Jan 222009
Authors: Alex Stephens

Diamonds have long been linked to some of the world’s worst social practices: slavery, terrorism and environmental degradation.

The mining of diamonds in African countries such as Sierra Leone has fueled armed conflicts between government and rebel forces, resulting in ruthless practices of tribal enslavement and even child soldiering (the movie “Blood Diamond” offers an accurate portrayal of the dilemma). Such conflict is invariably the product of uninformed consumer demand for diamonds.

Average diamond buyers are unaware of the consequences related to their jewelry.

To the newly engaged couple, thoughts of diamond-sponsored warlords in Africa are seemingly unassociated with their choice of matrimonial jewelry. After all, how can we expect the simple-minded consumer to see past his decisions to the larger social implications that are entailed by them?

The frenzy of advertising does a good job covering up the harsh truth about diamonds and they are continuing to do so about another precious metal: gold.

Among the list of rare stones and precious metals, gold has been considered the most valuable and highly sought for centuries. Wars were fought, empires were created, and civilizations were eradicated all due to what South American tribes referred to as “the sweat of the gods.”

Beside its everlasting sheen, gold is so valuable because it’s a finite resource. Many scientists estimate only two Olympic-size swimming pools worth of gold exists on Earth, roughly equaling 161,000 tons.

According to January’s issue of “National Geographic,” over half of all existing gold has been mined in the past 50 years as mining technology became more widespread and efficient. And then something changed in mid-2008 — gold became scarcer than ever before.

Old hotbeds of gold mining dried up and the market demand for the metal soared from about $400 per ounce in 2000 to nearly $900 per ounce this January.

To find new sources of gold, companies like Newmont Mining (based in Denver, Colo.) have begun open pit mining operations in various Indonesian islands and other third world locations.

Giant mile-wide holes are drilled into the earth where millions of tons of rock is processed to extract microscopic flecks of gold. The environmental destruction caused by such mines isn’t hard to imagine.

Chemical waste is pumped offshore into deep ocean currents, and refuse is piled into the local forest. To scrounge up enough gold for a simple ring, over 100 tons of earth must be processed.

Other current methods of mining gold are less desirable.

The people of La Rinconada, a small village in the Andes, are regularly coated with the toxic fumes of mercury used to find gold from nearly depleted ancient mine shafts.

Death from the mines, from poisoning, or from starvation frequently occur. African gold mining isn’t much different, only that much of the continent’s interior mines are controlled by warlords whose profit from gold is spent on weapons to fight local governments or capture more land to mine.

The environmental and human cost of gold has never been higher than it is today. Hundreds of thousands of workers suffer deplorable conditions to bring the consumers of China, India and America (the three largest consumers of gold) a resource that is hardly a necessity.

Like diamonds, gold should now be morally boycotted. Each purchase of gold that is made, no matter the quantity, contributes to this situation of social injustice.

The effects of our consumerism on other peoples aren’t always apparent, but we have the responsibility to make the social implications of our decisions, no matter how innocent they seem, to be known.

Alex Stephens is a senior political science major. His column appears Fridays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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