An estimated 250 tonnes of earth is shifted for every single carat of diamond. For context, 148 million carats were mined in 2018. Indeed, some mines are now so huge they can be seen from space using Nasa’s Terra satellite. A 2014 report by consulting firm Frost & Sullivan also showed that mined diamonds require twice as much energy per carat than those grown in a lab. It estimated that 57kg of carbon are released into the atmosphere for every single carat mined.
The environmental damage from diamond mining goes further than simply its carbon emissions. Diamond mining has been linked to pollution of water sources used by local people due to acid mine drainage. This occurs when minerals from the mined rocks seep into the water supply. The University of Waterloo in Canada describes it as “one of the mining industries top environmental liabilities”. Although acid mine drainage is not exclusively a problem for the diamond industry – it occurs at many metal and coal mines too – researchers at the University of Waterloo have been working with the Diavik diamond gem mine in Canada’s Northwest Territories to reduce this pollution from waste rock.
Mining has also caused the destruction of habitats in Canada and beyond. In 2016, The Wall Street Journal reported that De Beers had killed over 18,000 fish draining a Canadian lake for diamond mining. In India, diamond mines have been blamed for placing highly endangered tiger populations under further pressure.
Diamond mining has been linked to pollution of water sources used by local people due to acid mine drainage. So, while neither lab diamond nor mined diamond industries are perfect, the wider environmental price from the latter can be higher. Indeed, the former Tiffany chief executive Michael J. Kowalski wrote in a 2015 New York Times opinion piece, “few industries in the world have a larger environmental and social footprint than mining”.
Indeed, the environmental and humanitarian harms from diamond mining are closely intertwined. Some diamond mines employ miners on low wages in unsafe conditions. Even diamonds extracted in accordance with the Kimberley Process, established in the early 2000s to reduce the trade in conflict diamonds, can have obscured origins. A source in the conflict resources team at the non-governmental organisation Global Witness, who wishes not to be named to protect their identity, says that there are many holes in the process. “The definition of a ‘conflict diamond’ as the Kimberley Process sees it is a diamond which is funding an armed group which is trying unseat a legitimate government,” she says.
Over the years, the links between mined diamonds and human rights abuses have evolved far beyond that definition. “The Kimberley Process has failed to keep up,” she adds. She gives an example of a huge discovery of diamonds in Zimbabwe in the mid-2000s that led to the deaths of hundreds of civilian miners. The diamonds found here were traded in Antwerp and Dubai, “circulating freely on international markets”, according to a Global Witness report.
Further down the supply chain, things get murkier still, as once a stone is cut and polished it is no longer traced by the Kimberley Process. Diamonds pass through multiple trading hubs on their journey from mine to shop, and often end up mixed with diamonds from other countries of export. The result is that even among diamonds with Kimberley Process certification, many companies cannot trace the diamonds they use back to their country of origin. A 2018 report from Human Rights Watch, which investigated major jewelers including Bulgari, Pandora, Cartier and Tiffany & Co, says, “None of the companies can identify all of their diamonds’ individual mines of origin.” As a conscious buyer, you now have the option to choose better.
Welcome to the new age of Cultured Diamonds for the Cultured Individual. Choose Better, Think Better.