McAleer, an Irish journalist who covered Romania for the Financial Times, and McElhinney, his wife and co-producer, look at three mining investments: a gold project by Gabriel Resources in Rosia Montana, in Romanias Transylvania region; Rio Tintos ilmenite project in Fort Dauphin, in Madagascar; and a vast Andean operation undertaken by Barrick Gold in Chiles Huasco Valley.
In the movie, many of the critics who claim to live in the affected areas are less than honest. One, a Swiss environmentalist who leads the opposition to mining in Romania, actually lives in the sort of town to which many of the impoverished peasants of Rosia Montana want to move.
The activists are adamant that the locals should preserve their pristine environment. A Belgian environmentalist says the people of Rosia Montana would rather use carts and horses than pollute the air with cars. She says this to get noticed, counters a Romanian peasant who looks totally bewildered.
Half a world away, when confronted with the argument that denying the people of Fort Dauphin a chance to obtain jobs would keep them poor, the leading critic of the ilmenite project and the owner of a luxurious catamaran pontificates to Gheorghe Lucian, an unemployed Romanian traveling with the films crew: I could put you with a family here and you can count how many times people smile ... and I can put you with a family that is well-off in New York and London and you can count how many times they smile, and then you can tell me who is rich and who is poor.
You can imagine what this esoteric interpretation of wealth sounds like to Lucian, the Romanian who graduated from Rosia Montanas Technical College and is desperate to find a job. Two-thirds of his fellow villagers lack running water and use outside bathrooms even in freezing winter. For him, as for the other 700 prospective employees of the mining project back home, the choice is literally between having a job and leaving.
The film crew also traveled to the Chilean Andes to find out who was leading the fight against Barrick Gold. It turns outas one local villager explainsthat those who oppose the investment are mainly rich landowners who dont want the peasants working on their lands for a pittance to flock to the mines for twice their current wages.
McAleer tells us that the claim the mining project will displace three glaciers that provide irrigation for local agriculture is false. The glaciers will not be affected and the company will build a reservoir to guarantee that local farmers have a decent supply of water.
Will this industrial progress in Romania, Madagascar or Chile pollute the environment? Well, the alternative is much worse. Communist-era gold mining, which was technologically backward, bureaucratic and unaccountable, turned Rosia Montanas river into disgusting filth. In Madagascars Fort Dauphin, slash-and-burn agriculturethe sort the rural poor resort to in order to survivehas destroyed the rain forest.
It would be naive to think these mining companies are in it for altruistic motivesthey obviously want to make a profit. But the truthone that Lucian, the unemployed Romanian, discovers as he ventures beyond his country for the first time in his lifeis that progress involves hard choices. The wealthy nations of today were themselves pristine environments in which people gradually gave up traditional ways of life to improve their living conditions. Who are we to deny the poor of today the chance to do well for themselves when an opportunity arises if they decide to take it?
Yes, moving from the traditional to the modern way of life involves costs. But as one British professor at Kent University says: People need to be trusted to work these things out for themselves.... Environmentalists feel they have the moral authority to tell them what to do.
Not all nongovernmental organizations are as elitist and unfair to poor people as the many this film exposes. Not every mining project is as respectful of local choices as the ones depicted in this film. But this documentary speaks volumes about the Manichean vision that many bleeding-heart Americans and Europeans have of the dilemma between tradition and modernity in the developing world.
Charles V. Peña is Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute as well as a senior fellow with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, senior fellow with the George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute, and an adviser on the Straus Military Reform Project.
William Ratliff is Adjunct Fellow at the Independent Institute, Research Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, and a frequent writer on Chinese and Cuban foreign policies.
Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute and Assistant Editor of The Independent Review. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office, Evaluator-in-Charge (national security and intelligence) for the U.S. General Accounting Office, and Investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Full Biography and Recent Publications
Jonathan J. Bean is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, Professor of History at Southern Illinois University, and editor of the forthcoming book, Race and Liberty: The Classical Liberal Tradition of Civil Rights.
Gregory is a Research Analyst at The Independent Institute. He earned
his bachelor's degree in American history from the University of California
at Berkeley and gave the undergraduate history commencement speech in
2003. In addition to his work with the Independent Institute, he regularly
writes for numerous news and commentary web sites, including LewRockwell.com,
Future of Freedom Foundation, and the Rational Review.
Dominick T. Armentano is professor emeritus in economics at the University of Hartford (Connecticut) and a research fellow at The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. He is author of Antitrust & Monopoly (Independent Institute, 1998).
Alvaro Vargas Llosa is director of The Center on Global Prosperity at The Independent Institute. He is a native of Peru and received his B.S.C. in international history from the London School of Economics. He is widely published and has lectured on world economic and political issues including at the Mont Pelerin Society, Naumann Foundation (Germany), FAES Foundation (Spain), Brazilian Institute of Business Studies, Fundación Libertad (Argentina), CEDICE Foundation (Venezuela), Florida International University, and the Ecuadorian Chamber of Commerce. He is the author of the Independent Institute books The Che Guevara Myth and Liberty for Latin America. Full biography and recent publications.
Gabriel Roth is a transport and privatization consultant and a research fellow at the Independent Institute, where he is editing a book on private-sector roles in the provision of roads, Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship, and the Future of Roads.
Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at The Independent Institute,
author of Against Leviathan and Crisis and Leviathan, and editor of the
scholarly quarterly journal, The Independent Review. Click
here for a bio on Dr. Higgs, the noted economist and historian.
William Marina is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif., and Professor Emeritus of History at Florida Atlantic University.
T. Beito is a Research Fellow at The Independent Institute, Associate
Professor of History at the University of Alabama, and co-editor of
the book, The
Voluntary City: Choice, Community and Civil Society.
For further information, see the Independent Institutes book on wasteful farm programs, Agriculture and the State: Market Processes and Bureaucracy, by Ernest C. Pasour, Jr.