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 Wounding the West : Montana, Mining, and the Environment
coverMercury from Gold and Silver Mining : A Chemical Time Bomb? (Environmental Science) by Luiz Drude De Lacerda, W. Salomons (Contributor), Luiz D. De Lacerda, R. Allan (Editor). 

 Due to its inherent characteristics, mercury contamination from gold mining is a major environmental problem compared to past mercury contamination from industrial point sources. The worsening of social-economical conditions and increasing gold prices in the late 1970s resulted in a new rush for gold by individual entrepreneurs for whom mercury amalgamation is a cheap and easily carried out operation. Even after the present-day mining areas are exhausted, the mercury left behind will remain part of the biochemical cycle of the tropical forest. This book reviews the current information on mercury from gold mining, its cycling in the environment and its long-term ecotoxicological impact. The book is illustrated with numerous diagrams and photographs....  

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Gold Stinks!

For those of us who were duped into buying class rings...
and for those who haven't done so yet...


With Berkeley-based Project Underground and others, we at the Rainforest Information Center are starting to work with various groups around the world on a campaign to make gold "stink" because of the extraordinary environmental and social damage it causes. 

The destruction is all the more deplorable because of the trivial uses gold is put to. The lion's share, 70-84% of gold traded globally goes to jewelers and in the U.S. more than half of that is for for class rings! Each of us may be unsuspectingly carry on his or her wrists and fingers the responsibility for several tons of churned up rainforest top-soil, for the destruction of trees and habitat  for parrots and other rainforest birds, orchids, butterflies, beetles ... We're starting to discuss this issue with some student environmental folks and this seems a particularly promising opportunity.

These days with cyanide heap mining, mining is done with output as little as 1 part to 3,000,000.

From the Timbarra mine being blockaded in Australia where cyanide leach mining presently makes it economic to dynamite a sacred mountain into rubble and lace it with cyanide in order to extract 1 ounce of gold from every 75 tons of ore... Placer Dome's horrendous proposal in Venezuela presently the subject of action alerts from Amazon Watch concerning the blockade by Pemon, Karina, Akawaio and Arawako Indians trying to prevent their lands being desecrated by one of S America's largest gold mines and their peoples from being decimated by diseases such as malaria... US company Freeport-McMoRan using their helicopters in W Papua to transport the Indonesian military on their attacks on the traditional landowners who are protesting the poisoning of their rivers and lives... the literally thousands of other disgusting gold mines destroying rainforests and other natural areas, displacing and poisoning indigenous peoples and dribbling mercury and cyanide into rivers all over the world. 

Why are we fighting these nightmares one at a time? Let's bring together all the groups working on these issues for a fur-style campaign on gold. Let's go for Molloch's jugular rather than dealing with one symptom after another.

Let's take on the golden calf itself and the insane greed that it represents.

When enough people and governments sell their gold, the price will soon drop to the point where it is no longer economic to mine it because more than enough recycled gold will be available to meet every demand.

Gold is becoming increasingly irrelevant to world finance. An investment in gold worth $100 in 1987 would now be worth less than $70, according to the Economist. Some countries have realized this and started selling their stocks of gold, especially Canada, Australia and the Netherlands. The formative European Central Bank has said it won't use gold as a key reserve to peg to the Euro. Even the Swiss - a country historically wed to gold as a hedge -- are considering selling two-thirds of their gold (55 million tons) by referendum next year and the US Federal Reserve has circulated strategy papers on doing it. All told, we believe the governments of the world have 30% of all the gold ever mined in vaults - that is equivalent to 18 years of current production. Given that $100 worth of gold in 1987 is now worth $70 we don't see why they wouldn't want to sell. How can we encourage the US and other governments to liquidate the gold reserves such as those in Fort Knox?

The current depression in the price of gold is good for the planet. Already twenty gold mines in Australia have been postponed or closed since the value of gold went below $300 per ounce. We have to keep it there. In 1996, if you include the cost of exploration, an ounce of gold cost $317 to produce so the further we can keep it below this amount, the more gold mines become uneconomic. 

However, counter trends exist such as Y2K paranoia with the "smart" money leaving banks and heading for gold, so I think it's important to weigh in now.

Published Saturday, August 29, 1998, in the St. Paul Pioneer Press Bloomberg News:

Russia concerns spur plunge in gold prices

Gold fell to a 19-year low on concerns Russia may sell gold from its reserves, dumping even more on the market at a time when the metal has lost its appeal as a safe investment.

Gold is no longer the asset investors hoard when other assets tumble. In the middle of global financial turmoil kicked off by Russia this week, the precious metal is down almost 4 percent since Monday. Gold for December delivery fell $2.20 to $277.90 an ounce in New York Friday, the lowest since June 1979.

