Tuesday, August 21, 2007

How Environmentalists Make Poor People Stay Poor

A few months ago my buddy Allen Forkum (of Cox and Forkum fame) told me about a fascinating independent film from Irish filmmakers Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney about the dangers of environmentalism run amok. It's entitled "Mine Your Own Business". As per the site for the movie
-"Mine Your Own Business, a film produced by New Bera Media in association with the Moving Picture Institute, looks at the dark side of environmentalism. It talks to some of the world's poorest people about how western environmentalists are campaigning to keep them in poverty because they think their way of life is quaint. It is the first documentary to ask hard questions of the environmental movement. "Mine Your Own Business" goes beyond the voice of the foreign environmentalists that we so often hear in the media and meets those who will be most affected by these projects and the well-run campaigns against them.

"Mine Your Own Business" follows George, a 23-year-old unemployed miner from northern Romania whose life has been put on hold after an anti-mining campaign orchestrated by foreign environmentalists. George explains his hopes and dreams for the future - which are different from those prescribed for him by foreign environmentalists. He then travels to other impoverished communities in Madagascar and Chile who are also desperately waiting for large mining projects. George finds people similar to himself with similar hopes and dreams of a decent job and house and a decent education and better life for their children.

"Mine Your Own Business" will be hugely controversial as it makes us all think about the unintended consequences of blindly supporting environmentalist/anti-development campaigns across the globe. It is a challenge to the cosy consensus that allows westerners to deny progress to those who need it most.

I have yet to see the film myself, as I missed it when they came through town last year. Apparently it was screened at Vanderbilt University, and I was unaware of it at the time. I hope to see it in the future, as it touches on a subject that I address on this blog quite often- Hippie Hypocrisy.

John Fund, from the Wall Street Journal talks about the movie in today's paper, and brings up the most ridiculous part about this phenomenon of liberal activists trying to assuage their guilt about western society by demonizing big business, when in reality they are making it worse for the inhabitants of the places they are trying to protect.

Opponents of the mine claim that Rosia Montana residents agree with their stance. "Local opposition to the mine is strong and organized" says a statement signed by 80 environmental groups in January. In his letter, Mr. Soros cites a recent poll organized by some members of Romania's parliament that "found 90% of respondents rejecting the project." But the poll turns out to be an unscientific Internet survey, and one of the environmental groups Mr. Soros funds urged people outside Romania to participate in it. What is clear: Two-thirds of Rosia Montana's people have accepted Gabriel's voluntary offer to buy their homes at above market rates. Most will move four miles away to a less polluted area.

On the other side, Rosia Montana Mayor Virgil Narita supports the mine because it will create 700 permanent local jobs. He was re-elected with 80% of the vote this year. And in late 2004, the Council of Europe sent Eddie O'Hara, a British Labour Party member of the European Parliament, to Rosia Montana to file an official report. Opposition to the mine, he said, was "substantial," but it was "very much fueled by outside bodies, presumably well-meaning but possibly counterproductively. It seems in part at least exaggerated." Mr. O'Hara concluded the opposition "do not take account of modern mining techniques and in fact the Rosia Montana project will help to clear up existing pollution." He also warned that not allowing the mine "would remove any chance of local development for some time."

Perhaps local unemployed miner Gheorghe Lucian says it best: "People have no food to eat. . . . I know what I need--a job." Mr. Soros's Romanian Open Society Foundation is touting "alternative economic activities such as organic agriculture and eco-tourism," unrealistic at best. Stefania Simon, legal counsel for the anti-mine group Alburnus Maior, has no answer for Mr. Lucian. "Unemployment is a problem, but it will not be solved by mining," she told Britain's Guardian newspaper. Noting that Gabriel has only a 17-year lease to mine, she says, "This is a solution for the short term." But right now, even non-permanent jobs and any cleanup of the existing pollution looks like a good deal to people like Mr. Lucian.

During one part of the movie, Mark Fenn, country director for the World Wide Fund for Nature, states that in Madagascar poor people are just as happy as rich people because "they smile more". Then he takes the documentary producers on a tour of his $35,000 catamaran and the site of his new coastal home. Hey, I'd bet the poor folks in Madagascar would smile a lot more if they also had a $35,000 yacht. It reminds me of a recent comedian I heard who joked about the phrase "money doesn't buy you happiness." He said "while that may be true, money can buy you a jet-ski, and have you ever seen someone unhappy on a jet-ski?". This point is lost on people like Mark Fenn.

The serious part of this problem is that environmentalists are making things worse for poor people in many areas of the world by protesting against things like DDT. Malaria kills hundreds of thousands of people a year needlessly, and they could drastically reduce these numbers by spraying DDT, which is the single most effective pesticide for reducing mosquito populations that carry the disease. Recently some studies came out that even further reinforced the science behind DDT's effectiveness. The studies claimed that even though some mosquito populations had developed a resistance to DDT, those same populations were repelled by DDT anyways. But there exist serious efforts to stop DDT from reaching those who need it, and all of this in the name of environmentalism. This is madness.

When people talk about environmental concerns, I'm not blind to the fact that global pollution is a major problem affecting our environment throughout the world in various ways. And I'm all for taking steps to reduce pollution that make sense, like emission controls for cars for instance. But one thing I have learned in my studies about asteroids hitting the planet and possibly killing us all is that there are many problems facing mankind today that need to be ranked in order of importance. Bjorn Lomborg, adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School, has already done this in his book How to Spend $50 Billion to Make the World a Better Place. In the book Mr. Lomborg details the Copenhagen Consensus Center's study that answered the question posed in the title of his book. Eight distinguished economists evaluated proposals by over two dozen specialists on problems ranging from AIDS and malnutrition to water shortage, civil war, climate change, and migration, among others. Their collective recommendation: focus on AIDS prevention, the provision of micronutrients to poor children, trade liberalization, and the control of malaria.

Some things that did not make the top of the list were saving trees or combating global warming (disclaimer-further funding of asteroid prevention also did not make the list). The reason for this is that there is no point in saving the environment if everyone is starving to death or bed ridden from malaria. This is where the hypocrisy sets in for environmentalists. Many of them want to feel better about fighting for "Mother Gaia" but all they are doing is causing more suffering. Until this truth becomes realized, we will continue to have these idiot birkenstock-wearing, Che Guevara-loving hippies sipping their "free trade" lattes, munching a soy-burger standing in the way of the progress that is needed to truly help those who need it.

Go see the film "Mine Your Own Business" if you can. The guys behind it deserve our support.

Update: Thanks to a heads up from a reader here at Tman in Tennessee (Hi Amanda!), one of the main characters from the movie, Gheorghe Luchian, has his own blog about the situation over the mine in Romania, Report From Rosia. Gheorge has put together a video that shows him filling a number of bottles with poisoned water from the main stream of Rosia Montana. The bottles will reach environmentalists, TV stations and others who want to stop the new mining projects.Mr. Luchian states "this way they will have a proof how Rosia looks like now: environmental mess."

Here it is hippies. This is an example of what could be fixed by a Mining Company FOR FREE if you would just shut the hell up and let people control their own lives.

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