[Marxism] Gold, water and ecological crisis

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Dec 30 05:50:40 MST 2005

(When I was in Turkey, I watched a BBC World report on gold, which is 
selling at a higher price than ever. They explain this in terms of its 
diminishing supplies and an increased demand, especially in jewelry which 
the newly prosperous middle classes in India and China buy as a sign that 
they have "made it". I have always been convinced that dwindling supplies 
of water pose a larger environmental threat than they do for oil. While 
there might be substitutes for oil, there are none for water.)

NY Times, December 30, 2005
The Cost of Gold
A Drier and Tainted Nevada May Be Legacy of a Gold Rush

ELKO, Nev. - Just outside the chasm of North America's biggest open-pit 
gold mine there is an immense oasis in the middle of the Nevada desert. It 
is an idyllic and isolated spot where migratory birds often alight for a 
stopover. But hardly anything is natural about it.

This is water pumped from the ground by Barrick Gold of Toronto to keep its 
vast Goldstrike mine from flooding, as the gold company, the world's third 
largest, carves a canyon 1,600 feet below the level of northern Nevada's 

Nearly 10 million gallons a day draining away in the driest state in the 
nation - and the fastest growing one, propelled by the demographic rocket 
of Las Vegas - is just one of the many strange byproducts of Nevada's 
tangled love affair with gold.

An extensive review of government documents and court records, and scores 
of interviews with scientists and present and former mine industry workers 
and regulators, show that an absence of federal guidelines, of the sort 
that are commonplace for coal or oil, allowed gold wide latitude to operate 
here in the rural fastness of the desert, perhaps more than any other 
American industry.

The costs - to Nevada, its neighbors and even to the rest of the country - 
are only now coming into focus as diminishing ores foreshadow gold mining's 
eventual demise and a more urbanized West begins to express concerns over 
water shortages and mining's other legacies.

Barrick says the effects of its pumping will last at most a few decades. 
But government scientists estimate it could take 200 years or more to 
replenish the groundwater that it and neighboring mine companies have 
removed, with little public attention or debate, as they meet soaring 
consumer demand for jewelry and gold's price tops $500 an ounce.

Goldstrike, meantime, may have only 10 years left, Barrick says, and most 
of the state's 20 or so other major mines are not expected to last much 
longer. When they are gone, the vast pits they leave behind will create a 
deficit in the aquifer equivalent to 20 to 25 years of the total flow of 
Nevada's longest river, the Humboldt, according to state figures tallied by 
independent scientists. That is three times as much water as New York City 
stores in its entire upstate reservoir system. "When they stop pumping, 
what you're going to hear is a huge sucking sound," said Robert Glennon, a 
law professor at the University of Arizona who has written on water issues 
in the West. "The impact on the Humboldt River will be catastrophic."

That is not all. Nevada's gold mines will bequeath more toxic mercury waste 
in their mountainous rock piles than any other industry, about 86 percent 
of the nation's total in 2003, according to the most recent figures from 
the Environmental Protection Agency. They already generate more than 3 
percent of the airborne mercury pollution, the agency says, equivalent to 
25 or more average coal-fired power plants.

full: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/30/national/30gold.html

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