Gold mining

The gold in your jewelry may be beautiful, but mining it has an ugly impact on the global climate.

Mudd: “If we think of gold mining, we have to dig the rock out of the ground and digging rock out of the ground requires diesel, and processing that rock to get the gold out requires energy or electricity.”

That’s Gavin Mudd of RMIT University in Australia. He says mining a ton of gold emits a lot more carbon pollution than mining other metals, like iron, because there’s so little gold in the rock.

It requires so much energy that producing a single ounce can emit a thousand pounds of carbon pollution. That’s the equivalent of driving a gas-powered car for more than one thousand miles.

Since gold is used not only in jewelry, but also in many electronic components, the ounces add up quickly.

Mudd: “We’re getting tens of millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions – just associated with gold mining.”

As mines play out, and gold becomes even more rare, mining it will require even more energy. Mudd says that finding a sustainable source of biodiesel could offset the use of fossil fuels for extraction and trucking. And he’s already seeing solar panels being used for processing.

Mudd: “Certainly for the electricity side, I think there’s some really good directions happening in industry.”

Reporting credit: Daisy Simmons/ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: Copyright protected.

Eileen Mignoni

Eileen Mignoni is a South Florida-based visual journalist who has been working on stories about science, the environment, and energy for nearly 10 years. In addition to her work at Yale Climate Connections,...