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tv   Tech Know  Al Jazeera  June 9, 2015 3:30am-4:01am EDT

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popularity. popp mo rammohamed is red nigeria. all of our news and views on our website all you have to to is type in that ahead aljazerra.com. and you have it up on your screen 24 hours a day. this is techknow. a show about innovations that can change lives. the science of fighting a wild-fire. we're going to explore the intersection of hardware and humanity and we're doing it in a unique way. this is a show about science by scientists. tonight, techknow investiages dirty gold. see the color of this river? this is not normal.
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inside the illegal gold trade. profits are enormous destruction, immediate. but, what happens to that gold once it leaves peru? we have two of these gold chains in front of you. just by looking at the chain itself, can you tell if either of these are dirty? what would be your quess? i'm phil torez, i'm an entomologist. i do much of my research in this territory. they've tested the water they've tested the sediment. i'll share my findings with marita davison. she's an environmental biologist. >> what size of an area are we looking at here? >> and, lindsay moran, a former cia analyst. one of them was at macy's, the other was at tiffany. so now, what can you say? that's our team, now lets do some science.
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hey guys welcome to techknow i'm phil torres joined by lindsay moran and marita davison. as you guys know, when i do my science it's all spiders and butterflies. but when i'm in the field i love going to peru. the rainforest there is amazing but the last time i was there and i looked out the window flying in and i noticed a huge section of forest was missing. you have to be talking about the devastating impacts of gold mining, of illegal gold mining that's been hitting peru, my home country bolivia, and the entire region really it's been happening for the past few decades. phil since you first brought this story to techknow the question we've been asking is, can anything be done to stop the destruction of the rainforest, or even restore it? those are the big questions and thanks to a team we joined on the ground there in peru we're starting to get some answers... and there is hope. >> the amazon rainforest. legendary, primeval,
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it's home to 10 percent of the world's known species. its ancient trees remove millions of tons of carbon dioxide a year from the atmosphere. and its moisture may impact rainfall as far away as the pacific northwest. but the soil underneath some of the rainforest is laced with gold. and each year - an illegal gold rush is turning thousands of acres of this natural wonder into a toxic wasteland. techknow has been documenting the devastation since january of 2015. as we followed the science - our investigation has taken us from the carnegie institution's department of global ecology in stanford. >> you calculate the carbon based on the structure. >> to the heart of peruvian rainforest.
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>> see the color of this river? that is not normal. it's a sign that illegal mining is taking place upriver. >> this is tambopata national reserve- in madre de dios - the mother of god. it's one of the world's most diverse ecosytems - and one of peru's most threatened. this is lapampa - in the buffer zone of the tambopata reserve. it's been devastated by illegal mining. but a small community of artisanal miners known as the manuanis are hoping to bring the rainforest back to la pampa. they are working with peruvian ecologist francisco roman. >> the only way into their camp
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is on the back of a motorbike, on a flooded dirt path. >> we've been driving for miles into what should be pristine rainforest. but instead it looks like this. >> skeletal remains hint at the forest that used to thrive here. >> behind me i can hear a macaw calling and i think there's a nest up in that tree. that's the problem with these mines - as they deplete this area, they just keep pushing further and further into the forest and the wildlife has nowhere to go. >> but can this land ever return to the pristine rainforest it once was? the prospect is daunting, work that has never been done before with devastation this complete. >> sabina valdez is the president of the association of miners at the river manuani. skyrocketing gold prices have
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pitted small artisanal miners like the manuanis against larger illegal operations run by outsiders. but these miners have a stake in the land. >> in 2013 they began working with francisco roman and a group of government and research facilities. the goal - to find out how to grow new life in the soil mining leaves behind. >> what do miners do to the earth when they do mining? >> the process turns the soil into 95% sand almost deviod of all organic matter. this may be the biggest challenge scientist face. >> another problem is miners
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often contaminate the soil with mercury. they use it to bind those tiny flecks of gold into a clump. tropical ecologist luis fernandez is the director the carnegie amazon mercury ecosystem project. >> the gold here is not very concentrated. it's only about 2 grams per ton of rock. instead of manually concentrating that tiny amount of gold in a awful lot of rock you take some of the sediment, some water, and a little bit of mercury, and you mix it up. >> where else does this mercury end up? >> because the mercury is being dumped into the rivers and lakes, it then gets into the food chain, mercury can concentrate in sediments, and be absorbed into the plants, so, in areas that were former mining zones, there is a lot of questions about what's next. >> so this whole area was more recently mined? >> yes, yes. >> it's those questions francisco and his team hope to answer.
