There is much talk these days in the Romanian media about the start of the gold mining project at Roşia Montană, a small community northwest of the country.
Over the past 15 years, the project has generated intense controversies and, recently, strong political pressure. That Roşia Montană is high on the political agenda is also confirmed by the intensive lobby which in 2010 reached the European Parliament aiming to persuade politicians that cyanide extraction of gold poses no threat to the environment. Opposition to the project has sometimes been criticized as a thin form of ecologism fuelled primarily by the high stakes of the project, and not by genuine environmental concerns.
However, what has so far been missing from the public debate is a serious discussion of the uncertainties surrounding this project, which are relevant for our duties to future generations.
Politicians who support the project (including the incumbent President) emphasize the stringent need of jobs for the locals and the urgency of making a decision in this case. This position has attracted equally categorical statements from other MPs, which claimed that ‘all still left as property of the Romanian state’ would thus be ‘sold’ and suggested that Ministers opposing the project were forced to resign.
In this context, the former Prime Minister’s recent statement, suggesting the unfairness of condemning a community of 5000 people to poverty ‘because we are thinking of what may happen’ should set the scene for different arguments.
Discussing the project in these terms is misleading. Even if the benefits it brings were as certain and substantial as its advocates argue, this could not justify brushing the remaining uncertainties off the debate.
For one thing, these uncertainties regard the environment:
– The fact that some states have not banned cyanide extraction of gold, while others have, does not necessarily show that this technology is safe rather than unsafe, as those in favour of the project argue. It may show that different countries have different protection mechanisms against risks or that they weigh and even afford risks differently.
– Some argue that this project is the unique opportunity to repair the environmental damage caused by mining under the communist regime. However, until the costs of such a repair are completely known and agreed on, massive unemployment in the area would not suffice to make it legitimate. Could we be confident that future generations would be better equipped than the present generation to protect themselves against the consequences of the potential, yet irreversible damage this mining project would cause?
– Finally, downplaying opposition to the project as ‘political ecologism’ exaggerating environmental concerns may have some appeal for those claiming Romanians do not have an ecologist conscience. Though this latter stance may be tenable, the environmental hazards invoked are a mix of uncertainties and social perception (amplification) mechanisms, and they should be compensated for by similar (i.e. environmental and institutional, not primarily employment related) guarantees.
This blog entry relates to research carried out under the ‘Rights to a Green Future’ project, WG4