The decline, sparked by concern that Russia will have to sell gold to raise cash to pay its foreign debt, is the latest in a 2 1/2-year slump for gold, which fetched more than $400 an ounce in February 1996. Gold is down 35 percent since then because other financial assets, such as bonds, offer better returns when the pace of consumer price increases is slow. Central banks have shed gold reserves and economic turmoil in Asia hurt demand for jewelry.

One of the groups working with this is Project Underground from Berkeley. Here's a piece their Pratap Chatterjee had published in the Spanish/English Magazine Abya Yala.

Gold, Greed & Genocide in the Americas

by Pratap Chatterjee, Project Underground

"The white warriors went across in their long dugouts. The Indians said they would meet them in peace so when the whites landed the Indians went to welcome them ... Ge-Wi-Lih said he threw up his hand ... but the white man fired and shot him in the arm ... (s)he said when they gathered the dead, they found all the little ones were killed by being stabbed and many of the women were also killed by stabbing ... (t)his old lady also told about (how) the whites hung a man on Emerson island ... and a large fire built under (him). And another ... was tied to a tree and burnt to death" -- William Benson, Pomo historian, recounts massacres at Clear Lake, California, May 1850

"A group of loggers and miners near the town of Pontes e Lacerda ambushed and violently assaulted at least 14 Katitaulhu Indians in the Sarare reserve. The loggers subsequently looted the Indians village, damaging a health post and school and stealing money, tools and vehicles belonging to the Indians. Supporters of the Indians, who have attempted to mobilize federal officials to comply with court orders to remove the illegal loggers and miners from the reserve subsequently received death threats and intimidation. The Katitaulhu were also threatened with further violence by the invaders. Medical reports state that 14 Indians were wounded, many by having been tied up and beaten." -- Environmental Defense Fund report from Mato Grosso, Brazil, November 1996

Thousands of kilometers, and almost a century and a half, separate the two violent incidents against the Pomo peoples of California and the Nambikwara peoples of Mato Grosso, Brazil. Yet the root cause for both incidents was exactly the same: settlers in search of gold.

The Clear Lake incident was a direct outcome of the arrival of Charles Stone and Andrew Kelsey, two ranchers who arrived at the lake in 1847, who captured and bought hundreds of Pomo, forcing them to work as slaves. Kelsey forced Pomo men into the mountains as virtual slaves to help him look for gold. Eventually two Pomo cowboys, named Shak and Xasis, took the law into their own hands and executed both settlers bringing the wrath of the United States army upon them in the incidents described above.

The Katitaulhu are one of 12 Nambikwara subgrounded BR 364 road from Cuiaba in Mato Grosso to Porto Velho in Rondonia was opened by Brazil's military government. Decimated by epidemics and forcibly relocated to make way for the road, the Nambikwara died in great numbers making desperate pilgrimages in an attempt to return to their traditional lands. Some 6,000 gold miners invaded the Sarare reservation in the 1990s seriously polluting major watercourses in the area, disrupting local fishing and hunting, spreading malaria and viral diseases. The incident described above is just, one of many attacks on the Nambikwara in the last two decades.

Foundation of empire

Gold is the foundation of empires throughout history as well as the root cause of many genocidal attacks against indigenous peoples around the world. The Romans founded their empire on Spanish gold, the Spanish founded their empire on Inca gold, the 1849 Gold Rush was the basis of the foundation of the state of California, today the World Bank makes a profit supporting gold mines.

Take Pizarro, the Spanish conquistador, who arrived in Cajamarca, now part of Peru, in 1532 to trick Atahualpa, the last Inca king, into an ambush that led to the collapse of his empire. One of the last acts of Atahualpa was an attempt to buy off the Spanish by offering them a room full of gold and two rooms full of silver. The Spanish took him up on the offer but after they got the gold, they murdered Atahualpa and proceeded to raze the rest of the city to the ground.

Today the ransom room is the only surviving monument to the Inca presence but the region is still being raped for gold: it is the site of Yanacocha, the biggest gold mine in Latin America, which is run by Newmont of Colorado and funded by the World Bank. Almost 500 years, after the Inca died defending their lands, the people of Cajamarca say that their lands are still being seized and local people are dying because of the contamination of local waters.

Yet economists, historians and media alike continue to celebrate the metal for its role. In 1994 World Bank economists lavished praise on Peru for becoming the fastest growing economy in the world by inviting in the new gold mines while in 1998 the historians and media launched into a celebratory frenzy over 150th anniversary of the foundation of California after the famous 1849 Gold Rush.

But for isolated indigenous communities the arrival of gold miners has always meant disease and death, whether it be among the Nomlaki peoples of north-western California in the 1850s or the Yanomami of the Amazon in the 1990s.


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