By Ann McElhinney
Ten years ago I believed that environmentalists were genuinely good and kind and caring. They were concerned about nature, the animals, and keeping the world clean and unpolluted. They were doing this work for all of the rest of us, and I was grateful because I was too lazy to do anything to save the whales myself.
This all changed when, as a journalist, I was sent to cover the story of a Canadian mining company who wanted to open Europe's largest gold mine in Transylvania, Romania. According to the media (who quoted Greenpeace), the mining company's project, located near the small Romanian village of Rosia Montana, was going to ruin a pristine environment, forcibly and illegally remove poor villagers from their homes, and use a massive football field-sized swimming pool of cyanide to extract the gold.
For a country recovering from a brutal communist dictatorship where forced evictions were commonplace and devastating, this was a human rights abuse that needed maximum exposure, and I was the perfect journalist to help with that effort.
As the train snaked its way up to Rosia Montana, I sat happily contemplating my storyline. I loved this work! At its best, journalism is all about stories that give a voice to people being trampled upon by wealthy corporations. It was unconscionable that these downtrodden people, who had just gotten rid of a tyrannical political dictator, would face the tyranny of greedy Canadians. My story was writing itself.
There was just one problem: None of it was true.
Rosia Montana had been mined for 2000 years, most recently by the communists who had zero concern for the environment. I saw first hand that the village's environment was anything but 'pristine'. In fact, the river ran red because of the former dictator's rotten environmental record. The Canadian company's plan to mine using the most sophisticated methods would clean up the mess others had left behind and actually improve the local environment.
I learned that, rather than forcibly resettling villagers, the Canadians were offering villagers very, very attractive prices for their property and their often-dilapidated houses, two-thirds of which had no running water. The villagers were more than happy to sell. For them, the mine was a godsend after years of living in penury, and it meant they had a real chance of a decent standard of living.
The swimming pool of arsenic was simply out-of-date fiction; the forced illegal evictions still more fiction. My repeated requests to Greenpeace for the names of the 'illegally evicted families' were met with silence. Such families simply did not exist.
The Romanian experience was a remarkable revelation for me. My vision of environmentalists as pure and good was utterly shattered, and it set my journalistic quest on a new course.
In the years since Romania, I have investigated hundreds of similar stories. The stories are almost always the same: exaggeration, untruths and propaganda driven by a naive idea that things were better in the past and that economic development is always bad.
I discovered that the 'good guys' were not good guys, and the 'bad guys' were really good. Greenpeace lied, and the big mining company didn't. To make matters worse, the media seem to suspend all normal investigative rigor when it comes to environmentalists. Whatever Greenpeace says is reported as unquestioned truth, and the mining company is always treated as a lying pariah.
The product of my journalistic quest is a film documentary shot on three continents that exposes Big Environment's efforts to stop mining developments in poor countries.
The film reveals a very tragic tale of dashed hopes and shattered dreams as poor people become the victims of an environmentalist ideology that believes poverty is a natural state and, worse, something to be envied.
One of the most telling moments in the film is an interview with Mark Fenn, the country manager of the World Wide Fund for Nature in Madagascar. George Lucian, an unemployed Romanian miner, asks Fenn about all the poor people who are desperate for a job in Madagascar. Fenn replies:
How do we perceive who's rich, who's poor … I could put you with a family and you count how many times in a day that family smiles … Then I put you with a family well off, in New York or London, and you count how many times people smile and measure stress … Then you tell me who is rich and who is poor.
Fenn's appalling attitude—one that dismisses basic economic needs and human realities—is widespread in environmentalism.
One story that deserves to be repeated often is the story of DDT, if only because it is instructive and serves as a warning of the price humanity pays for allowing radical environmentalism to dictate its decision making.
DDT was used as a pesticide in the United States for decades, and many older Americans have a distinct memory of playing in the fog of the DDT truck as it bellowed out its load in neighborhoods across the country. In fact no country in the world used more DDT than the US.
In 1948, Swiss chemist Paul Muller received the Nobel Prize for his discovery that the pesticide DDT could be used to eradicate mosquitoes and effectively control the spread of malaria. This miracle discovery meant the world finally had an answer to the planet's greatest killer. Sri Lanka reported 2.8 million malaria victims in 1948, for example, but by 1963 it had only 17.
The celebrations were short lived, however. In 1962 American marine biologist Rachel Carson—sometimes called the mother of the modern environmental movement—wrote Silent Spring, a book that demonized DDT and argued that its use was harmful to animals and humans. The book was so popularized that DDT was officially banned in the US in 1972 and effectively banned world-wide.
