“Time is Gold”, “The Golden Gate”, “The Golden Times” are just some of the phrases we often hear. Gold is always associated with wealth, importance and glam. And this makes people to always prefer gold when it comes to jewelry. But beneath its shiny façade hides several grim truths that should make you think twice of carelessly buying gold.
Why do people love gold?
People have various reasons in choosing gold. One of these reasons is that gold is undeniably pretty. It shines brightly. Gold can be partnered to every gem and/or any precious stones without overcasting its own beauty.
Gold is not the rarest metal, but it’s quite hard to find and extract in large quantities with pre-industrial technology. The characteristic of gold of “being highly corrosion-resistant” type of metal makes it more appealing to majority of people even from the ancient time. It is also fairly easy to process and does not tarnish like silver or copper. It does not dissolve in normal acids and solvents.
It is pretty and if you alloy it with other metals it can have a variety of colors. It has long ago been used as a form of money. It retains its timeless value because people love to use this rare element to adorn themselves and their belongings. Ancients such as Egyptian Pharaohs even get buried with gold ornaments and tools.
Since time immemorial, gold is used as a symbol of wealth because of its popularity, it is the top choice of metal when it comes to investment. In fact, there exists the “Gold Standard” – the unit of money fixed to the certain weight of gold.
People love it because of its monetary value too. For instance, some people prefer gold that saving money in the bank since the value of money is inflating. People consider gold as their asset because it can be easily sold or preserved the value of money that they put into it.
And gold is something that is tangible and not requiring too much care such as going to the bank and waiting out for the sellable stocks exchange. People who accumulate gold feel more secure about their money rather than putting it all in the bank.
Historical significance of gold
Gold plays a huge role in shaping human history. Lands colonized, rebellions, wars, economic booms, all of this have something to do with gold.
One historically significant role of gold is its use in jewelry. The decorative purpose of gold can be traced back to the ancient times. During 5000 BCE, Egyptians start using it as jewelry, while in 3000 BCE, the Sumerians started wearing it. It was in the city of Ur where the first gold chains were produced in 2500 BCE.
Whereas, in the early 2nd millennium BCE, the Minoan civilization on Crete was credited with producing the first cable chain jewelry. The extensive variety of techniques were also noted in the Minoans civilization. And these techniques were used to form necklaces, bracelets, earrings, rings, diadems, pendants, pins and brooches.
Moreover, the Chavin civilization of Peru in South America around 1200 BCE, gold played into work, while gold casting was perfected by the Nazca society from 500 BCE. Gold was also used by the Romans as a setting for precious and semi-precious gemstones, and the gold fashion continued into the Byzantine era with the inclusion of pearls, gems and enamels.
One archaeological evidence of gold is the huge number of different artworks made of pure gold were discovered by a notorious German treasure hunter in the ancient citadel of Mycenae located in the mid-eastern Peloponnese of Greece.
From being a decorative jewelry, gold was also used as form of currency. The kingdom of Lydia, modern-day Turkey., used the first pure gold coins with stamped images, under the King Croesus, 561-546 BCE. The Lydian was able to come up with the purest gold using the salt and with high temperature between 600 and 800°C. The Mycenaean civilization also widely used gold coins.
The Egyptians also produced the first known currency exchange ratio which mandated the correct ratio of gold to silver: one piece of gold is equal to two and a half parts of silver.
Then, the Greek and Roman Empires also used gold coins. The Roman bezant was one of the most known gold coins in ancient time. It was first introduced during the reign of Emperor Constantine. It weighed up to 70 Troy grains. It was in currency from the 4th to the 12th centuries CE.
Gold did not just become as form of currency. Gold also played part in religious practices. In fact, the Egyptian has a symbol for gold. It is called Nebu. Oftentimes, the Egyptian referred the god, Ra, as a mountain of gold. In the Bible, the lands of Havilah, near Eden, describes the place where good gold can be found. This was mentioned in Genesis 2:10-12.
In the Inca civilization of Peru, gold was considered the sweat of the sun god Inti. And this made gold as one of the metal used in almost all of religious objects such as masks and sun disks.
According to Vedic belief, Lord Brahma was born from gold. It is believed, that the creator dropped a seed into the water when the world was still dark and lifeless. This seed turned into a radiant golden egg, said to mirror the brightness of the sun itself. And, from this golden egg emerged Lord Brahma or Hiranyagarbha, ‘the one born from gold’. Sacred Hindu texts also tell of gold being the seed of Agni – the Fire God. One of the most revered and invoked gods of Hinduism, Agni is believed to have consummated with water through pure gold.
