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GREENINGS: Unpacking the winning bling (Nov. 2019)

December 9th, 2019 · 1 Comment

Let’s stop celebrating symbols of destruction

Bling bling! Jaws dropped and the media was bedazzled by the newly unveiled Toronto Raptors championship rings on October 23. For the team’s opening game, each player was awarded a golf-ball of 10 karat gold covered in 14 carat diamonds, and the nearly 20,000 fans watching at Scotiabank Arena were given replicas. Instead of being star struck, I feel sick. Instead of celebrating the making and baring of those rings, we should be denouncing them and the culture that clouds the story they really tell.

Bling is all about “making a statement”. That statement never seems to have much to say about the devastating cost of getting gold and diamonds into our hands. According to Osgoode Law Professor Shin Imai, between 2000 and 2015, 44 people died from violence around Canadian-owned mines in Latin America, 4 people connected to mines have disappeared, and 403 were injured. 

Global Witness, a group that tracks statistics of environmental defenders, documented 185 killings across 16 countries in 2015 alone. One of them, Alfredo Ernesto Vracko Neuenschwander, a Peruvian community forestry worker, was gunned down in his home in Madre de Dios on 19 Nov. 2015. He led a local movement to resist gold mining in an ecologically sensitive area. 

The fact that the Raptors sourced the gold and diamonds from Canadian mines means little. Canadian gold is still an environmental catastrophe and the rights of Indigenous people in Canada are constantly trampled upon for mineral extraction. Besides, gold is a commodity and regardless of where it is purchased from, it fuels global demand. 

The highest grade Canadian gold mine averages 22.2 grams of gold per ton of ore. This means that for every ounce of gold, over a ton of ore needs to be crushed down and refined to separate out the gold from the rest of the rock. No wonder that according to EarthWorks.org, 20 tons of toxic waste are produced for every 0.333-ounce gold ring with mercury being among the highest pollutants. (There is almost no way these rings are “only” 0.333 ounces of gold.) Somewhere in Canada (probably the Canadian Shield) there is a toxic sludge pond holding the toxic waste from the production of these rings. 

While diamond mining is less environmentally devastating than gold mining, it causes soil erosion and dust pollution as mines are blasted with explosives. Let’s not forget that from 1991 to 2002, over 50,000 people were killed in Sierra Leone during their civil war, largely fuelled by “blood diamonds”. It has been almost two decades since governments sat down and tried to stem the flow of these around the world. Two decades later, diamonds still cause human suffering as rights groups complain that the definition of what is tracked by the Kimberly Process (the mechanism created to ensure diamonds are conflict free) remains too narrow. 

We the North. We are a country that proudly waves the flag of environmental stewardship (mostly). We are a country that just told the science-denying Conservatives that we didn’t want them to govern us. Nearly two-thirds of the Canadian population voted for a political party that supports a carbon tax. We wear our environmentalism on our sleeves. We are a country that just elected a government that subsidized camping on its platform. It is as if connecting to the outdoors is a patriotic duty. Protecting the environment is our shtick, yet we enthusiastically cheer on our champions for their destructive bling. 

We the North need to consider the South: the global south. Environmental destruction should never be fashionable. No one should have to suffer for our bling, drink contaminated water for our gold, or be killed for our diamonds. Statement jewellery needs to be seen for what it is: exploitation. Refusing it is the powerful choice, and needs to be celebrated.

Terri Chu is an engineer committed to practical environmentalism. This column is dedicated to helping the community reduce energy use, and help distinguish environmental truths from myths. Send questions, comments, and ideas for future columns to Terri at terri.chu@whyshouldicare.ca.

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Tags: Annex · Columns · Opinion

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