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they showed us how they have begun to test what can grow in degraded land like this. they begin by planting a species known as pioneers. they are fast growing plants natural to the area - that can survive in tough circumstances. >> we are looking at an experiment with fast growing tree species. we have 3 levels of fertilization, the control, no fertilizer, the diluted treatment, and bio-fertilizer applied pure. >> this line represents the frontier between 2 treatments - the control plot and the pure treatment - you can see the difference in growth. >> wow. so tropical plants normally don't need fertilizer - because it's already in the soil, but these are getting it and they
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are growing more and these are not and they are barely growing? >> ya, ya because the soil is very very poor. >> in the first 6 months of the experiment - plants treated with pure biofertilizer survived at higher rate and grew almost 3 times the height as those without fertilizer. >> roman is also studying whether microorganisms in biofertilizer will prevent mercury from contaminating plants. >> the hypothesis is in the pure treatment where was applied bio-fertilizer, maybe micro-organisms immobilize mercury in the soil and plants are free of mercury. >>but hope comes with a high price. pure biofertilizer is not cheap - it costs at least a thousand dollars more per 2 and a half acre plot to treat plants with pure biofertilizer. >> the idea here is life begets life - this isn't just planting trees this is planting the basis for
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an ecosystem to come back fully to this region. >> can this new life beget a rainforest? under the best of circumstances it will take decades. and the lure of gold is still drawing miners to the area. but the people here hope they are planting more than seedlings - they hope to plant an idea that will grow. coming up - can miners protect the environment and their way of life? we want to hear what you think about these stories. join the conversation by following us on twitter and at aljazeera.com/techknow. >> "inside story" takes you beyond the headlines, beyond the quick cuts, beyond the sound bites. we're giving you a deeper dive into the stories that are making our world what it is. >> ray suarez hosts "inside story".
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only on al jazeera america.
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>> the peruvian rainforest covers about 60% of the country. but the devastation caused by illegal gold mining is not just a peruvian problem - its also a problem for the rest of us. why? because these trees store carbon - more than 6 and a half billion metric tons. that's more than 3 times the amount of carbon dioxide released by the united states in a year. this is the carnegie airborne observatory. director greg asner flew the one of a kind laboratory in the sky over the peruvian rainforest. his goal -to create a revolutionary new map of peru - one that shows how much carbon the country sequesters - and where it's stored. he showed off some of his work to techknow's
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marita davison. >> trees are the best storage units of this thing called carbon. trees take up carbon dioxide and they store the carbon out of the carbon dioxide into their tissues. >> this is how a stretch of the peruvian rainforest appears from the plane to the naked eye. but this is how the observatory's unique 3-d laser imaging system sees the forest. >> what size of an area are we looking at here? >> this is two and a half three acres. >> and this is what you use to calculate say carbon stocks? >> ya, this is critical to understanding how much carbon is stored in the forest because the principal determinant is the volume of the forest. >> this map shows peru's carbon geography. the areas in red store the most carbon. one of the most carbon dense regions of peru is madre de dios. >> now, if carbon its not in the trees, where is it? it's in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.
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>> destruction of rainforest from illegal mining is a global problem when it comes climate change. in madre de dios, it's personal to people who depend on the land for survival - as phil torres found out firsthand. >> on the shores of the madre de dios river - we met with a community of indigenous people called tres islas. they are struggling with a choice - between preserving old ways of life and saving their land from the destruction. these piles of gravel are damage left behind by illegal miners - outsiders who invaded the area as gold prices soared. >> sergio perea ponce is president of tres islas. he is also a gold miner - as was his father before him.
