't. Space mining will revolve around the refining and manufacturing of materials in orbit (or possibly on the Moon) which can then be delivered to earth with a gliding space plane. And rockets are already powered by combinations of hydrogen and oxygen which combine to create...water. In fact, the kerosene burning Falcon 9 is "cleaner" than the solid rocket boosters of the space shuttle so we are already creating a greener space industry.
Mining companies would do well to explore space mining as a part of their future. Not only are the resources abundant, but the good will that it would generate by "working to preserve earth ecosystems" would be valuable to the company. And along the road space technologies developed could be applied to Earth problems. Caterpillar, which makes mining machinery, apparently sees this potential as it is partnering with NASA to develop space mining technologies.