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I watched Phelim McAleer’s documentary ‘Mine Your Own Business’ again last night.

It is difficult to watch and not feel angry at the easy complacency of western environmentalists who, from the comfort of their air-conditioned homes, tell people in the developing world that their way of life is quaint and worth preserving, and that even though they cannot afford basic medical care, or to feed their children, they are rich in other ways.

A bit like our own Russell Crowe, who knows far better than the people of Cape York and the government of Queensland what is really good for people in remote regions of Australia. In Russell’s view, it isn’t job opportunities, better housing or decent roads, or any of the things he takes for granted and would throw a massive trantum if he was deprived of for even a few minutes. No, none of those things matter when you have a spiritual connection to the land. What contemptible tripe.

A few excerpts from a review of Mine Your Own Business:

Half a world away, when confronted with the argument that denying the people of Fort Dauphin a chance to obtain jobs would keep them poor, the leading critic of the ilmenite project and the owner of a luxurious catamaran pontificates to Gheorghe Lucian, an unemployed Romanian traveling with the film’s crew: “I could put you with a family here and you can count how many times people smile … and I can put you with a family that is well-off in New York and London and you can count how many times they smile, and then you can tell me who is rich and who is poor.”

You can imagine what this esoteric interpretation of wealth sounds like to Lucian, the Romanian who graduated from Rosia Montana’s Technical College and is desperate to find a job. Two-thirds of his fellow villagers lack running water and use outside bathrooms even in freezing winter. For him, as for the other 700 prospective employees of the mining project back home, the choice is literally “between having a job and leaving.”

The film crew also traveled to the Chilean Andes to find out who was leading the fight against Barrick Gold. It turns out—as one local villager explains—that those who oppose the investment are mainly rich landowners who don’t want the peasants working on their lands for a pittance to flock to the mines for twice their current wages.

McAleer tells us that the claim the mining project will displace three glaciers that provide irrigation for local agriculture is false. The glaciers will not be affected and the company will build a reservoir to guarantee that local farmers have a decent supply of water.

Will this industrial progress in Romania, Madagascar or Chile pollute the environment? Well, the alternative is much worse. Communist-era gold mining, which was technologically backward, bureaucratic and unaccountable, turned Rosia Montana’s river into disgusting filth. In Madagascar’s Fort Dauphin, slash-and-burn agriculture—the sort the rural poor resort to in order to survive—has destroyed the rain forest.

As one of the people interviewed in the documentary points out, it is wealthy, well developed societies which are able to divert funds and energy into conservation. Wealth and development are not just good for people, but also for the environment.

And anyway, who are we to tell people whose children are starving that they cannot have jobs and industrial development because we would rather their cute lifestyle and pretty village stayed exactly as it is?

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