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>> i traveled with him and his wife by boat to a mining camp they are building. they want to create a sustainable way to mine that can be a model for small artisanal miners. >> tres islas is located in a 1900 square mile corridor that the government has designated as the only area in madre de dios where miners can operate legally - if they qualify. the idea is to keep miners out of protected rainforest like this - and regulate how they operate. perea ponce hopes the government will legalize their operation.
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>> one of the ways these miners hope to qualify for legalization is by working with francisco roman to reforest areas damaged by mining. >> their job is made easier by the fact that parts of the forest are still standing.
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>> this lake is an example of what's possible when some forest is left intact. eight years ago - it was an active mine. now it's got life. >> there are caman around. there are giant river otters around here. they've tested the water they'e tested the sediment and found no detectible levels of mercury. the question remains - what's in the fish? >> but perea ponce hopes in the future he can prevent mercury contamination with this - a concrete unit to store waste liquid from the mining process. >> despite these changes for these people it is a waiting game to see if its enough-- for the government to grant them legal status.
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>> its very difficult to get formal and stay formal. it's a tough marriage. >> ernesto raez luna is a former adviser to peru's ministry of environment. >> we know that many people engage in illegal extraction will not be able to become formal. you need to provide alternatives - and also training so they can do something else. >> in tres islas - some members are trying other ways of making a living - like harvesting brazil nuts from the giant castana trees that grow in the peruvian amazon. >> but with brazil nuts averaging a few dollars per pound - and gold prices well over a thousand dollars an ounce - will efforts like this be enough to put a dent in illegal mining?
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>> there is hope because humans can do great things, and the great things that we do don't need to be just destructive things. but the key element is knowledge. we need to know in order to act. >> coming up - did the gold in your ring play a part in this kind of destruction? >> my name is imran garda the show is called third rail, when you watch this show you're gonna find us being un-afraid. the topics will fascinate you, intrigue you... >> they take this seriously... >> let me quote you... >> there's a double standard... >>...could be a hypocrite >> you're also gonna get a show that's really fair bold... never predictable... >> the should be worried about heart disease, not terrorism... >> i wouldn't say that at all... >> you'll see a show that has an impact on the conventional wisdom that goes where nobody else goes... >> my name is imran garda i am the host of third rail and you can find it on al jazeera america
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were kidnapped... >> this is what's left of the hospital >> is a crime that's under reported... >> what do you think... >> we're making history right now... >> al jazeera america >> gold. sought after for its beauty. but at what price? how does a buyer know the real cost of a gold ring? >> these are the rings. >> these are the rings. this is what we show our customers when they come in for an appointment. >> at brilliant earth, beth gerstein wants her customers to feel confident that a ring doesn't come at the expense of human rights and devastated
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rainforests. >> i didn't want a symbol of love from my husband to be associated with such atrocities. >> now when you first started was it just about conflict diamonds or did you talk gold? >>well, the first issue was about blood diamonds and then we started to learn more about the issues, in the gold industry gold mining is one of the dirtiest industries for mining. >> the gold you see in these rings is all recycled. >> this is one of our more popular styles, it's our willow ring. >> and this is gold. >> it is gold, its from recycled gold. its re-refined and identical quality. >> brilliant earth is one of more than 100 retailers who have made a commitment to source their gold responsibly - by signing on to earthwork's no dirty gold campaign. >> what is dirty gold? >> dirty gold is gold that was extracted at a cost to people and the planet that is unacceptable. that may have come at the price of human rights, pristine
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forests and clean water. >> what percentage of gold in the us is dirty gold? >> that's a great question. i think we have to assume that most of the gold that's newly mined and sold in the us jewelry stores is irresponsibly produced, because we don't have that independent certificate that assures us otherwise. >> to grasp why it's difficult to know if gold is clean or dirty, you have to understand the twisted route it can travel from mine to retailer. take illegally mined gold from madre de dios for example. for a piece like this - the first stop is often here in puerto maldonado, the capitol of madre de dios. >> all along this area we've been told is the place where people will buy and sell gold, maybe sent it off to lima or other places. >> according to a report by the fair labor non profit verite this illegal gold is laundered by middlemen, then sold to jewelry makers in lima and refineries as far away as the
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united states and switzerland. there, the gold is melted down and purified before being sold again. often retailers know little about the origin of the gold they sell, as techknow found out when it visit the jewelry district in los angeles. >> so i just talked to all the vendors inside there and none of them could tell me where their gold came out of the earth, in fact one said if someone did tell us, don't believe them. >> so we have 2 of these gold chains in front of you. just by looking can you tell if either of these are dirty. what would be your guess? >> the only way i would be able to tell you is if this box here had a label and it told me about the provenance of the gold. >> one of them was at macys, the other was at tiffany. so now, what can you say? >> i can tell you of these two companies, tiffany and company has signed on to the ndg pledge.
