An excerpt from the article:
I flew over the Peruvian Amazon two years ago, in a small propeller plane. An aerial perspective gives you a true sense of the rainforest’s scale, as treetops stretch from one horizon to another like an infinite and unbroken array of broccoli florets.
But from the air, the damage to the jungle also becomes more obvious. We flew over charred hectares of burnt trees, huge piles of felled logs and, most memorably of all, vast (and mostly illegal) gold mines.
Before the flight, I might have pictured a gold mine as a surreptitious doorway carved into a mountainside. The largest of the ones I saw, known as Guacamayo, was more like a pustulent wound—a gash of festering yellows and whites amid the lush greens of the jungle. It even seeped into the nearby river and jaundiced its water. It was a nauseating sight, and one utterly disconnected from the glistening metal that gets fashioned into jewellery and ornaments.
I've blogged here a couple years ago about my (morbid) fascination with the Discovery Channel show Gold Rush. I wrote then:
I've been watching Gold Rush on the Discovery Channel. There's something arresting and compelling about these naive miners trying to strike it rich in Alaska. Anyway, what really strikes me is how they literally have to excavate and wash TONS of gravel just to get a couple of flakes of gold. The scale of rape-and-pillage-the-environment is absolutely stunning.
Well, the Hoffman crew has abandoned Alaska and moved on to Guyana on the north coast of South America to strike it rich (the show still follows two other mining operations in Alaska and the Klondike). Their rape-and-pillage extraction techniques are part of what is shown in the photo at the top.
Yet I still am compelled to watch the show. I'm kinda ashamed of myself but can't seem to look away either. I guess part of the fascination is the desire to believe that not everything is known, not everything is discovered. That there still is a chance for adventure and discovery.
So, the methods are wrong although at least some of the the motives are pure.
Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning? If you run along the Appalachian Trail in central PA, as I have many times, on the stretch between PA Rt 325 and Gold Mine Road, near the town of Tower City, you will pass an old strip mine where coal was extracted. I understand that this is the only strip mine that the AT encounters in its 2100 mile path.
The site is old and overgrown now with trees, but the piles of rock and dirt--aptly named "spoil banks"--still remain after decades, and are still an ugly scar on the landscape. I can't imagine the scale of destruction resulting from industrial level gold mining.