Socioeconomic impact of Gold
The World Gold Council (WGC), the representative of over 20 of the world’s largest gold mining companies, released two landmark research reports highlighting the direct economic impact of the gold sector as well as its wider socio-economic contributions last 2013. The research revealed both the supply and demand for gold contributed positively to global economic growth.
Consumer demand for physical gold products such as jewelry and small bars and coins was estimated to have directly contributed around US$110 billion in 2012 to the world economy. Additional significant finding of the research was the importance of gold mining to the economies of developing nations.
In this time of Pandemic, the CNBC reported on April 13, 2020 that on Gold soared over 1.5% to its highest in more than seven years. Accordingly, the investors panicked making them purchased the safe-haven metal on fears of coronavirus blow to the global economy and U.S. corporate earnings. This increase on demand gold have direct effect to the economy since the purchased would increase sales which is an economic activity.
Gold is outsourced through mining. So, aside from the sales of selling it on the market, the contributory factor of gold to socioeconomic is actually through mining. According to World Gold Council, gold mining industry is providing opportunities to local businesses, infrastructures to areas, community development programs responding to the local needs and jobs to these local areas.
The PWC in its report Mine 2019 Resourcing the Future stated, “Mining, along with oil and gas, distributes a greater share of its value to governments than almost any other sector. That’s because, on top of direct and indirect taxes, miners also pay substantial royalties in the form of resources rent for the finite resources extracted from the countries in which the Top 40 operate. Last year, the share of value distributed to governments in the form of direct taxes and royalties increased from 19% to 21%.”.
The taxes that these mining companies could give to the government are actually a huge help in creating social services, developmental programs and projects to people and communities.
How is gold produced?
According to How Products Are Made, gold is processed in many ways:
Extraction and Refining
Gold is generally found in two types of deposits: lode (vein) or placer deposits; the mining technique used to extract the gold depends upon the type of deposit. After being extracted, the gold is refined with one of four main processes: floatation, amalgamation, cyanidation, or carbon-in-pulp. Every process is dependent on the initial grinding of the gold ore, and more than one process may be used on the same batch of gold ore.
Drilling, blasting or shovelling around the rocks is one pf many ways used to obtain gold. In lode or vein deposits, the gold is mixed with another mineral in a vein that has filled a split in the surrounding rock. Usually, the mineral used in mixing with gold is quarts. Lode deposits is situated deep underground, the miners digs shafts into ground by using picks and small explosives. Then, they remove the gold ore from the surrounding rock. The gold ore is then gathered up and taken to a mill for refinement.
There are large pieces of gold that have been washed downstream from the lode deposit. These are called as the Placer deposits. These are usually mixed with sand or grave. There are methods used in mining these placer deposits. These methods are hydraulic mining, dredging, and power shoveling.
Once the gold ore has been mined. The gold ore is being washed and filtered at the mine. This act is the preliminary refinement technique. Then, it is brought to the mill. At the mill, gold ore is first combined with water and ground into tiny chunks. The mixture is then further ground in a ball mill.
Separating the gold from the ore
Several methods are then applied to separate gold from ore. By using chemicals and air, gold can be separated from ore. This method is called floatation. A solution containing frothing agent, collecting agent, and mixture of chemicals is being prepared. This is where the finely ground ore is placed. The solution is then aerated—air bubbles are blown in—and the gold attaches to the air bubbles. The bubbles float to the top, and the gold is skimmed off.”
Environmental impact of gold industry
Since gold is obtained through mining, this is very problematic in terms of its environmental impacts. First, the processes done during the extraction of gold can lead to erosion. Erosion endangers and destroys mountains, hills and the overall natural condition of land.
Like any mining practices, gold industry can also cause sink holes when the structure of the mining sites are not properly made.
Moroever, gold industry can also impact water and result to water pollution. According to Okanogan Highlands Alliance, here are the damages gold mining can do to the environment:
Acid Mine Drainage
In North America, mining such as the hold mining in Buckhorn, found out rocks that contain minerals. The sulfides become exposed to water and air as ore and surrounding rock being excavated. This may form sulfuric acid. The acid in turn leaches metals and other substances from the rocks can harm ecosystems. As long as the rock is exposed to air and water, the acid will leach from the rock.
A process that can last hundreds, even thousands of years. Acid is carried off the minesite by rainwater or surface drainage. It can be deposited into nearby streams, rivers, lakes and groundwater. Acid mine drainage is one of the most serious environmental threats posed by mining. The devastating effect on aquatic resources may experience for generations.
