The history of gold – that is, the history of gold extracted from the planet surface – is inextricably linked with human history.
Gold has always been as much a shining harness as a coveted bauble.
It has so many qualities we would like to think we ourselves possess: It’s rare but not lonely and scarce, it’s easy to handle and mold but keeps its shape once formed, it doesn’t corrode, and it doesn’t react explosively with other elements.
It’s so pretty, and so desirable.
A nice symbol for the ages, which is probably why we’ve used it in so many different capacities since before recorded history, and why we still like it so much today.
Anything rare and precious to us always comes at a price. And it’s not just the one we pay upon purchase.
The Grasberg mine in Papua, Indonesia, is just one in a long line of gold mines around the world and through the ages, but it has the distinction of being the largest. The mine embodies so much of humanity’s relationship with gold.
There’s much for some and very little for others: The mine has brought vast wealth to its owners, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., and the Indonesian government.
Those almost nothing for those who extract the gold in the thin air of Puncak Jaya, the highest island mountain in the world (16,024 ft/4884 metres). And whatever else isn’t considered precious – the mine is also the world’s third-largest copper source – is simply discarded.
According to Earthworksaction, a single gold ring generates more than 20 tons of mine waste on average. And the Grasberg mine produces and dumps over 200,000 tonnes of tailings (mine waste) per day (over 80 million tonnes per year).
Mining waste is toxic – the ‘rest’ of the earth from Grasberg mine, the parts considered not precious enough for harvest, have buried over 230 sq. km (88 sq. miles) of forest and wetlands, the surrounding rivers are considered unsuitable for aquatic life.
The high price also includes human rights violations and displacement of indigenous peoples. Half of the gold extracted around the world is mined on the territories of traditional indigenous peoples.
So the next time you find yourself reaching for the gold ring, you might consider its real price.
You can also consider reaching for a gold ring mined and made by supporters of the FairGold initiative.