The one big advantage environmental activists have is the presumed purity of their motives. They claim they only want to protect the earth from a few particularly greedy people, and they say their efforts benefit everybody.
That’s their story, anyway, and they’re sticking to it. The reality is a far different matter, as the acclaimed documentary filmmakers Phelim McAleer and Patricia McElhinney make clear in their film Mine Your Own Business, now available on DVD.
The film is billed as presenting “The Dark Side of Environmentalism,” and it succeeds brilliantly. Seldom have Western environmental activists been shown in all their abundant arrogance, smugness, and paternalism.
The film opens by documenting a Canadian company’s efforts to maintain a gold mine in Rosia Montana, Transylvania. McAleer and McElhinney took the initiative to interview not only the environmentalists but also the local villagers whose lives will be affected by the decision of whether to allow the mine project to advance.
Relaying the environmentalists’ arguments, McAleer tells a young villager that some people say the mine project will destroy the town and this is bad for the village. She says they’re wrong, “Because my mother and my father are working” thanks to the mine.
Another young villager agrees. “It’s good for everybody,” he says, “especially for the young people.” Another young man starkly identifies what’s at stake for the villagers: “Without gold we would be dead here.”
The filmmakers show just how important this project is to the villagers by documenting how abjectly poor they are, using the background visuals to great effect. Romania’s economy is in tatters, thanks to years of communism, and the villages have yet to develop any kind of productive activities that can bring in money and support the people.
The people of Rosia Montana—and other poverty-stricken quarters of the globe—desperately want to better their living conditions, yet outsiders from Europe and the United States force them to remain under such conditions in order to preserve the environment.
Financial Times Associate Editor Martin Wolf, points out the environmentalists, most of whom are outsiders and fly in only for photo ops, think lives of such dire poverty are quaint. Hence, they “really don’t want change,” he says. “The environmentalists really are against growth. They don’t want economic growth at all.”
As Wolf speaks, the filmmakers show scenes of horse-drawn carts and tumbledown housing with no indoor bathrooms, the blighted conditions in which the environmentalist want to force the people of Rosia Montana to continue to live in perpetuity.
An activist is shown explicitly saying these people would rather ride horses than have cars. The filmmakers then call her bluff by asking villagers if they’d rather have a horse or a car. Their thorough rejection of her claim is both funny and infuriating.
The film documents a similar situation in Madagascar, where environmentalists are trying to block a British mine involving an investment of $600 million and projected to create about 2,000 jobs.
Similarly, the film observes, anti-mining activists and NGOs are trying to prevent a project in Chile that will generate 5,000 jobs—even though they’ve never been anywhere near the site. In this case as in the others in the film, the project has been designed to minimize the environmental impact, but the environmentalists refuse to be satisfied.
“There are a lot of poor people who need the opportunity to make their dreams come true,” says a young Chilean in the film. Their only problem is, the environmental movement simply doesn’t care.
In great contrast to the fairy story the Western media tell, the heroes in Mine Your Own Business are businesses who want to create jobs and bring development to poor villages, and the villains are smug environmentalists who want to force these people to remain in poverty. It is a story of great drama and insight, and it deserves a wide audience.
This article will appear in the December 2007 issue of Environment and Climate News.