On Friday 20th of September millions of people around the world went on a global climate strike. Thanks to student activists like Greta Thunberg, knowledge is spreading about the threat of climate change to human life and our planet. It has been made clear that the Amazon is our first line of defence against climate change and the massive deforestation taking place there is a cause of a significant rise in CO2 in the atmosphere and global warming. Political corruption and the vested interests of big business are using deforestation to clear land to grow crops and feed cattle. This is fuelled by the rise in demand for meat in the developed world. But did you know that the gold you wear is another cause of the devastation taking place in the rainforest of the Amazon?
The Amazon is not just a source of forests for loggers or land for farming and feeding cattle, this fertile area has valuable reserves of gold buried underground and in river beds. Rising gold prices over the last decade have created new gold rushes across the Global South. In South America criminal gangs, inequality and poverty have led to gold rushes much further into the Rainforest than ever before.
Artisanal Small-scale Gold Mining (ASGM) is often illegal and dangerous. This type of mining, not drug trafficking, is the biggest earner for criminal gangs in Peru where it generates $2.9 billion annually. Gangs often use slave labour, with basic tools and toxic chemicals used to extract the gold. Poor migrant men and families also flock to the Amazon to work as miners. They come in search of a way to feed themselves and provide their families with a better way of life. Poverty forces them to think for the short term, not about the effects their mining has on the future of the Amazon. Lack of knowledge and training means they use unsafe and highly destructive methods of mining.
Mercury and cyanide are used to separate gold from ore. Mercury is especially toxic and never biodegrades. It can cause many illnesses in humans including weakened immune systems and organ failure. It is released as toxic gas and pollutes the air and river beds, killing plant and animal life. Approximately 100 tons of mercury is released in the Amazon each year through ASGM. Small-scale mining makes up 30% of all global mercury emissions. Every square inch of the planet now has mercury contamination. This threatens the planet and human health on a global level and ASGM is the single biggest cause.
Add to this the sheer scale of ASGM and its impact on the Amazon becomes clear. At least 20 million people work directly in ASM in approximately 70 countries, and 80 to 100 million are dependent on it globally for their livelihood. The Amazon Socio-Environmental Geo-Referenced Information Project (RAISG) monitors rainforest deforestation. At the end of 2018 they revealed a map showing 2,312 sites in 245 areas, across six Amazon countries where illegal mining was taking place. Greenpeace describes the artisanal gold mining in the Brazilian rainforest as an epidemic. Scientists at Wake Forest University’s Center for Amazonian Scientific Innovation (CINCIA) also carried out research at the end of 2018, identifying 170,000 acres of primary Peruvian rainforest destroyed by small-scale gold mining in the past five years. If the current level of deforestation continues the Amazon will be gone in 40 years.
So what should the millions of people around the world who care about the wellbeing of the planet and its people do? Educate themselves about this problem. Watch Amazon Aid’s documentary River of Gold and look for clean sources of gold. When inequality and poverty are the drivers of the most destructive forms of artisanal mining, boycotting the sale of gold cannot be the solution. If we want to stop the destruction of the Amazon, we need to be able to trace gold from its source. This will undermine the global market in illegal gold and help poor communities to mine responsibly, away from protected areas of the rainforest. Work with us to be part of the solution and make an informed choice. Buy Fairtade Gold and choose consciously.