The Dirty Truth About Gold

Written By Jason Williams

Posted February 22, 2024

ironic gold cycle

“Gold gets dug out of the ground in Africa, or someplace. Then we melt it down, dig another hole, bury it again and pay people to stand around guarding it… anyone watching from Mars would be scratching their head.” — Warren Buffett

Dear Reader,

The above statement, while seemingly simple, underscores a complex web of problems that are deeply embedded in the gold mining industry.

And at the heart of these issues lies a paradox: Gold itself is not the problem; rather, the methods by which we extract it present a myriad of environmental, social, and economic consequences.

Gold Isn’t the Problem, Gold Mining Is

So in this article, my aim is to delve into the multifaceted problems associated with gold mining, offering a critical examination of the industry’s practices…. 

From the environmental degradation caused by large-scale mining operations to the social injustices that often accompany them, the repercussions of gold mining extend far beyond the confines of the mines themselves.

As we peel back the layers, it will become very evident that the allure of gold is innately tainted by the adverse impacts of its procurement.

But in doing so, this piece seeks to highlight that the crux of the issue is not the precious metal itself but the unsustainable and often exploitative means by which it is mined.

Negative Environmental Impact

The environmental toll of gold mining is both profound and pervasive, casting a long shadow over the ecosystems and communities that lie in its wake.

gold's environmental impact

At the core of these environmental impacts are the methods used to extract gold, which are often invasive and highly destructive…

Traditional gold mining involves the excavation of large open pits or the digging of extensive underground tunnels, practices that significantly disrupt the natural landscape.

And the process of extracting gold from ore is equally detrimental, typically relying on the use of toxic chemicals like cyanide and mercury to separate the precious metal from the surrounding material.

This reliance on hazardous substances has dire consequences for the environment..

In some cases, for every gold ring that adorns a finger, an astonishing 20 tons of waste tainted with cyanide is produced.

This figure is a stark illustration of the inefficiency and environmental disregard inherent in current gold mining practices.

Even more alarming is the fact that after the gold is extracted, 99.99% of the remaining material can be classified as toxic waste, a testament to the extensive environmental degradation caused by the industry.

The repercussions of these practices extend far beyond the immediate vicinity of the mines, too.

The widespread use of mercury in gold mining has precipitated a dramatic increase in mercury levels across the globe.

In the atmosphere, mercury levels have surged by 500%, a figure that underscores the far-reaching impact of gold mining activities.

Similarly, the world’s oceans have not been spared, with mercury levels rising by 200%.

These increases pose a significant threat to both marine and terrestrial ecosystems, as well as to human health, highlighting the urgent need for a major change in the way we access the gold beneath our feet.

But the environment isn’t the only thing detrimentally impacted by the current unsustainable practices in the gold mining industry…

Devastating Social Consequences

The social ramifications of gold mining are as heart-wrenching as they are widespread, touching the lives of millions in the most adverse ways imaginable.

gold's societal impact

At the heart of the industry’s dark underbelly is the displacement of communities, a consequence that has seen over 25 million people across the globe uprooted due to conflicts over mining and mine ownership.

This staggering figure lays bare the tumult and turmoil that often accompany mining operations, as lands that once provided sustenance and a sense of belonging are transformed into battlegrounds over the precious metal.

Moreover, the health implications for those involved in or living near mining operations are dire.

Approximately 1 million miners are poisoned annually by mercury, a toxic element used in the gold extraction process.

This alarming statistic not only highlights the immediate health risks posed by mercury exposure, but also underscores the long-term environmental and health crises that such practices precipitate.

Perhaps the most harrowing aspect of gold mining, however, is its impact on children.

Nearly 1 million children find themselves in the throes of illegal gold mining operations, not only enduring harsh and unsafe working conditions but also being subjected to the most egregious human rights violations, including forced prostitution.

This is a stark reminder of the industry’s pervasive disregard for basic human dignity and rights.

Moreover, an additional million children are trapped in perilous labor conditions in legally operating mines, a testament to the urgent need for reform in both legal and illegal mining sectors.

These children, robbed of their innocence and thrust into the depths of exploitation, embody the urgent need for a global reevaluation of the gold mining industry.

Their plight serves as a poignant call to action, urging us to look beyond the glitter of gold and confront the profound human cost of its extraction.

But, again, the social consequences of current gold mining techniques isn’t the only problem plaguing the industry (although it is probably the most heart-wrenching).

Failed Economic Model

The economic sustainability of the gold mining industry is teetering on the brink of failure, a reality underscored by several indicators…

gold's failed economics

Central to this failing economic model is the stark absence of significant gold discoveries over the past few decades.

This drought in new finds is not for lack of trying, either…

The industry invests heavily in exploration, yet the success rate is abysmally low.

Less than 0.1% of explored sites ever transition into productive mines, a statistic that reflects the diminishing returns and increasing challenges facing gold exploration.

Compounding this issue is the fact that a mere 10% of discovered gold deposits are deemed economically viable.

This means that the vast majority of gold discoveries cost more to extract than the value they would fetch on the market, rendering them impractical for commercial mining.

This reality paints a picture of an industry chasing increasingly elusive profits, investing heavily in exploration with minimal chances of return.

But the economic inefficiencies of gold mining extend beyond the extraction process to the post-mining phase.

Storing extracted gold incurs substantial fees, which can erode the value of the stored gold by nearly 1% per year like a tax on ownership.

This ongoing expense adds another layer of economic strain, diminishing the overall return on investment for mined gold.

These factors collectively signal a pressing need for a paradigm shift within the gold mining industry.

The current model, characterized by dwindling discoveries, low success rates, and high operational costs, is unsustainable in the long term.

This calls for innovative approaches and strategies that can revitalize the industry, making it both economically viable and environmentally responsible.

Coming Soon

But I don’t want you thinking I’m all doom and gloom. Because I’m not….

And that’s because there is a solution to all of the issues plaguing the gold mining industry…

It’s a solution that will end the environmental impact of gold mining permanently…

A solution that will negate every single devastating social consequence as well…

And one that addresses the failed economic model upon which the gold mining industry has been built.

But before we get to that, there’s another industry whose issues I need to address first…

And you’ll have to tune in tomorrow to find out more about that.

To your wealth,


Jason Williams

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After graduating Cum Laude in finance and economics, Jason designed and analyzed complex projects for the U.S. Army. He made the jump to the private sector as an investment banking analyst at Morgan Stanley, where he eventually led his own team responsible for billions of dollars in daily trading. Jason left Wall Street to found his own investment office and now shares the strategies he used and the network he built with you. Jason is the founder of Main Street Ventures, a pre-IPO investment newsletter; the founder of Future Giants, a nano cap investing service; and authors The Wealth Advisory income stock newsletter. He is also the managing editor of Wealth Daily. To learn more about Jason, click here.

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