How This Gold-Plated BMW and Our Electronic Gadgets Are Fueling a Dirty Gold Rush

Making longer-lasting smartphones and computers can help slow down illegal mining that's destroying the environment.
Sep 9, 2014·
Todd Woody is TakePart's editorial director, environment.

It’s easy to get outraged at illegal gold mining that is killing rare wildlife and destroying rainforests in places such as Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park. But as Pete Bethune points out in his latest Captain’s Vlog (above), illegal gold miners are often poor people like the 60-year-old woman his team of eco-commandos apprehended in last week’s episode of The Operatives.

The price of gold began to skyrocket as the global economy collapsed in 2008, sending newly impoverished Africans, Asians, and Central Americans into environmentally sensitive areas in search of gold. Miners use mercury to process the gold, and the toxic metal contaminates rivers and streams, killing or poisoning fish that are eaten by people. Miners also divert water from rivers, erode river banks, and hunt rare animals for food.

They’re just responding to consumer demand. Much of that gold goes to make jewelry. Gold also appears in laptops, smartphones, and other electronic devices, such as the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch that Apple unveiled today. The new phone will unleash a consumer frenzy even as it makes millions of old iPhones obsolete.

(If you live in Beverly Hills, you might see, as Bethune did, a gold-plated BMW rolling down Rodeo Drive. )

“In many ways, the owner of that BMW is part of the problem,” said Bethune. “It’s symptomatic of a culture where excessive displays of opulence is considered quite acceptable.”

“Gold is ever present in today’s society, and we continue to consume it at an alarming rate,” he added. “Electronics has become so cheap that much of the public considers them as a consumables to be discarded in a year’s time."

The solution: Push manufacturers to make longer-lasting electronics, and resist the temptation to buy the latest, greatest gadget.

Perhaps not a message people want to hear on the day Apple releases its much-anticipated Apple Watch and new phones, but one that is sustainable.

New episodes of The Operatives air Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on Pivot TV.