In the contexts of the unprecedented anti-cyanide mining demonstrations in Romania, the most striking issues for the environmental journalist are, beyond the overt high rank corruption that the project has generated, the clumsiness of politicians, doubled by their volatile moral values and striking lack of knowledge in ecological matters.
The thin red line of politicians’ reaction to the moral and environmental demands of the tens of thousands of people in the streets of Bucharest and main Transylvanian cities revolved around… conspiracy.
Conspiracy of the environmental movement against the good old Romanian state.
Romanian secret service headmaster, George Maior, fears “eco-anarchists and other anarchist groups”. He failed to define eco-anarchists or the ideological danger inspired by Thoreau and Bakunin that is looming in Bucharest’s public squares.
Environmental groups, as much as the environmental movement as a whole, were cynically dismissed and discredited by a handful of MPs and by the prime minister, Victor Ponta. Summarizing their opinion, these groups are working against the country’s “energy independence” and ignore the imperative of job creation – it is a rather inconsistent and misleading critique since the protesters are primarily opposing cyanide mining and not energy projects, whilst job creation is not a prerequisite for an environmental agreement.
The media that are financially supported via advertising of plainly sponsored by Rosia Montana Gold Corporation denounce the environmental movement (as well as other groups within the civil society) as being the promoter of obscure foreign interests. These latter ones are embodied by the American billionaire George Soros and target the Open Society Foundation or the CEE Trust, a branch of the Marshall Fund for Europe. Many politicians also slipped into this “Putinist” approach.
However, the most shocking imprecations against the environmental movement came from Romania’s president, Traian Basescu. The politician completely dismisses any positive role of the environmental movement in the whole modern history.
Referring to the fact that West-European countries such as Sweden or Spain, despite their environmental awareness, still use cyanide gold mining, the president expressed some harsh opinions related to the Western European environmental movement, be it political or non-governmental. I am reproducing the whole paragraph below in order not to affect the context:
“You know, this is, if you wish – I do not want to offend anyone – a sort of delayed environmentalist reaction. Environmentalists were extremely vocal, in the ‘70s and ‘80s in Europe. They have lost the battle against the need for development, be it in Italy, France or Germany. Therefore they are not very strong today, because they are not very credible. We cannot remain as in the eighteenth century, we can not preserve everything, because development obliges us to find solutions that will allow us, on one hand, to go forward, and on the other hand, to affect the environment as little as possible with this advancement of ours. I would say, for example, what would Italy have done if environmentalists had been successful, because the whole country of Italy is a protected monument, right? They would not have built any highway. What would have France done with its nuclear powerplants? It has 80% of the energy generated by nuclear power plants. The ecologist idea is overdue and I do not exclude the possibility that environmentalists that failed in the rest of Europe to find Romania as an area in which to practice what they could not achieve in their countries. So I think things are extremely complicated, in the way we approach them now.” Traian Basescu, President of Romania
“If the environmental movement in Western European countries seems less vocal today, then it is in part at least thanks to its very success,” stated Andreas Beckmann, leader of the WWF Danube Carpathian Programme.
And he continues, “it has become a normal practice in most countries to take into account environmental and social considerations when deciding on whether and how to build motorways and other infrastructure. Environmental legislation has greatly improved, And in the private sector, which once was seen by many as the antithesis of environmentalism, commitment to the environment is a given, and some companies are even overtaking environmental groups in pointing the way to a more sustainable future. The 1970s were about raising awareness. Fortunately, now increasingly the focus is on working together to find practical solutions to the awesome challenges that we face.”
Erik Swyngedouw, Professor of Geography at the School of Environment and Development at Manchester University, reduced his comment of Basescu’s words to a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
“Anti-green talk is becoming a common act of despair for a certain quality of East-European leaders who have long lost the battle for decency in politics. By piling up false and ungrounded accusations against the Green movement, [Romania’s] President Basescu is in fact publically resigning from his duty of serving the public’s interest,” commented for 2C Pavel P Antonov, PhD, National Council Member of Bulgarian European Green Party member Zelenite, and Former Editor in Chief, Green Horizon, Budapest.
He goes on, “just alike a myriad of post-socialist politicians of the past two decades, he is openly betraying people’s dreams for democracy, good governance, local entrepreneurship, health and clean nature. Instead, they have been turning Romania and other countries of Central East Europe into dirty lawless extraction fields for the profits of multinational corporations and local oligarchs, mostly controlled by the criminal structures around the former regimes’ secret services like Securitate. It is their shady deals, non-transparent business practices, and dirty technologies exploiting the pristine natural resources of Romania and the rest of the region, that Basescu is trying to back, not the interests and prosperity of his fellow citizens.”