In 2006, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a change in policy. DDT, it said, was in fact the best way to prevent malarial deaths, and WHO again supported its use. In the intervening years, however, 30 million people had died unnecessarily from the disease, and most of the dead were children.
Yet environmentalists persist in their anti-DDT cause, and today many of them champion bed nets as an alternative to DDT. Campaigns to push bed nets on vulnerable populations are an insult—a deadly insult.
I often cite this quote from National Geographic to students to explain why bed nets are not the answer:
When it comes to malaria, only one thing is guaranteed: Every evening in the rainy season across much of the world, Anopheles mosquitoes will take wing, alert to the odors and warmth of living bodies. A female Anopheles needs to drink blood every three days. In a single feeding, which lasts as long as ten minutes, she can ingest about two and a half times her pre-meal weight—in human terms, the equivalent of downing a bathtub-size milk shake.
If she happens to feed on a person infected with malaria, parasites will accompany the blood. Two weeks later, when the mosquito flies through the open window of a mud hut, seeking her next meal, she'll be loaded.
Inside the hut, a child is sleeping with her sister and parents on a blanket spread over the floor. The family is aware of the malaria threat; they know of the rainy season's dangers. They've hung a bed net from the ceiling. But it's a steamy night, and the child has tossed and turned a few times before dropping back to sleep. Her foot is sticking out of the net. The mosquito senses it, and dips down for a silent landing.1
Without any scientific evidence, environmentalists have blamed DDT for cancer, the decline in the bald eagle population, and myriad other ills. The fact that people ate DDT off a spoon for years without ill effect does not impress environmentalists. The fact that the US used more DDT than any other country, has record life expectancy, and has had no spike in cancers does not impress them. The fact that the bald eagle population was declining before DDT was used does not impress them. Why? Because ultimately environmentalism is a religion to the faithful.
Environmentalists' objections to mining, DDT, chemicals generally, and countless other modern innovations and technologies are neither rational nor scientific. Instead their objections are based on a fundamentally anti-development ideology: nature is good; interfering with nature is bad; and the human instinct to improve on nature is hubris.
Their love affair with all things natural and organic—the so-called "simple life"—is wholly superstitious and irrational. Natural is not necessarily good. Cancer is natural, for example, as is anthrax and tuberculosis. None of these is good, and the eradication of all is something to be aggressively pursued.
Poor people forced into the "simple life" through lack of choice often live lives of quiet desperation, clinging to life and subject to the whim of nature. We don't need to look far to examine these simple lives.
In Africa, that organic, subsistence life often dies young or watches its own young die. It is not to be wished for or celebrated, and only the cruelest person would force it on another.
It is the ultimate hypocrisy that environmentalists, who enjoy so much of the world's riches and resources, devote their careers to denying people in poverty any opportunity to acquire even the most basic economic resources.
Anti-mining environmentalists use cell phones, iPads, laptops, airplanes, bicycles, dishwashers, and many other modern conveniences that rely on components mined out of the ground. Bizarrely, many of these conveniences are the same tools that enable environmentalists to spread their false campaigns against mining.
If anti-chemical environmentalists or their family members become seriously ill, they use every weapon in the medical armory to stay alive, including all kinds of chemicals. Yet they crusade against life-saving chemicals for others.
CHALLENGING BAD FAITH
Exposing stories like these is my job. I have made two documentaries that expose radical environmentalists — Mine Your Own Business and Not Evil Just Wrong. Both films should be required viewing on campuses across America to bring some balance to the steady green ideology diet that students are constantly force fed in schools.
The response from green activists to the films has been equally irrational. They have been compared to Nazi propaganda and pornography, and 80 non-government organizations signed a petition to have Mine Your Own Business banned. I have even received death threats.
While environmentalists have accused me of all kinds of things, they have never found inaccuracies in my work. So their anger will not dissuade me, and their accusations will not deter me.
In fact, no rational person today should be dissuaded or deterred from seriously questioning any and all claims made by environmentalists.
The world needs policies based on good science and rational evidence, not faith and emotion, developed by honest thinkers, not hypocrites. Poor people in both the developed and developing world deserve nothing less.
About the Author: Irish-born Ann McElhinney has worked as a journalist and filmmaker in the U.S., Canada, Romania, Bulgaria, Chile, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Ghana and Uganada, producing documentaries for the British Broadcasting System, Canadian Broadcasting System, and Ireland’s National Television and Radio Broadcasting Network. She co-produced and directed, with Phelim McAleer, two documentary films, “Mine Your Own Business” and “Not Evil Just Wrong,” which challenge environmentalists’ claims.