Eco-Groups Could Kill Kosovo Economy Before It Grows

March 6th, 2008 8:06 AM

     Kosovo declared independence from Serbia two weeks ago and has much work to do in building its economy. But the top challenge might be environmental groups opposed to mining the natural resources that are the nation’s greatest asset.

      Kosovo’s economy is ranked the fourth most corrupt in the world by Transparency International. Its massive restructuring will depend largely on mineral exports, according to a March 5 report in The New York Times.

     The new country’s largest export is scrap metal, but Kosovo’s hopes for increased exports lie in what geologists expect to be “vast amounts of minerals” in the territory, Dan Bilefsky reported.

     Its old methods of extraction are “outdated” and “will need hundreds of millions of dollars in outside investment to create a profitable exporting business,” Bilefsky reported. Unfortunately, the mining industry has faced fierce opposition from Western environmental activists and with an estimated 14 billion tons of coal to be mined in Kosovo, it is likely the country could fall prey to the same hostility.

      Coal is one of the most opposed energy sources among leftwing environmental groups. The leftwing eco group claims “coal has caused more widespread damage to our health and environment than any other energy source. Coal is the single largest source of global warming and mercury pollution.”

     Exploring the “dark side of environmentalism,” Irish filmmakers Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney made the 2007 documentary “Mine Your Own Business,” focusing on a similar situation with the effects of opposition to mining in impoverished towns.

    Not long ago, Canadian mining company Gabriel Resources purchased the rights to mine the Rosia Montana hills in Romania, planning a $3.7 billion project that would have pumped more than $2 billion back into Romania. Well, that was the plan until environmental journalist Stephanie Roth found out and moved to Romania to work to stall and defeat the project. (Incidentally, The New York Times spotlighted Ms. Roth’s work in an article in January 2007.)

      In “Mine Your Own Business,” McAleer interviewed Deepak Lal,  Professor in  International Development at UCLA, who called Western environmentalists the “biggest enemies of the poor.”

     “Most of them are actually ignorant about what actually works, what does actually reduce poverty.  It’s all rhetorical it’s very narrow, single issue case and it’s based on this sort of moral argument which they keep making… but if you are starving and your children are sort of dying of diseases I mean, you know, these moral arguments are not going to cut much ice,” said Lal.

     Environmental activists featured in McAleer’s documentary, such as Roth and Mark Fenn of the Madagascar-based Worldwide Fund for Nature, have stalled mining interests in Romania, Madagascar and Chile. McAleer traveled to Africa and South America and exposed the true destruction of these activists’ work.

     Fenn argued for keeping residents of Ft. Dauphin, Madagascar, poor because they would be happier that way. “The indicators of quality of life are not housing, they’re not nutrition, specifically, they’re not health in a lot of cases, it’s not education.  A lot of people-- children in Ft.Dauphin don’t go to school because their parents don’t consider that to be important,” Fenn said.

     Yet, McAleer immediately revealed that it was in fact monetary restrictions, not lack of interest, which kept children in Ft.Dauphin out of school.  Some town members even aspired for their children to be doctors or engineers

     Back in Romania, McAleer interviews one Rosia Montana citizen who argued that Romania is indeed beautiful, “but we can’t live at that. We have to eat. We have- need jobs and we have to work. We can’t live just look at the beautiful places here, it’s not—it’s not living like that.”

     If past environmental opposition can help predict the future, it will only be a matter of time before bold investors in the Kosovo mining economy are rivaled by environmentalists.

     And the question remains: what role will the media play in Kosovo’s economic reconstruction. Can journalists maintain a “hands-off” approach and allow the citizens of Kosovo to make decisions about their own economy? Or will they continue to side with environmentalists, as The New York Times did with Roth, and risk handicapping an already disadvantaged nation?