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The Forgotten Mammal

"Mine Your Own Business" tells story of the one animal environmentalists forget by Mary Katharine Ham  January 26, 2007, Townhall.com

In Rosia Montana, Romania, George grew up in a one-bedroom apartment with seven other family members. Two thirds of the people in his village have no running water. They venture outside in brutal negative temperatures just to use the bathroom. Many of them, George included, hope a planned gold mine will bring jobs and a taste of modernity to a town long-ago abandoned by state-owned mines and gainful employment.

Almost 500 miles away, from her home in the prosperous, modern capital city of Bucharest, Belgian environmentalist Francoise Heidebroek says of Rosia Montana's poverty, "It is part of the charm of Rosia Montana and this lifestyle. You know, people will use their horse and cart instead of using a car. They are proud to have a horse."

In Fort Dauphin, Madagascar, a tiny harbor town in one of the poorest countries on Earth, Rasou Nirina Odette is waiting on a job in a new ilmenite mine planned for the area.

"I would use the money for school fees for the children and I would buy something at a low price and resell it at a higher price for a profit."

Many miles away from Fort Dauphin, in the regional capital of Tulear, World Wildlife Fund's Mark Fenn plans for a beachfront home and sails his catamaran. He has different priorities for the people of Fort Dauphin.

Greenpeace activists play dead in front of the Turkish Parliament in Ankara November 14, 2006. Twenty-five activists were detained by riot police as they protested against a draft law on nuclear energy. REUTERS/Umit Bektas (TURKEY)

"In Madagascar, the indicators of quality of life are not housing. They're not nutrition, specifically. They're not health in a lot of cases. It's not education. A lot of children in Fort Dauphin do not go to school because the parents don't consider that to be important… People are economically disadvantaged, people have no jobs, but if I could put you with a family and you could count how many times in a day that that family smiles…then you tell me who is rich and who is poor," Fenn said.

In Pascua Lama, Chile, Eduardo Ayolo is one of 27,000 residents who have applied and trained for a job in a planned gold mine in his area.

"I'm not asking for much. Just a normal job," he said.

Another Pascua Lama resident said, "There are a lot of poor people who need opportunities to make their dreams come true."

Thousands of miles away in London, Roger Moody, an environmentalist active in blocking the Pascua Lama mine, explains his objections, despite never having visited Pascua Lama: "A large part of indigenous reality has to do with spiritual connection to the earth with specific plots of earth, with specific hills or mountain tops and so on."

The distance between the communities "defended" by environmentalists against development and the communities themselves is often large, both philosophically and literally. Filmmakers and journalists, Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney have made a documentary that highlights these environmental battles and the exaggerations, fibs, and sometimes outright lies that keep some of the world's poorest cultures from developing. "Mine Your Own Business" is an entertaining, moving and sometimes humorous look at a side of the environmental movement we don't often see—the dark side.

McAleer traveled to Rosia Montana, Romania several years ago to cover a story for the Financial Times—the story of Toronto-based mining company Gabriel Resources forcing people from their homes, planning an environmentally destructive mine, and ruining the pristine countryside of that remote Romanian village, all against the wishes of its residents. Only, when he got to Rosia Montana, he found a different story.

"I pretty much found that everything the environmentalists were saying was either false, exaggerated, or just a plain lie," McAleer said in a telephone interview Monday.

Residents told him they had sold their land for good money. Mining company representatives told him they planned to clean pollution left by now-deserted state-run mines that were built before environmental standards were in place and modernize housing and plumbing for residents. Locals told him the pristine rivers were actually running with cadmium and zinc.

Environmentalists claim that 80 percent of the people of Rosia Montana are opposed to the building of the mine. When McAleer and his wife toured the streets and homes of Rosia Montana, they found many who spoke in favor of it, and who wondered why so many outsiders were interested in stopping it (a letter signed by the people of Rosia Montana is here).

After their discoveries in Rosia Montana, McAleer and McElhinney recruited George, a 23-year-old unemployed miner, to travel with them to proposed mine sites in Madagascar and Chile to interview locals.

They also interviewed the environmentalists who oppose the mining projects. The results were revealing, condescending, and sometimes tinged with racism.

"They look at a mud village and they see something worth preserving. They think these people are poor and happy," McAleer said.


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