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COMMENTARY · 8th January 2012
Merv Ritchie
This should be the originating thought. Why do we do what we do? We know why we plant crops, we know why we mine coal and we know why we drill for oil, we use these products for our survival. Not so for gold so we must ask some serious hard questions.

Gold is mined, melted into large pure blocks called bars, and then stockpiled. Very little is used productively. The largest ever single productive use for gold has been to protect astronauts from space radiation. The Space Shuttles of NASA had approximately 50 kilograms each involved in their construction.

Out of all the gold used every year, only 10 percent is used in any technological manner (mostly electronics). Almost 90% of the annual use of gold is strictly for non productive efforts and this is still a small amount.

Currently there is over 30,000 tonnes of this metal stockpiled as gold bullion bars all across the globe, just sitting, doing nothing.

In approximate terms, the world collects 4000 tonnes of gold every year; 60 percent from mining it and 40 percent from recovering already used gold, ie jewellery.

Half of this gold production is used in making new jewellery. Of the remaining 2000 tonnes almost 40% is poured into moulds to make more gold bullion bars (to add to stockpiles) and just over 10 % is used in technological applications. Worldwide, in 2010, only 450 tonnes of gold was used productively and in 2009 technological uses accounted for 400 tonnes of consumption.

One third of the recycled gold could meet the entire worlds technological demand. The current stockpile is greater than twelve years of steady mining to meet a productive demand that is only 25 percent of that volume. Meaning if we only used gold for productive purposes (not jewellery) we would already have over 65 years of suppy.

Although Africa used to be the gold production center this is no longer the case. Mining centers are now spread across the globe on every continent in almost equal production proportions. The usage of gold for jewellery, however, is completely unequal as China, India and the Middle East show off using about 75% of the worlds annual use of gold for jewellery. The North American demand is less than 10%.

The common method of extracting and recovering gold from a full production mine is to mix cyanide with water and the crushed material. Arsenic is also commonly associated with gold recovery and these two poisons generally remain in the environment in waste (tailings) ponds. The Yellowknife gold mining operation, called the Giant Mine, is responsible for destroying most bodies of water in the region for human consumption. Great Slave Lake, the deepest lake in North America and ninth largest in the world is now too polluted with arsenic to drink.

The context is important to relate. The Giant Mine at Yellowknife is recorded as having recovered only 200 tonnes in total.

Two proposed gold mines in British Columbia have published their expected recoverable gold; Prosperity at 5 million oz - 141 tonnes and Galore at 4 million oz – 113 tonnes.

Currently there is 30,000 tonnes already stockpiled and almost 1000 tonnes is being added to this stockpile every year.

Enough jewellery is being recycled every year to meet all the medical and industrial uses of gold by a factor of three.

One has to ask the question. Why do we do what we do? Why do our friends and neighbours wish to participate in these gold mining activities when the only result is the destruction of the habitat. Yes, industrialists will pay them to destroy the environment however there is no net benefit to anyone anywhere; not the industrialists, not the bankers, not the nations, not society or the citizens. There is only two results; bigger and bigger piles of the stuff sitting unused, and a poisoned environment.

This is utter insanity. Why would I accept money from you to poison all my water and land when you have no use for the product taken from my land? This would be as funny as a Monty Python skit if it wasn’t so serious. Just ask the people in Yellowknife. One of the old Giant Mines tailings ponds has recently overflowed into a clean water source the community was hoping to use. Great Slave Lake, which drains into the Mackenzie River continues to be contaminated by the leaching of the arsenic, which was pumped into expired shafts under and around the lake. All for only 200 tonnes of gold, that no one needs.

Can anyone honestly justify this activity? Why we do what we do?

Some of the figures used in this article for approximations and accuracy were derived from the World Gold Council. Others were taken directly from the associated websites.