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macy has not and has been asked too many times. tiffany and company can really tell you about the antecedents of this gold, where as macy's cannot. >> 10 years ago - tiffany and company became the first retailer to sign the no dirty gold pledge. most of its raw gold is from recycled sources, the bulk of the rest comes from a single mine in utah. >> they made that supply chain shorter. they found a way to make it more transparent and to have more control over where they are getting their metal from. >> tell me more about traceability. how challenging is that? >> for us that's one of the hardest things we had to encounter when we first started. we'd ask our gold manufacturers, "where does the gold come from is it recycled", and they'd say, "well, i'm not exactly sure." once they see there's a market opportunity they start asking the important questions and making sure they meet our standards and its traceable. >> macy's is the 5th largest jewelry retailer in the united states. the company turned down techknow's request for an on-camera interview.
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but in an emailed response - a spokesman said "while we agree in spirit with the principles of no dirty gold, significant problems exist with gold and mineral traceability and verification. we support the creation of an independent and universally-accepted standard for certifying gold and other minerals. >> what do you think? is there a need for something like that? >> there's a need for something like that which is currently being created the initiative for responsibly mining assurance is currently in development to provide that kind of label. macy's needs to be part of that creation. >> now, what can consumers out there do when they hear about dirty gold problems? >> they can vote with their wallet. so asking the right questions. >> what should they ask? >> where does the gold come from? what are the practices actually surrounding the product that i'm buying? >> questions that may help preserve pristine rainforest like this - one of earth's most vital treasures.
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>> ok guys i brought in a few gold pieces my grandmother gave me and these have been in my family for a long time, they were obtained in the bolivian rainforest, and after this piece, phil you've got me wondering, by what methods are these gold pieces obtained? is there any way for me to know? i will say considering it's from bolivia and that it will probably was one of the artisinal style gold mining it isn't quite as damaging but im sure they did use quite a bit of mercury with it. lindsay, we asked you to look at this issue from a law enforcement perspective what did you find? >> well, it's a challenge in some ways its very similar to the war on drugs which ultimately was a failed war. you have an area where there are very porous borders, where there's rampant corruption within law enforcement, and quite frankly this issue is not at the forefront of the international intelligence community. even though, we see when there is destruction, when there is environmental degredataion ultimately that leads to unrest
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that does impact our national security but nobody sees it that way now, it's just not a top priority. >> out of any of the stories we've done here on techknow, this was absolutely the most personal one to me. i've worked in the area of peru for a couple years now and discovered new species there, we thought the species i discovered could go extinct for gold, that was pretty heartbreaking to me. so i guarantee you guys we're going to stay on top of this story, will let you know of any updates. that's it for this episode of techknow, be sure to check us out next time. >> dive deep behind these stories and go behind the scenes at aljazeera.com/techknow. follow our expert contributors on twitter, facebook, instagram google+ and more.
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