In the US, the demand for large crystals has doubled in the past three years, thanks to lifestyle brands like Gwynneth Paltrow's Goop and others advocating for their "positive healing energies." On Instagram, hashtags for #crystals and #healingcrystals account for tens of millions in influencer clicks. In 2017, the New York Times heralded “the great crystal boom” and in 2018 Hello! described them as the year’s biggest health and wellness trend. Crystal dealers have sold individual large crystal pieces worth millions of dollars.
The audience has grown in America as belief in alternative medicine has become more popular. According to Pew Research Center data, more than 60% of US adults hold at least one “new age” belief, such as placing faith in astrology or the power of psychics. While there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support these claims, they've captured the imagination of wealthy Americans who want to feel the "vibrations" realign within them.
But there's a real cost in terms of environmental damage and human suffering to this growing industry.
In a recent Guardian article, they investigated the crystal mining industry in Madagascar, one of the poorest countries in the world. Rose quartz and amethyst, tourmaline and citrine, labradorite and carnelian are all found in the rich red clay earth of Madagascar. It's now one of the biggest producers of crystals in the world, but the country's industry is severely deregulated and they don't have much in the way of professional drilling equipment, so most of the crystals are dug out of earth by human labor. That means about 80% of the crystal is pulled out by small groups and families who are paid rock-bottom prices.
From the article:
If you want to know where the rose quartz on your shelves comes from, Anjoma Ramartina is a good place to begin. A collection of villages that sits atop some of Madagascar’s largest rose quartz deposits, it is a day’s drive from the capital city of Antananarivo. The further you travel from the capital, the greater the security risks. Large swathes of territory are described as “red zones”, considered unpoliceable by state forces. Rural villages often face raids from armed gangs known as dahalo, who steal cattle, sometimes killing, robbing or raping villagers. In January, the week we arrived in Anjoma Ramartina, three men armed with machetes were killed in a clash with village police. Do not travel or go out at night, people warned. Drive in convoy. Stay off the roads after 5pm.
The rest of the story is worse. Most of the people living outside of Madagascar's major cities live below the poverty line and health officials found that around half the parents had lost at least one child.
With all of these economic and cultural factors, it's no wonder that there are people willing to mine for crystals under dangerous conditions. “Sometimes it’s very dangerous but they still mine, because they want money,” Many Jean Rahandrinimaro, the deputy mayor of Anjoma Ramartina said. “There’s the possibility of landslide, that happens a lot here. The soil falls on them and they die.”
Many of the workers in these mines are children, and they are exposed to dust and quartz particles that could cause lung cancer and silicosis, they're at risk of cave-ins and landslides. The brother of one cave-in victim, Jean Gregoire Randrianarisoa, told the tale of how his brother died. “What killed him was digging for stones, about 15 metres deep. He went into a tunnel and it collapsed from above and he was buried – someone called for help: ‘Help! Zafimahatratra is buried down there!’ That’s when I went with his children to dig him up,” he said.
As to the crystals dug up, they're sold at very little profit, with their value grows each stage of their journey.
There's a long and uncomfortable history of western culture farming the resources of African nations. This time, the resources are going to feed a particularly flighty end and the millions of dollars these crystals are being sold are doing nothing to help the people who are dying to pull them out of the earth.