When the facts don’t fit, construe!

At the DC premiere of Mine Your Own Business yesterday evening, I spoke with protesters who insisted that the 96% of the citizens of RoÅŸia Montană were opposed to the controversial mining project that is the primary subject of the film. I’m certainly a believer in democracy (at least when an issue can’t be resolved via property rights), so I thought I’d look into this more. The 96% statistic presented for all to see on bright white tag board can be found in a news release from rosiamontana.org:

Rosia Montana/Romania 22. January 2007 — A consultation process conducted by the Romanian Parliament has been inviting people to comment on the Rosia Montana mine proposal since last October. As of 22 January 2007 over 96.86% of a total of 6617 participants voted against Gabriel Resource’s open cyanide leach gold mining proposal.

Well, this seems damning to say the least. The producers of Mine Your Own Business must have just found the 3.14% of residents who agree with their pro-mining stance, right? But how could a vote have 6617 participants if RoÅŸia Montană only has a population of roughly 3800 people? It turns out that these 6617 voters were from all of Romania, a country of 22 million people, making this vote a paltry 0.03 % of the population. This public consultation vote was overwhelmingly against the mine because the participants were almost exclusively activists who sought out the means to cast their votes. I’m sure the people of RoÅŸia Montană would have taken the time to cast their ballots were they not spending so much time carrying buckets of water to their homes or feeding their horses.

This shows that the makers of Mine Your Own Business are not being dishonest, it is in fact the protesters and NGOs like Alburnus Maior, whose volunteers have set up rosiamontana.org, who are cherry picking their data. The same press release goes on to speak about the “Public consultations in the towns of Bucharest and Cluj-Napoca which lasted until 4 in the morning.” Bucharest and Cluj-Napoca are cities of 1.9 million and over 300,000 respectively, where I’m sure enough environmental frenzy can be aroused to keep a public consultation going as late as a college party.

So why are NGOs hiding behind false statistics and speaking to residents of rich, metropolitan cities? Why aren’t they talking to the people of RoÅŸia Montană? Why does rosiamontana.org show a view of RoÅŸia Montană from neighboring Cirnic? Because if these NGOs were brave enough to talk to the people of RoÅŸia Montană or actually look up close at the conditions under which they live you see the obvious need for economic development.

This was a topic also brought up by protesters, who said that a mine being open for 15 to 20 years was not a ‘sustainable’ economic solution. Half of a generation seems like a long time to use the influx of capital into the city to create greater opportunities, at least great than the alternative offered by NGOs which was aptly described by Eddie O’Hara, the General Rapporteur for the EU, in the Rosia Montana Information Report in December of 2004:

It was infantile to propose (as did the Romanian Academy) alternatives such as farming on acid soil or an economy based on mushrooms and woodcarving.

Then again, maybe we’re better off with 3 day music festivals, like Rosia Montana FanFest, instead of 15 year projects. This looks like it will preserve the native culture.