Randy Olson/National Geographic
In the past eight years, the price of gold has risen 235 percent, soaring from $271 an ounce in 2001 to more than $1,000 an ounce today.
But as journalist Brook Larmer and photographer Randy Olson report in their January 2009 National Geographic cover story, "The Real Price of Gold," the environmental and human costs related to the mineral have never been higher.
Larmer and Olson traveled around the world — from the vast open-pit mines in Peru to a small improvised mine in Ghana — to document the working conditions and environmental degradation of various gold-dependent communities.
Though miners face a spectrum of dangers, including mercury poisoning and military shootouts, Larmer writes that risks do nothing to deter the work: "Most of the gold left to mine exists as traces buried in remote and fragile corners of the globe. It's an invitation to destruction. But there is no shortage of miners, big and small, who are willing to accept."