LETTERS

Bust pregnancies, not gold

The article by Ruth Rosenhek, "Water is More Precious than Gold," in your Summer 2000 issue is overdrawn. To begin with, her proposal to reduce the production of gold would increase its scarcity and hence increase its price. Higher prices would increase the pressure for amateur mining in third-world countries with their ecologically hazardous practices such as mercury amalgamation and distillation. The example of the Omai mine in Guyana is but a good example of irresponsible mining practices, not those of responsible corporate mining companies. Sodium cyanide, by the way, is too expensive to waste; corporate mining companies recycle it.

Her suggestion that the gold stored in national banks as a premier fungible asset to back their nation's paper currency would be immediately available for industrial use is not credible. The U. S. Congress, for example, has consistently blocked any action to reduce the gold assets at Fort Knox even though it backs a continuously smaller proportion of the U.S. circulating paper currency.

She notes that "gold mining is a significant source of revenue for many families in the United States as well as in developing countries." In developing countries, its contribution is more than a "significant source of revenue." In Central Africa, for example, gold is Zimbabwe's most important export after tobacco; a critical component of its national standard of living. In South Africa, of its $31 billion in exports, $4 billion is contributed by the sale of gold. Gold mines in South Africa are major employers. In a country whose population is 75 percent black, elimination of gold mine employment would result in an economic disaster fomenting revolution. In the Americas, the Dominican Republic depends on its one gold mine to contribute almost one-third of its export income; a major factor in its economy.

Rosenhek's reference to the successful anti-fur campaign which wiped out the fur industry in the Americas and Europe is a prime example of the horrific damage that activists can do. That campaign thrust the Native Americans of northern Canada into extreme poverty. The protesters made no attempt to provide an alternative to their victims or bother to do anything about them. They just left them without their generation-old means of survival. And what did these well-fed protesters achieve other than heart-rending distress on the part of those whose livelihood depended on this trade?

The corporate gold mining industry is quite conscious of their environment. Corporate industry includes the cost of reclamation as part of its production costs. Their efforts in mine reclamation have won awards from American Cultural Resources Association Industry, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and Excellence in Reclamation awards from Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, South Carolina, Washington and New Zealand.

Gold mining operations contribute but a very, very tiny drop to a very big bucket compared to the despoiling effects of escalating population. From north of Los Angeles to south of San Diego, for example, about a trillion gallons of runoff ranging from human waste to dog droppings flows onto the Southern California beaches every year. Officials must close those beaches after almost every rain. On the other side of the world, the Ganges River carries billions of gallons of human excrement plus a monthly load of the cremated remains of some 30 million Hindus added to the brew. The world is full of stories like this. The outflow of all the gold mines in the world can't even remotely match the outflow of human waste.

Burgeoning population is the great despoiler. According to the World Health Organization, the world population is now about six billion and will grow to about 12 billion in the next 50 years. The current number of malnourished people seeking relief is now over three billion-this in the face of a per capita decline in cropland of 20 percent during just the past decade. What will be the number of malnourished people in 50 years?

What Ms. Rosenhek would better focus on is reducing the exploding population, the overwhelming source of pollution. If she wants to make a contribution to the world, it would be to start a PregnancyBusters program.

—SAMUEL F. ETRIS

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