Recently there have been articles posted on environmental sites suggesting that, since ALL gold mining is inherently damaging to the environment, consumers should boycott gold products. But this is not accurate.
It is true that most gold mining is extremely harmful, but this is not always the case. It is the toxic effects of cyanide and mercury that cause the problems, as well as the physical impact of large-scale open cast mining. Small-scale mining, carried out without chemicals, need not be destructive.
This photo shows villagers in Jujuy province, in northern Argentina. They extract gold by ‘washing’ the alluvial gravel that they dig from dry riverbeds. Without the use of chemicals, it takes a lot of hard work to extract a small amount of gold. When the rainy season comes, the rivers fill up, the riverbed returns to its original state, and work comes to an abrupt halt.
In South America, a number of small-scale communities work this way. In Jujuy province, the villagers choose to sell their gold to the EcoAndina Foundation. This is a non-governmental organisation that helps safeguard village life through sustainable energy, sustainable agriculture, and environmentally friendly mining. Without the revenue generated from gold, more of Jujuy’s villagers would depart for the major cities, where they risk falling into the cycle of hopeless poverty that traps so many of Argentina’s migrant workers.
Refusing to buy gold from these people would do nothing to help the environment, but would do plenty of harm to some of the poorest communities in a country that has already taken an economic battering in recent years.
Don’t tar all gold mining with the same brush – some of it deserves our support.