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Nothing Gold Can Stay: Mali, Mercury, Manipulation & More

By Mickey Z.

26 January, 2013

“So we're told this is the golden age/And gold is the reason for the wars we wage.” - Bono

As the West (this time, with France mostly taking the lead), unleashes a frenzy of spin to justify its latest lethal military intervention (this time, with Mali mostly taking the hits), it may be a challenge for some to discern the ulterior motives.

For example, British Prime Minister David Cameron trotted out the standard War on Terror rhetoric (“This is a global threat and it will require a global response... that is about years, even decades, rather than months") while French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian more bluntly defined his nation's aim in Mali as “the total re-conquest of the country.”

Yeah, there’s enough cynical manipulation occurring in West Africa to make Machiavelli drool -- but that’s for a future article. This time around, it was the last line in a short article I just read that lured me into another direction:

Some analysts believe that Malian abandoned natural resources, including gold and uranium reserves, could be one of the reasons behind French war on the country.

Fun Fact: Mali is Africa’s third largest gold producer -- an enterprise that dates back to the great Malian Empire, over 500 years ago.

All That Glitters…

“To value gold over water is to value economy over ecology, that which can be locked up over that which connects all things.” - Rebecca Solnit

While the word "gold" is often synonymous with luxury and we've been conditioned to consider it the ultimate gift, the truth is far more ugly. For a small taste, consider this from the EPA:

"About 20 percent of the world's gold is produced by the artisanal and small-scale gold mining sector. This sector is also responsible for the largest releases of mercury to the environment of any sector globally. A major source of air pollution from mercury, artisanal and small-scale gold mining releases approximately 400 metric tons of airborne elemental mercury each year."

Yep, yet another example of conventional wisdom being anything but wisdom.

The folks at Green Karat add:

“In large scale mechanized mining, there is often little regard for the environment. The danger to biodiversity begins when roads are built for purposes of exploration and as land is cleared for settlement. The ongoing operations of large scale mechanized mining are also terribly destructive both to the land and to adjacent aquatic ecosystems. And all too often, the spoils of the process continue to poison the environment long after commercial operations have ceased."

However, they explain, small scale miners around the world also utilize "excavation and extraction techniques which are harmful both to themselves and to the environment." For example, the cyanide, and mercury used to separate gold from rock often end up dispersed into the environment and/or inhaled by the miners.

In addition, as NoDirtyGold explains, miners are far from the only human impacted by this bloody business: “Around half of all the gold mined from 1995 to 2015 is likely to come from native lands -- the traditional territories of indigenous peoples. Many indigenous peoples live in remote areas that until recently had not been accessible to the mining industry. Government and business interests often do not respect the spiritual and cultural connection indigenous people have to their lands and environment. And their relative isolation from mainstream society often leaves indigenous communities without basic legal and political safeguards.”

Don’t Believe the Hype

“So dawn goes down to day/Nothing gold can stay” - Robert Frost

Golden Globes, gold medals, solid gold, gold this, gold that -- we've been programmed to want gold, fight for gold, even worship gold. If we fall in love, we're even supposed to "prove" it by spending big bucks on, yeah... gold. It that sounds like a sick joke, well, dig this:

The Set-Up: Out of the 2,500 tons of gold mined each year, 80 percent goes into jewelry. This includes the needs created by more than 6,300 weddings taking place each day in the United States (2.3 million per year).

The Punch Line: The amount of already-mined gold could satisfy demand for 50 years, but much of it currently sits in bank vaults and in old, unused jewelry.

Gold’s “value” is based solely upon our collective perception, our willing participation in a deadly charade. Wouldn’t it be a gigantic step in a dark green direction to stop viewing natural elements as "resources" that must be immediately extracted and sold?

But then again, maybe we should ask the everyday folks in Mali what they think?


Note: To continue having conversations like this, come see Mickey Z. in person on Jan. 27 in NYC at Occupy the Climate: Hurricane Sandy, Eco-Activism, & the Vegan Option

Mickey Z. is the author of 11 books, most recently the novel Darker Shade of Green. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on an obscure website called Facebook.

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