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Environment

The price of gold – is it worth it

I had my first intimate connection with gold at age 10 when I flew over the handlebars of my bicycle and landed on my front tooth, which my dentist father had to fix by replacing most of it with gold.
 |  Ross Liggins  | 

Of course I had a million-dollar, (one hundred dollars in those days) smile. Eventually it was replaced by a cheaper equally effective material so now my smile is pretty average. Gold is still used in dentistry but to a much lesser degree. But did you know that nearly half the gold mined is used for jewellery? Around 7% is used in electronics and other industries and the rest is minted coins or bullion sitting in bank vaults all around the world, as investments for those with excess cash and as a hedge against economic downturns for central governments and banks.

Speaking of jewellery, did you know that the production of one gold wedding ring creates 20 tonnes of waste, which has to be stored in huge tailings ponds many of which have failed all around the world causing catastrophic damage to the environment and human health. You have to ask yourself if the allure of gold is worth the environmental cost?

Some companies have abysmal records for dumping toxic tailings into water sources and trampling on indigenous rights. According to the environmental organisation  Earthworks, the worst offenders are Freeport McMoRan, Rio Tinto, Newmont and OK Tedi Mining Ltd.

Here in the Coromandel we have OceanaGold which according to Reuter’s reports also has a blemished record, especially in El Salvadore where it took the government to court in the World Bank for not issuing mining permits because of environmental damage caused by one of their companies, Pacific Rim. Oceana lost the case and were forced to pay $8 million in costs. In the Philippines it was accused of waste dumping into water courses and human rights abuses.

According to Statista.org, in 2021 the export value of gold from New Zealand was US$516 million for which the government received only NZ$5 million which to me seems like a very paltry sum considering the risk to humans and the environment this industry poses. “What about the jobs created?” some will ask. According to the Reserve Bank “employment in Aotearoa is near maximum sustainable levels,” so where are the new workers going to be found for the planned expansion of mining?

We already have a skills shortage in NZ. So, are the vacancies likely to be filled by imported workers, putting even more pressure on our already overloaded infrastructure?

And then we have Shane Jones, minister of Resources, Regional Development, Oceans and Fisheries.  How on earth did a person who has had serious lapses in integrity, when he allegedly used taxpayer money for his private jet hire, get to have so much power?   Let’s hope he doesn’t let the taxpayer foot the bill for a gold mining company’s tailings dam collapse. One can only imagine what destructive industry supporting decisions he’s going to make as Fisheries Minister. Goodbye Freddie (the fish).

He recently made a very immature comment in parliament in relation to the possible demise of the endangered Archie’s frog, which he named Freddie which lives in the forest at Wharekirauponga and which is about to be mined for gold. He and some of his government colleagues seem bent on trading our endangered species, native forests and waterways, for more precious dollars.

They are introducing fast track legislation which places resource use decisions in the hands of hand-picked “experts” and three ministers, Shane Jones, Chris Bishop and Simeon Brown who can override their experts’ decisions if they decline an application. These three have ultimate power over legislation that allows virtually no public input by communities who will be affected.

Environmental protection organisations, and many members of the legal and scientific communities are horrified by this proposed legislation citing it as a war on the environment for dubious short-term gain.

Closer to home, our local MP Scott Simpson is on record on an Altbays podcast last year as saying “for the last 50 years there has been a broad consensus that there will be no mining north of the Kopu Hikuai. I support that and I would be one of the first, if not the first to lie in front of the bulldozer if mining were to commence at Kuaotunu or somewhere like that…”

Scott recently stated that in the new government’s policy, there would be no change to the existing situation, but that he supported mining south of the Kopu Hikuai, as it helped provide the minerals we need for industry. This is true except for the fact that the majority of gold mined here is by overseas companies and is exported, the beneficiaries of which are the shareholders of those companies.

So, although we all need the minerals mined for our way of life, it’s vital that the mining is done in areas, where environmental damage from accident or negligence will be minimal. You wouldn’t drill for oil in Lake Wanaka or have a sand mine at Cathedral Cove or New Chums, so why would you have tailings pits, filled with toxic material in areas vulnerable to environmental damage.  And for what? Regional development? I have always wondered why Waihi looks quite run down. I could be mistaken but it doesn’t look like a very wealthy town. And why is the average income way below the national average? Or is it so that the few who are wealthy enough to own shares in gold companies can buy another new car, or overseas trip or perhaps a new Prada handbag?

Let’s tell this government that we want to preserve our beautiful natural environment. We won’t trade our forests, rivers and endangered species for more materialism. and please write and tell Scott Simpson that you will join him lying down in front of Shane’s bulldozers if or when they come rolling over the hills of the conservation estate.