poor nevada...poor west


photo by me. january 2009. I-80.

i am learning so much from Solnit's book of compiled essays. i wanted to tell you what she tells us about mining because i want you to know what it does to the earth and to the people who live near it. hope you find this information useful, and i hope it moves you to action.

~ by 1857, California gold miners had extracted 24.3 million ounces of [gold], but they left behind more than ten times as much mercury, along with devastated forests, slopes, and streams. Today, there's a new gold rush underway on the other side of the Sierra Nevada, and it too is racking up huge bills for the public, bills that will be coming due for centuries to come, bills that we will pay in taxes for restoration, and bills that can never be paid, for pure water, cultural survival, wildlife, and wilderness. (page 115)

~ the California Gold Rush wasn't an anomaly; it was the beginning of modern large-scale gold mining, which is still going on. In America's new gold boom in Nevada, the dimensions are staggering...Nowadays, Nevada produces nearly 10 percent of the world's gold and three-quarters of the nation's...The first big new open-pit mines came in 1965, but it was the rise of gold prices in the 1980s...and the invention of cyanide heap-leaching that made mining such low-grade ore profitable. (page 119-120)

~Gold is now mined on a scale none of those men in the sepia-tone photographs could have imagined, from ore far more low-grade than they could have considered worthwhile. The Mary Harrison mine, which opened in 1853 in Coulterville, near Yosemite, yielded about one-third to one-half an ounce of gold per ton. In 1997, the Toronto-based Barrick Corporation's Betze/Post mine, in the center of the Carlin Trend, mined 159 million tons of rock and earth to produce 1.6 million ounces of gold--about a hundredth of an ounce per ton..."invisible gold" leads to mines that can be seen from space. [talk about extortion!!!] (page 120)

photo by tom schweich

~One way to describe modern gold mines is to say that they are displacing earth and water on a gargantuan scale and producing and dispersing toxins in smaller quantities, with gold a proportionally minute by-product of this Nevada water is being both contaminated and used up...A deficit of 5 million acre-feet is being created in the Humbolt Basin, 1.6 trillion gallons, the equivalent of twenty-five years of the river's annual flow. (page 121)

after reading her essays on mining in Nevada, i was oh so sad for Nevada. not only is their land and their health being destroyed by mining companies (many who are foreign companies), but they have had to put up with decades of nuclear bomb testing. it is oh so frustrating to me that people think a desert is a wasteland; that there is nothing worth saving there. they are dead wrong. it is a fragile landscape that has intensely beautiful spaces of mountain ranges and sagebrush fields.

it also made me very glad i don't live in the Salt Lake Valley development known as "Daybreak." I've always been suspicious of how that land has been contaminated by the mine that has developed the land. i've also always despised the eyesore of that huge mine. it's ugly. it makes me ill.

and another thing, utah is a place, too, where people think they can dump nuclear waste...and we even named the sports arena after a nuclear waste company: "energy solutions arena." that makes me very ill.

i hope you learned a little something. i hope you want to buy and read Solnit's book. it's got so much varied information about so many important issues. you'll love it. you'll feel more motivated to take action. to make this earth better.


Netti said...

I could definitely live without gold. And without mines. I don't like them.

lane said...

I just discovered Rebecca Solnit through one of my students--and I have a huge crush!! Of course you would love her. I can't wait to see you at Powell!

ashsan said...

The strange thing was we were all taken to Kennecott on grade school field trips to "admire" the industrious miracle of open-pit copper mining. It took me a long time to deprogram myself from those field trips and recognize the site for what it was: a gaping wound in the earth. Things like open-pit mining bring up my age-old political question: what if you want to stop something not just because it is contaminating water or polluting the air, but because it is ugly in the deepest and unethical sense? It seems okay to say, "Stop this mine because it leads to birth deformities" but not simply "Stop this mine. Stop this mine as a metaphor for all that is ugly in human thinking."

Thank you for writing these posts, Ann, and for writing them poetically, from the sorrow of your soul. That is a brave thing to do.