Environmentalism may destroy human lives!

Mining is not a modern invention. People have been doing it for centuries.

Nations, vastly endowed with natural resources, have been depleting gifts of nature without exception or hesitation. Progress in the mining industry has created numerous jobs and attracted investment, which has led to blossoming economies.

Do you remember our mines? If you do not, you have definitely read about them in the first years of primary school. Either way, you will agree that when they were still in operation they provided a means of survival for countless Slovenian families. Mining jobs were far from easy but they did put food on the table.

With economic development, opportunities in other sectors arose, which led to an improvement in thousands of peoples’ lives. Although the new jobs sprouting up required less physical capital, they required more financial and human capital. As a result, fewer and fewer people were willing to work in the mines, the mines’ operation revenues dropped, and we witnessed mine after mine being closed down.

While today almost no one is thinking about mining, that is the main thread of discussions, negotiations, and quarrels in Rosia Montana, a tiny municipality with fewer than 4000 inhabitants in the northwestern part of Romania. In 2006 a state-run gold mine was closed down because environmentalist pressure from the European Union became too strong. It is undisputable that the mine has been polluting the area for centuries without limits. Can you imagine a brown-red stream that is full of heavy metal? It is not a coincidence that in Romanian “rosia” means red.

Gabriel Resources, a Canadian mining company, did not waste time. Immediately after the mine closed down they offered the Romanian government a project that would not just modernize and expand the current mine but would also clean up some of the pollution left by 2000 years of uncontrolled mining. Last year Gabriel Resources attained an 80 percent share in the mine and an approval from the Romanian government to begin the project that is planned to be the largest European mine of gold and silver. From the 3.7 billion dollars promised to be invested in the project 2 billions dollars are meant to rollover directly into the Romanian economy.

Reopening the mine would create thousands of new jobs that would be of great importance to the inhabitants of Rosia Montana and other municipalities nearby. Since the mine does not operate anymore, the area historically supported almost entirely by mining jobs unfortunately does not offer other employment options. Life has stopped for the people in the area and their living standards have sunk to the level where bare survival is in doubt. If the project does not come to fruition local people will have little choice but to leave their homes and move where work is available, even though this may be the last thing they want.

Uncertainty about the project realization arose when international organizations, like Greenpeace and the European Federation of Green Parties, started to object to the project with the intention of preserving the “authentic, quaint, and nonindustrial Rosia Montana.” Suddenly, a wide international audience knows this area not only by Count Dracula from the fifteenth century but also by the “Canadian danger to the timeless and untouched by development Romanian area.”

These international environmentalist organizations defend the position that Rosia Montana needs to be protected from economic progress and development. Activists hope to see the local people living on small-scale farms, engaged in traditional farming, logging, sheep-farming, agricultural tourism, and travel by horse, and believe they should reject industrial progress. What the activists forgot was to ask the locals about their desires. Like most people the inhabitants of Rosia Montana aim to make a living for themselves and their families; to build houses that will be safe, warm, with running water (today only a third of houses in the area have it), and with an inside toilet (the vast majority of houses now have it outside); and perhaps even to buy a small car from Dodge Dealership. Without a job to supply the necessary resources all these dreams will never come true.

Rosia Montana

Environmentalists raising objections to the project are making two main arguments:

1) life in Rosia Montana is ideal, and a mine would just destroy this fairy tale; and

2) with economic progress “happy farmers” would disappear, because with a rise of living standards people become miserable.

First, the locals or the land owners have a prerogative to decide how the land will be used. Second, an unemployed and poor person with no choices is not happy! The only people who would benefit from shutting down the project are the foreigners who would, from time to time, come and indulge themselves with a view of how life was centuries ago, while the locals would be obliged to live it day after day. At the same time, these foreigners would feel proud because they have “saved” the locals from hard work in a mine and preserved a smile on their faces. This reminds me of communism when someone else made decisions about your destiny, and the availability of choices, and had the hubris to believe that they knew what is best for you. Didn’t the Romanians get out of this kind of tyranny just a couple of years ago that had lasted for far too long?

Every time I read similar stories, from any part of the world, the same question always comes to mind: why do some people have a desire to manage, control, and run the lives of others when they were not asked to do so by the latter? I do not believe that these environmentalists are better equipped or that they have the proper authorization to make decisions regarding reopening the mine over the desires of the locals of Rosia Montana. The people are intelligent and passionate enough to make decisions about their own lives and wealth, and to take destiny into their own hands. No one knows better what is best for you than yourself. If we are the best masters of our lives, with what right do environmentalists interfere into the lives of others and expect or even demand them to blindly and without objection follow? None! The right is on the side of the locals and the owners of the land. They have a right to decide what they will do with their estate and how they will live. I am on the side of the locals. You?

The story did not end here. When the locals were already celebrating new jobs, lightning struck last week. Romanian Minister for Environment Attila Korodi temporarily suspended the project until a missing urbanism certificate will be handed over to the Romanian authorities. From high Romanian political circles a piece of information leaked that the minister’s demand came shortly after the Soros Foundation’s Open Society representatives placed enormous pressure on the Romanian government to shut down the project. As in many other countries, we can now ask ourselves who is making decisions, based on what kind of incentives, whom is the government serving, and who will be a winner in the end: locals, politicians, or influential, affluent foreigners. Am I the only one who thinks that the locals will be left with nothing, while the politicians and the foreigners will celebrate at an excessive dinner paid by the latter? My hope for a positive outcome for the locals lies in spreading the word—not just among the environmentalists—about the helpless situation in which the inhabitants of Rosia Montana have found themselves. Only in this way we might be able to find a solution where the environmentalists will not destroy the lives of the locals.

Tanja Stumberger