A Rush of Gold to the Head
What it has done to us and our environment
Why do we need gold?
Since the beginning of human civilization, there has been evidence that gold provides a great deal of value to various peoples around the world. WIth its durability against tarnishing, malleability, and diverse uses, people still put great value in gold. Today, approximately 80% of the world's gold is used for jewelry (New York Times).
Collectively, the world has made gold a necessity; economically speaking, it acts a baseline because it has the same value across all borders, no matter what the value of currency is. As of June 8, 2013, the value of gold was $1,1385.55 per ounce (Barrick). When prices are unstable and the economy is in a slump, people invest gold because of its reliably high value.
Clearly, we put a lot of value in it. It's no wonder those fools walk around with metal detectors "to find treasure". But why gold over any other raw materials? Because it is extreme versatile. It cannot be melted by acid and it is timeless. For example, it is used in tooth fillings because it does not rust like other metals. I think that is pretty darn cool.
Miners hope that the deposits will carry enough gold to offset the costs associated with production. "Rich" mines may carry a tenth of an ounce per ton of ore, while "poor" mines may carry a hundredth of an ounce per ton. Is it really worth it to destroy valuable land for gold totalling the size of a golf ball? These companies seem to think so.
Gold mines have to be surveyed approved before the project may go forward. When these projects are given the go ahead, large areas of forested land must be cleared to make way for the mine itself, as well as the roadways that lead to it. Infrastructure must be built to transfer the materials as well as the people. When the mines are abandoned, the waste rock is left and there is permanent scarring on the land.
Open-pit mines are only the beginning of the environmental problems. Most of the time, the waste generated by the mines is not properly treated and ends up spreading to the surrounding environment. When rock, that has been buried for a long time, is excavated, chemical reactions and toxic metals are leached. From these chemical reactions, sulphuric acid, arsenic, copper, and other materials are carried away into nearby lakes, rivers, and streams. The bio-accumulation of these chemicals creates severe environmental damage to aquatic species and wildlife.
As a result of gold mining, two highly toxic chemicals are released into the released into the environment: cyanide and mercury. Cyanide heap leaching is a process that leaves behind heaps of useless rock and leaking toxic chemicals. The leaching of these chemicals happens over time, and therefore, control over the damage is nearly impossible.
A major concern with gold mining is the emission of mercury. It poisons workers, and when it is dumped into lakes and rivers, the damage is irreversible. Aquatic life is then poisoned and the chemical travels throughout the food chain. If the damage is bad enough, deformities will form in the fish. In the worst cases, when women are pregnant and they have consumed a lot of mercury, their children can be born with birth defects or even neurological damage.
Product of Greed
Living on Earth
Lead Poisoning from Gold Mining by Living on Earth
Efforts Toward a Sustainable Future
International collaboration against this problem will go a long way in preventing the destructive effects of mining. A program called "No Dirty Gold" aims to uphold basic environmental and social responsibility (Rastogi). It works with corporations to promote responsible development of gold reserves.
The reserves however, have been exploited to the point where the only pieces of gold are micro-sized that must be filtered through with cyanide. To leave gold to future generations, mining of this resource should be halted. The costs are outweighing the benefits, and the environmental damage caused by the mining is astounding. If the remaining reserves are left alone long enough, they will regenerate themselves over time, albeit it will take millions of years.
Instead, the gold that has already been mined should be put into circulation. "In 2008 - it was estimated that 157,000 tonnes of gold had been mined throughout history - and that individuals were sitting on a whopping 104,000 tonnes of it, in the form of bullion, coin, and jewelry (The Washington Post). The United States government alone, has 8,134 tonnes of gold secured in vaults worth an estimated $122 billion (New York Times). If these reserves were put into circulation, there would be less strain on the already scarce gold resources, and by association, the land that is required to be mined.
To mitigate the environmental damage, strict government regulations should be put in place to ensure that the chemicals and tailings released by the gold mines are disposed of properly. These routines should also checks on the water quality of the surrounding environment, as well as the health of the aquatic species in nearby lakes and rivers.
Another effort to sustain this resource for the future could be to use existing jewelry. If people do not like their jewelry or want it reshaped, gold can be melted and reshaped. This way, there is no further demand for new gold to be mined, but old gold can be re-used.
*Please note that the smore does not allow for the proper hanging indent that is used in Works Cited
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