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chuck kottke

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This thread is for a discussion about the true cost of gold.

The Real Price of Gold — National Geographic Magazine

We face here a problem - there's been gold discovered in minable quantities not far from where I live, and it's in an ore body that goes underneath a major river.

The type of mining being proposed would be open pit, then underground up to (and possibly extending beyond) the middle of the river (underneath the river, that is). Since gold is often associated with sulfide minerals, and since there's a chance of acids forming from the broken up material that could leech heavy metals or arsenates, it's a serious concern.

Arguably, the tailings, low-grade ore, and waste rock could be mixed with ground limestone to neutralize any acid-generating potential, but a recent mine where this was attempted failed to fully neutralize the waste materials put back into the pit, and resulting contaminated water flowed into the nearby river. It might work if done right, but is it worth the risk? What happens when the river changes course? How dangerous would a cave-in be?? How essential is gold, copper, zinc, lead, and other metals obtained from these types of mines?? And for concentrating the gold, a process of sprinkling a cyanide compund solution onto the pile of ore, and collecting the leachate yielding gold and other metals is one proposed method on the table. This, right next to a river currently of excellent water quality. And as metals prices rise, the pressure and political payoffs mount as well. Acording to the USGS, in roughly 20 years, many of these ore bodies will be fully extracted, leaving us with less and less of these metals to concentrate - so it's not even sustainable at current consumption rates.

But that's just the tip of the ice-berg. This is a global phenomenon, and where the large multi-national corporations haven't been busy, small scale miners, often using dangerous materials and employing slave labor have been busy. All for that shiny yellow metal and it's adherents in the market. One has to ask, what do we need so much gold for in the first place?? It is worth all the harm done, just for looks and hoarding? While some could be obtained from placer deposits, with little to no harm to anyone, most is not. So, consider the options, and choose better.

Electronics use their fair share. Even if our PC's contain very little gold (roughly 3/100th of an ounce in each one), it adds up quickly, with the cell phones, extra laptops, printers, keyboards, cameras, u-name-it that we possess. I'd be willing to bet that each one of us has as much as 1/10th of an ounce of gold & other precious metals lolling about in those nifty modern devices - roughly 90 bucks worth; which in 5-10 years will be the equivalent of useless boat-anchors. We really need to recycle these things, because the price of the precious metals are simply underpriced for the damage done to get at them. Difficult to replace owing to their excellent conducting properties and corrosion resistance, they will undoubtedly be here for the long haul, but there's a need not currently being met to reclaim them from the best "ore" in the world - that old PC.

Anyhow, that's my pitch.

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Recycling would happen more routinely if there were readily available places to take the used electronic devices or curbside pickup. Also, if the old electronic devices were given a minimum price guaranteed, then the devices would be recycled. If we ignore the problem, it won't go away automatically. We must be the change we wish to see, and sometimes that means having a government which promotes the rights things. Externalities are everyone's business.

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Chuck, I've had some thoughts recently about the issue with Austrian economics and the reliance on some element of fixed supply as a standard of value for currency...


The point about gold becoming worth progressively more with time (and in conjunction with the growth of a population) has me thinking of alternatives to physical things as money. We're used to thinking of anything digital as being imaginary (after all, you can copy data over and over in the digital world). But I think it's possible that one day we could create a currency (or credit system) that is digital, but has the characteristics of an un-copyable element like gold. The key would be to make each unit of credit have a serial number - this way, you could track where the credits are and who owns them. As long as there is a system whereby computers can self-regulate and detect artificial injections of credit, you could theoretically maintain a global economy without inflation.


The software necessary to oversee credit serial numbers might be similar to what we see today with bittorrent... these are just speculative thoughts.

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the thing is when something goes digital there is always someone out there who works to hack it.


That's why I mentioned a "bittorrent"-style matrix of computers that check the entire system each time a transaction is made. No one computer could trick all the others.

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That's an interesting proposal, Jay! An electronic 'lock-box' for secure investment, so market fluctuations could never erode it's true value.. I often wonder if much of gold currently being traded isn't just on paper anyhow? But that's a very good idea, if it could be implemented, it would improve stability in the economic world I think as well.

But I wonder, if we wouldn't be better creating investments into commodity metals that are plentiful (virtually inexhaustible), mining does minimal damage, and have continuous demand in the economy, like silicon or aluminum? Perhaps not as stable a guarantee if the demand drops suddenly, so maybe that's not the answer.. We could always just invest in hermetically sealed containers of dried food, which would be the best form of secure investment? But in reality, yes, the computer lock-box investment makes sense..

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  • 9 months later...

Onward to the sea-floor for them there nuggets!Wired 15.03: Race to the Bottom

The question still remains as to what effects on the environment this might have, but it looks to be a much safer way to go at the onset. Fortunately the company with the proposal has taken the time to hire some marine biologist, oceanographers, and the like to determine what impacts there may be, and how to minimize any harm done. There's Gold in them there hills - undersea hills, that is!

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