The Occupy Movement is Dead - Long Live Participatory Democracy!

As governments in economic difficulties increasingly turn to environmentally damaging extraction industries for quick cash citizens of those countries are responding with increasingly louder cries of protest.

What is it with Canadian corporations and the destruction of natural ecosystems? It seems, not content with devastating an area of boreal forest the size of the UK to extract the dirtiest of oil beneath - the infamous tar sands of Alberta - another Canadian mining corporation, Gabriel Resources Ltd., is set to flatten four peaks of the Apuseni mountain range in Romania, the town of Rosia Montana and adjacent villages and leave in its wake a massive lake of toxic tailings including deadly cyanide. All this plunder for a bit of gold - something that will merely fan the dying embers of an utterly corrupt and unsustainable economic system.

"There are people all over the world who haven't forgotten the wisdom of their ancestors and who are coming together in the name of 'participatory democracy' to ensure that their voice is heard; that they are not silent witnesses to the crime of ecocide."

It doesn't take much to envisage what the world would look like if activists such as those in Romania who are systematically opposing this pillage of the earth are silenced: it would be barren, grey and empty, bereft of birds and butterflies, of the clear streams and biodiversity that once bejeweled the landscape. Who'd want to live in that world? Certainly not the CEOs and shareholders of the corporations that profit from this despoilation. Oh no, it is indigenous people, first nations people, farm laborers and peasants who, all over the world, have to pick up the pieces after such corporate ransacking; who pay the price in terms of debilitating illness and unrelenting poverty as their crops fail and animals succumb to the poisoned land.

This situation puts me in mind of the American Indian proverb: "Only when the last tree has been cut down; only when the last river has been poisoned; only when the last fish has been caught; only then will you realize you can't eat money." The giant industrial maw is out of control, destroying everything in its path, laying waste to beauty and vitality, leaving in its wake a bleak future.

However, there are rays of light - glimmers of hope - in this shadowland. There are people all over the world who haven't forgotten the wisdom of their ancestors and who are coming together in the name of 'participatory democracy' to ensure that their voice is heard; that they are not silent witnesses to the crime of ecocide.

In solidarity with the Beaver Lake Cree Nation of Alberta who are tirelessly campaigning against the tar sands catastrophe, the Save Rosia Montana campaign has coalesced around the injustice that is unfolding in this most beautiful region of Transylvania- a campaign that has become Romania's biggest protest movement since the bloody revolution of 1989.

Using novel, informative and provocative forms of direct action - not least a gold-colored coffin left at the doors of the European Gold Forum conference - this 'theater of protest' has successfully laid bare the empty promises and cynical tactics of Gabriel Resources whose logo is everywhere in Romania and who have been known to pay thousands of Euros to people who are prepared to go on record in the media and on TV in support of the mine.

Of course, this money is small potatoes to a company that is set to make billions from the mine. The gold buried beneath Rosia Montana - a proposed UNESCO World Heritage Site - is estimated to be worth sixteen billion Euros, but with the Romanian government only owning 20% of shares in the mine, the vast majority of this money will be siphoned out of Romania, leaving the people most impacted the least recompensed. Despite the promise of 3,000 jobs and an injection of much-needed cash into the Romanian economy, the mine remains unopened and highly contentious with public opinion split but mostly against the mine.

There are many reasons for this: a deep distrust by Romanians of their government; and of multinational exploitation of Romanian resources, but also the memory of the cyanide spill at the Baie Mare gold mine in 2000, Europe's worst environmental disaster since Chernobyl. As Luke Dale-Harris wrote in his recent article in Spiegel Online, "Everywhere it seems, the Romanians see the mine as a form of robbery, facilitated by their government but conducted from abroad, and for which the country will pay the price."

There is gold to be found throughout Europe and it is worth noting that this "digging for cash" as Tim Wood the CEO of Denver Gold Group called gold mining, has been facilitated by "an avalanche of regulation rollback". Interestingly, the countries most devastated by the current economic recession - Greece, Portugal, Bulgaria and Turkey - are all now moving to exploit their potential gold reserves. In fact, in Greece, the government opened-up one of its gold deposits to a Canadian company, which sparked violent protests. Just like that other form of mining - hydraulic fracturing - that is gearing-up in the UK, there is a dash to extract the earth's mineral wealth, no matter what the cost to people and planet.

What the situation in Rosia Montana highlights is that we all need to become adept at 'participatory democracy' or the art of activism, because soon, it might just be in our backyards. Our brothers and sisters in Romania and Alberta, in Greece and Balcombe (Sussex, UK) are all standing up against the cynical exploitation of the earth, our one, precious home.

On Sunday September 15th there is a Global Day of Action in support of the Save Rosia Montana campaign. We would do well to remember that their struggle is our struggle, and do what we can in support.

© 2023 The Ecologist