No More Dirty Gold

Gold. For as long as history records, people have driven themselves to deprivation and even death – and, not uncommonly, murder – to find and secure this rare yellow metal. The ancient Egyptians prized it, as have many of the major and minor civilisations that have come and gone ever since. It is even said that the discovery and exploration of the Americas by Christopher Columbus was spurred by a search for it.

Gold is beautiful, of that there is no doubt. Fantastically, it has somehow come to simultaneously symbolise both matrimonial bliss, fidelity and purity as well as greed, excess and despotism. These things we all know. But, there’s another side to gold of which you may not be aware. Gold is now, with an accentuated consumer awareness, also beginning to symbolise polluted land and water (with a permanence comparable to nuclear contamination), the abuse of workers and the harassment and eviction of indigenous peoples.

A gold mine in Peru piles up ore
and drips cyanide through the

About 80% of the gold mined today is refined and made into jewellery. The ‘unnecessary’ nature of this usage makes the following information all the more obscene:

  • Gold mining is one of the dirtiest businesses in the world. The production of one gold ring generates 20 ton of mine waste
  • Open-pit gold mines essentially obliterate the landscape, opening up vast craters, flattening or even inverting mountaintops, and producing 8 to 10 times more waste than underground mining
  • Cyanide is used by large mining operations to separate gold from ore. Cyanide pollution is a major concern. A rice-grain sized dose of cyanide can be fatal to humans; concentrations of 1 microgram (one-millionth of a gram) per liter of water can be fatal to fish
  • Metals mining employs just 0.09 percent of the global workforce but consumes as much as 10 percent of world energy
  • Between 1995 and 2015, approximately half the gold produced worldwide has or will come from indigenous peoples’ lands
  • Metals mining is the number one toxic polluter in the United States, responsible for 89% of arsenic releases, 85% of mercury releases, and 84% of lead releases in 2004
  • The world’s largest open pit, the Bingham Canyon mine in Utah, is visible to astronauts from outer space. It measures 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) deep and 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) across
  • 120,000 tons of toxic waste spilled from the Baia Mare gold mine in Romania in 2000, contaminating the drinking water of 2.5 million people and killing 1,200 tons of fish
  • Experts predict that the abandoned Iron Mountain mine in California will continue to poison its watershed with acid mine drainage for over 3000 years

There’s nothing romantic about a toxic gold mine

These figures come from the No Dirty Gold website – a high profile campaign against destructive gold mining techniques and methods. The campaign has met with some success, as several leading jewellery suppliers have pledged themselves to support the Golden Rules of responsible mining. Check out the site. Aside from the astonishing environmental consequences, the impact on local communities around the world merits our attention and action on this topic.

Let’s put some values in our valuables.