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.


  1. It still amazes me how a society can put so much value in something that has very little use.
    All over the internet and other places, people that are becoming aware of the huge problems that we are beginning to face are being urged to put their saving into Gold as a means of protecting themselves from inflation. It must be working because you only have to look at the current price of gold to realise there must be great demand for it, and this demand makes it attractive for mining companies to rape more earth to get it.
    To me it makes more sense to store wealth (not that I have any) in something that may be of use to us in the future, things like Copper or Aluminium will become much more valuable when its not viable to mine anymore because of huge energy costs.
    The apple referred to in the bible should be replaced by a nugget of Gold, and then it would make sense.

  2. Gold is valuable because it’s the perfect currency: durable, divisible, portable, almost useless, fungible, hard to fake and rare. It’s an alternative to the corrupt fiat money that governments and banks create with reckless abandon, stealing wealth from people who save and letting those with debts off the hook while funding boondoggles.

    I agree, Glen. Land, tools, materials, books, earthworks, seed, forests, etc. are better *real* investments, but land is still expensive, thanks to speculation and greed. Most land is not productively used, or it is mined and abused. People who understand these issues need to pool their money or work with existing land owners and start rebuilding renewable natural capital that we can actually live from.

    I have a theory that gold can only be as valuable as the ability for society to realise that value, so if we have very little accessible natural wealth then gold isn’t worth much.

  3. Golds only real value is its ability to stroke our egos through vanity and status. Cash is a perfectly good substitute for storing value if it is implemented and managed right.
    I think we are in for the biggest Gold bubble ever seen where the price will just keep rising until people come to realise that you can’t eat Gold.

  4. I agree with Tim that gold is a good money, in contrast to fiat money. Throughout history, in a free society, precious metals have emerged as the chosen money based on the characteristics that Tim mentioned. For anyone interested to learn more, do some reading on Austrian Economics.

  5. I doubt that there is any situation that can justify “dirty gold” but it seemed that many of the author’s critisms are directed at the whole gold business, not just the dirty stuff.

    Opencut mining does produce much more waste than underground but the number of injuries and deaths of miners is considerably smaller in opencut mining. It also does created large holes in the ground but is this necessarily bad per see? Much of the wastte here in Australia is used for construction, infrastructure etc. It would have been mined in any case if the road or railway was being built.

    Cyanide is a common solvent for gold extraction. It is extremely poisonous. It is however a highly unstable compound that does not accumulate in body tissue and breaks down in carbon and nitrogen very readily. Compared to the use of mercury which dominated the gold industry until 30 or so years ago, it is much less of an environmental threat. But it still has to be managed extremely carefully.

    The article talked of indigenous lands, but does this necessarily mean that it is not in the interest of the traditional owners for min ing to occur on their land? There are many examples in Australia where the indigenous communities have a keen interest in the exploration for and mining of gold. The royalties are of major significance to these communities as are the local jobs that are created.

    I think if you are trying to differentiate between dirty gold or clean gold, there are several significant issues that need to be considered. I would start by asking such questions as these:

    1. Whether the granting of the mineral rightereclear and transparent and with the agreement of the traditional owners and local community.

    2, Whether the overall environmental performance meets world best practice.

    3. Whether there is proper occupational heath and safety practiced in the operation

    4.Whether there exists a acceptable rehabilitation program for the site after minin ceases.

    5. Is mercury being used?

    6. Are world conventions for the exploitation of child labor being observed.

    7. Are the employees being reasonably paid to work in these mines?

    There are many more questions that should be considered.

    If you are just against the mining of gold, then that is your right and you should directly say so. If you want to cut out the dirty gold business, then there are some important qualatitive questions that need to be asked

  6. Well Im against all mining of gold that wastes energy and resources on something that’s almost useless and we would never need anymore of than what we already have.
    As an atheist I am beginning to wonder if the story about Adam and Eve had a typo in it, and the apple was meant to be written as “Golden apple”. The moral of the story would make more sense if the Golden apple was put there amongst other perfectly normal apples to tempt Adam and Eve into greed and vanity rather than enjoying the wonders and tastes of what has been provided for us in abundance.

  7. Gold is a commodity, just like many other stuff. It is subject to supply and demand. As the worlds experiment with fiat money is shaking and people lose faith in the value of paper currency, demand for gold and other precious metals will continue to climb. So far no other object fits the characteristics for sound money as well as gold and silver. Industrial metals are much more abundant and subject to substitution (eg. communication used to depend on copper wires, now replaced with fiber optic and wireless). Hence the value is unstable.

    Mining is always a dirty process. As consumers, we can choose to support only responsible gold miners. Initiate a process of independent review for gold producers and establish a rating to indicate their impact on people and environment. We have it for food (organic, free range, caged eggs). We can have it for any other consumer objects if we demand for it.

  8. All paper monies create a moral hazard as institutions then have the ability to immorally inflate the money supply, commodity backed currencies do not allow for imperfect beings to redirect capital in the direction they see most fit. Gold, although mining has shown to be impure for the environment, stores value and serves as the best medium for exchange since man can not duplicate at will. In order for permacultural currencies to survive, they must be backed by a non-inflatable commodity as the demand for money increases, or else the new money will dilute the hard work produced by previous generations.

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