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Written by Blair Wolff   
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Thursday, 08 March 2018

Digging Diamonds

The word diamond comes from the Greek word adamas meaning “unconquerable.” They are created when carbon is subjected to extremely high pressures and temperatures found in the earth’s lithosphere, which is 90-240 miles below the earth’s surface. They are incredibly strong, brilliant, can refract light and even engrave metal, making them ideal cutting tools. 1

Diamonds in History
During the Dark Ages, it was thought that when ingested, diamonds could help heal wounds and cure illness. They were also believed to ward off evil and protect during battle. 2 Spiritually, it is thought to enhance inner vision and stimulate one’s creativity and imagination, and when placed on the third eye, a diamond “encourages psychic development, and is a valuable tool for remote viewing, telepathic communication and clairvoyance.”3 Diamonds are frequently used as engagement and wedding rings. You know all those commercials that say ‘a diamond is forever’ as they show couples getting engaged or romancing each other around Europe? Its “rarity, beauty, and strength make it a fitting symbol of the resilience and longevity of marriage.”4

Eureka Diamond
The Eureka Diamond was the first diamond discovered in South Africai
The earliest diamonds were found in India in the 4th century BC and were transported along the trade routes between India and China called the Silk Road. When diamond mines started to become depleted in India, there was a need to discover new sources for these special stones. In 1866, a 21.25-carat diamond was discovered on the Orange River bank in Africa, followed by the 1871 finding of a 83.50-carat deposit in Colesberg Kopje, also in Africa. These discoveries brought many diamond prospectors to the area leading to the opening of the first large-scale mining operation called the Kimberly Mine. 5 There are many other large scale diamond mines all over the world such as Venetia in South Africa, Botubinskaya and Grib in Russia, Argyle in Australia, and Orapa in Botswana.6

Mining Techniques and Environmental Impact
While diamonds may be often quoted as a girl’s best friend, hunting for them is certainly not the environment’s friend. There are many environmental concerns associated with diamond mining. There are four common diamond-mining techniques, “all of which leave damaging effects on the earth, sometimes irreversible.”7 They are briefly enumerated below: 8
  1. Open pit mining—locating diamonds in crushed material removed from surface level deposits loosened by blasting and hauled by trucks.
  2. Underground mining—finding diamonds by digging stacked tunnels in the Earth, blasting from the top tunnel and retrieving broken material from the bottom tunnel.
  3.  Alluvial mining—taking diamonds from the gravel layer forming underneath mud, clay, and biologic layers that naturally collect the gemstones near bodies of water.
  4. Marine mining: going deep under the sea to get diamonds, whether swimming to the bottom, or, more likely today, utilizing powerful ship-mounted suction devices and drills.
The various mining techniques can result in harm to the environment through energy consumption/fossil fuel usage, air pollution , erosion destroying river banks, water pollution , water usage , and ecosystem damage.9  Diamond mining has even been known to cause complete ecosystem collapse such as in the Kono district of eastern Sierra Leone where thousands of abandoned pits resulted in vanishing wildlife, eroded topsoil and destruction of land that was once suitable for farming.10 In addition to the environmental toll, there was concern for the spread of malaria and other water-borne disease when the pits filled with stagnant rainwater and became infested with mosquitos.11

By the numbers, consider the case of Petra Diamonds, which reported in 2012 the following staggering statistics for metrics describing environmental impact: over 14 million m^3 of water usage, over 444 million kWh of energy usage, and over 476 CO2-e^2 of carbon emissions .12  Remember that this is just one diamond company’s usage over one year!


Alternatives to Environmentally Hazardous Mining
If you do want to buy a diamond but feel guilty due to the environmental toll diamond mining takes, there are some alternatives.  For example, responsibly mined diamonds are an option—check out Canadian mines, such as Diavik and Ekati.13 Also, did you know that laboratories can make perfect diamonds, indistinguishable from those found in the ground? Just because it is lab made, does not mean it is not a diamond! Furthermore, since diamonds are so sturdy, they have a high potential for recycling, even if that means being re-cut in order to be just so.  Responsibly mined, recycled, and man-made diamonds can even be purchased online, such as at Brilliant Earth.14 Purchasing a recycled diamond can help reduce the environmental impact created by mining new diamonds. Speaking of which, there are alternatives to diamonds altogether. Many gemstones and materials have special properties, and can be explored as alternatives to the traditional diamond too!

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 07 March 2018 )