Cleaner air, cleaner water, improved health – “these are all achievements of the great worldwide movement for a safer and more sustainable planet. These incredible milestones would not have been possible without the tireless work of millions of people across the world for decades, whereby they sought to make our world a better place. In today’s age, we continue this legacy in the form of sustainable development for all,” said for 2C Sean Miller, Ex-Director of Education at Earth Day Network and doctoral researcher at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
As a result, argued Miller, “it is difficult to perceive how the current proposal to blow up mountains and their respective villages – all to inject millions of liters of cyanide into the local and regional environment – honors a legacy of four decade long environmental improvement of the industrialized world. I hope Romania, its elected officials, and its populace can foresee the wisdom of not pursuing such a shortsighted and poisonous path of destruction.”
“It is indeed very sad to read this, since job-growth is bigger in renewable energy and green technology than in other sectors of the economy,” said for 2C Carl Schlyter, a Swedish green MEP. This week (late September, 2013, n.n.) a new court-case in Sweden will start about 30 year old cyanide sins, when a local company exported its waste to Chile.
“They are now facing fines that are bigger than their profit because they neglected the environment, they really wish they had transformed to cyanide-free mining,” stressed Schlyter.
The MEP believes that Romania will not prosper unless it is energy and resource efficient, delaying such development will only lead to worsening its environmental status as well as its trade balance. “It would be a pity if Romania reverted back to old communist logic of only counting output and not preserving the raw materials needed or considering the cost of environmental destruction,” concluded Schlyter.
“We are only slowly realizing, often too late, the real value of our natural capital, including the full range of benefits and services that they provide,” added WWF’s Beckmann.
“Forests provide more than wood – they help manage water, control erosion, regulate climate and produce oxygen, to name just a few of the “services” they provide and that would be very expensive to replace. Rational, economic decisions to harvest wood must also take into account the cost of other goods and services that are lost – otherwise, we make poor decisions that make us worse off. It is not an “environmental” question, but a question of rational self-interest, of smart, informed decisions,” asserted Beckmann.
Anti-environmentalist declarations and actions of Eastern European politicians are songs for the deaf in a democratic European context. “Romanians, just like all European citizens today”, said Antonov, “have the right to protect their natural environments, and the power to stand up for it against their untrustworthy political representatives, and move on without them in a green, sustainable and equitable Europe.”
Background on the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation project
The mining project that the Romanian-Canadian company Rosia Montana Gold Corporation is an unprecedented one! RMGC proposes a mine consisting of 4 pits for the gold and silver exploitation, 2 pits for constructing the material and several waste dumps including a large scale tailings management facility. At full production (24/7 operation), the mine will evacuate 70.000 tons per day or 500,000 tons of rock per week. It will emit 134 kg of cyanide into the air per day and use between 13-15 million kilograms of cyanide per year during the 16-year mine life.
While mining will occur at Rosia Montana, the adjacent valley of Corna village is proposed to be turned into the tailing management facility to hold 250 million tons of unconsolidated tailings. The TMF needs a surface area of roughly 4 km long by 2 km wide. The tailings will be contained by a rock-fill dam over 1 km long and 185 m high.
The mine would destroy a total area of 1500 hectares (including 4 mountains and forests), 740 farms and 140 apartments currently inhabited by the local population and used by small scale sustainable farmers for their livelihoods, 10 churches, 9 cemeteries, 50 patrimony buildings, 7 km of Roman and pre-Roman galleries, 80 km of medieval galleries and would irremediably affect the future of the entire region.
The mine poses wider regional environmental threats in the event of any cyanide spills, with trans-boundary effects towards Hungary, Serbia and Bulgaria.
Romania had already experienced in 2000 a tragic cyanide spill near Baia Mare and caused by a gold mining project. The spill has been called the worst environmental disaster in Europe since the Chernobyl disaster.
The company that proposes the mining project is Rosia Montana Gold Corporation, a joint venture between the Canadian company Gabriel Resources and the state owned company, Minvest. Gabriel Resources is a Canadian company registered in Barbados and was founded for the sole purpose of developing this mining project.
Despite heavy lobbying and massive advertising campaigns, the company was denied an environmental agreement from the Romanian government in more than 14 years since its inception. For unclear reasons, the mining license contract is and always has been classified.