Heavy Metal Contamination & Leaching
When the excavated rock that contains metals such as arsenic, cobalt, copper, cadmium, EAD, silver, and zinc comes in contact with water, it can caused serious problem. This problem is what you know now as the heavy metal pollution. Metals are leached out. Then, they carried downstream as water washes over the rock surface. Leaching is accelerated in the low pH conditions such as are created by Acid Mine Drainage.
Processing Chemicals Pollution
When chemical agents (such as cyanide or sulphuric acid used by mining companies to separate the target mineral from the ore) spill, leak, or leach from the mine site into nearby water bodies, chemicals pollution occurs. These chemicals can be highly dangerous both to human and environment.
Erosion and Sedimentation
As erosion of the exposed earth may carry substantial amounts of sediment into streams, rivers and lakes, it can clog riverbeds and smother watershed vegetation, wildlife habitat and aquatic organisms. The increase sedimentation on this part of water can become a huge problem too.
Harmful effects of gold mining to humans
The harmful effects of gold mining is inevitable. The effects will not only negatively impact the environment but also the humans. According to OxFam, the negative effects to humans on the basis of mining are :
- forcing them from their homes and land
- preventing them from accessing clean land and water
- impacting on their health and livelihoods
- causing divisions in communities over who benefits from the mine and who doesn’t
- changing the social dynamics of a community
- exposing them to harassment by mine or government security
The issue on mining even in the ancestral domain has been there for a long time. And until now, the problem that the indigenous people are facing when it comes to land converting into a mining area continues.
One example of this is the tragedy of the Canatuan mine. It was a gold/silver, copper/zinc open-pit mine situated in the province of Zamboanga del Norte on the southern island of Mindanao, Philippines. It was operated from 2004 to January 2014 by TVI Resource Development (Phils) Inc., a former subsidiary of Canadian-based TVI Pacific Inc. The mining happened within Mount Canatuan, a sacred mountain of the Subanen people, who protested against the mining company and its operations.
Since the mining can also cause water pollution, it is also expected that people living near the area may faced challenges to access clean and fresh water. Having the difficulty to access to clean water could really impose health problems especially in this time of pandemic. Also, the presence of heavy metals in water can really affect the health of people living in the area as it can cause digestive problems. Whereas, if chemicals such as mercury can be inhaled, this can cause serious lung problem.
Further, given the negative environmental impact that mining can do, it is clear that it can affect the livelihood of people living in the area as it can affect the agricultural condition of the area. Also, the harassment that people’s living in the area can affect their state of safety and security making it difficult for them to actually have a peaceful community.
And the most alarming is the child labour and unethical labour standard that are happening in countries such as in African nations where illegal mining exists that exploiting the people while robbing them the brighter future that they could have.
Is there such a thing as sustainable gold?
You may be wondering if there is really such thing as sustainable gold. It may sound unbelievable but there is actually sustainable gold. So, how exactly gold became sustainable or what makes it sustainable?
Gold is sustainable when it is ethical, eco-friendly and recycled.
According to Euronews, “Ethical gold is gold that is sourced from artisanal and small scale mining companies. Chopard defines ethical gold as ‘gold acquired from responsible sources, verified as having met international best practice environmental and social standards… ethical gold means good labor conditions, no child labor, gender inequality or unfair pay. Supply chains are also transparent.”
In the same report, eco-friendly gold is cited as “gold being mined with less or minimal environmental impact”. It actually means that these mining companies do not use harmful chemicals in extracting gold. These companies also have environmental restoration program to retain the native or natural ecosystem of the area.
The last but not the least is the recycled gold. This gold are actually gold which are being used and might have been repurposed to cater specefic needs. This practice can lessen the demand to extract gold by mining. And this could encourage producer to be more creative in repurposing the said metal.
What can we do about this?
Knowing how our demand for gold can affect our environment and even us, it is important that we take our part to address it. So when you start buying your gold jewelry, it is important to know of where and how the company obtained the gold. Being aware of where and how they obtained it can help you choose the sustainae company that do not only care for the environment but also for the people.
Check out also if the company is using modern techniques or any technological advancement that helps lessen the impact of mining. Your support to this company makes other companies to reconsider on how to shift to sustainable way of acquiring gold.
As much as possible, prefer to buy recycled gold from companies that promote sustainability and responsible practices. Again, this can create a healthy competition for other companies to rethink on their practices in obtaining gold.
If it is not too necessary, you may avoid buying gold to be able not to contribute to increase the demand on this metal. This way, illegal mining may be discouraged to actually venture on this industry which means there would be lesser children that can be drawn to forced labour in illegal mining.
Most importantly, petition and protest against the mining industry and demand sustainable processes from them. We need to call out governments to protect our lands and waters and communities.