All That Glitters Is Not Gold

Who you gonna call to end mining woes? GoldBusters.

| November/December 1999

You shop at co-ops, eat dolphin-friendly tuna, invest in socially responsible companies, bike to work, use unbleached, recycled-content toilet paper--all fine and dandy, but where do you stand on gold jewelry? If you're buying it, say anti-gold mining activists, you're more Cleopatra than Rachel Carson.

About 80 percent of the gold mined worldwide goes into jewelry. Activists who believe the environmental and social destruction caused by the mining industry is a high price to pay for gold trinkets are finally taking their message to mainstream consumers. One recent example is 'GoldBusters,' a new anti-mining campaign launched by environmental and human rights groups: 'GoldBusters is a campaign which, it is hoped, will rob gold of its luster, much as the anti-fur campaign has done in the fur industry,' writes one of the group's founders, Ruth Rosenhek, in PanGaia (Summer 1999).

Given recent events, a gold boycott doesn't seem all that far-fetched. In Montana, a state that virtually built itself on gold mining, voters last fall passed a landmark initiative that all but bans new gold mines. Specifically, it forbids companies from using cyanide, a substance essential to modern gold mining. Why did people in the 'Treasure State' give mining companies the shaft?

In 1997, Canyon Resources announced plans for a new gold mine called 'Seven Up Pete.' The proposed site is half the size of Manhattan and is located near the banks of Montana's fabled Blackfoot River (of A River Runs Through It fame). Citing a legacy of contaminated rivers, poisoned groundwater, and the release of 135 million gallons of cyanide by Montana mines since 1982, angry environmentalists set out to rally opposition to the Blackfoot plan while at the same time garnering votes for the initiative.

Missoula, a lefty enclave 90 miles downstream from the proposed mine, became the battle's epicenter. Missoula-based Women's Voices for the Earth (WVE) launched a fund-raising program ('Mine Your Jewelry Box, Not the Blackfoot') in which supporters donated unwanted gold jewelry to be recycled into new pieces. 'Quite a lot was donated,' says Sally Brown of WVE. 'Why desecrate the environment to decorate your body? Use some old gold if you need it.'

At Missoula's Hellgate High School, senior Jenna Wilkinson campaigned against class rings. 'People were, like, we need to deal with the class ring and gold issue because it's such a big thing locally,' says Wilkinson, now a freshman at Vassar. 'We talked to as many seniors as we could and convinced a lot of them not to buy [the rings].'

It's not just Montana. Last year, Wisconsin passed a 'mining moratorium law,' which requires companies to show that they have operated a pollution-free mine in North America for at least 10 years before they can open a new mine. On a national level, a number of bills currently in Congress aim to reform the antiquated 1872 Mining Law that imposes no environmental standards for hardrock mining. 'Although coal, oil, and gas industries face federal environmental regulations, hardrock mining has avoided specific legislation,' says the Mineral Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

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