Unfortunately it’s not particularly new that stray dogs roaming Bucharest are causing victims. Similarly, the recently erupted Rosia Montana mining scandal comes from a long and intricate back-story itself. The obvious strand uniting the two is also not new, worryingly enough: the Government’s double standards on environmentalism, a recent import to the ideological canvas of Eastern Europe, where it seems to be torn between its classical Western roots and a perverted understanding of “public utility”. For the sake of space I will not provide a full theoretical outlook on environmentalism qua political ideology (for such an analysis I point to the scholarly work Neil Carter:2007), but limit myself to a brief overview of the mixing of ideologies in the Romanian context, with some final remarks concerning the future of environmental governance on the global arena.
The recent turmoil of Romania
Washing away the blame, Bucharest’s mayor argues that the last stray dog attack happened on “private property” hence falling outside the responsibility of public authorities. Public outrage seems to be latent and heats up only when fatalities occur. The obvious scapegoat for authorities is the lack of funding for facilities and personnel. Adoption centers have thus far provided only limited solutions. On the other side of the spectrum, radical elimination programs have been met with outrage from self-proclaimed environmentalist NGOs, who play on sentimentalism rather than an actual action plan. Interesting to note here is that, quite similarly, in the case of the Rosia Montana local organizations have successfully blocked the competing exploitation programs for quite some time (for a very good analysis see Rupert Wolfe-Murray),though on the basis on a clear-cut environmentalist agenda.
After including blocking the project on their campaign agenda, the now in power Social-Liberal Alliance has given governmental approval to the Rosia Montana exploitation, which now must pass Parliament. The calculation is simple: risking huge environmental damage (as well as destruction of virtually incalculable cultural heritage, on which the Ministry has yet to offer any official statement) for an increase in derived revenues from the original 4% to 6%. Bribing and other related specific issues aside (yet to be proven, but present on everyone’s lips), the Government seems to be employing a perverted utilitarian thinking according to which the dire situation of the economy demands “fuel” that will be provided by the money from the Canadians biding for the Rosia Montana site. On the other hand, the “environmental” calculation is simple: eliminating stray dogs will require funding and mobilization, both of which are lacking in the present economic climate. The Government seems to be still playing on its rather solid electoral base and on the apparently unclear “popular will” regarding the two issues analyzed here (the recent protest movements although gaining some momentum are still fragmented rather than nation-wide protests). Exhibiting a very feeble tradition of environmental governance, Romania appears to be functioning as an “emergency welfare-state” (Inglot:2008), mixing in conceptions of public utility and shortage economics: the logic being that in the case of economic depression an up-and-coming (optimistically said) country like Romania cannot be future-oriented (i.e. in the sense advocated by environmentalists), but must tailor to present urgencies. The generational contract implied by environmental governance is employed by politicians only when needed: solving the stray-dog public problem would harm the “now” in favor of a distant future, while the Rosia Montana case helps an already “limping now” by possibly sacrificing a not-so-distant future.
The fundamental question that arises is simple: Is the Romanian state actually incapable of financing its own exploitation? The government seems to be employing a type of laymen’s economics when it comes to the need for money, but is reluctant to even discuss this possible solution that would at least ease the popular tension (ironically one can see a joint Hungarian-Romanian protest which goes beyond the “ancient hatred thesis”, although mainstream media is constantly flooded with “the Government is selling our country” type of nationalistic rhetoric). If economic shortages so badly demand the exploitation (that has been held off for quite some time now), it feels safe to assume that a state-private local partnership might offer better solutions at least to appease to protesters. There is an intricate mix of laymen economics, environmentalism and nationalism best epitomized by the Prime Minister’s position: having proposed the law he urges MPs to vote “according to their consciousness”, arguing that he will personally object to the project! (one does not need to be a native Romanian speaker to read “duplicity” through the lines).
On a global scale, environmentalism qua political ideology is slowly but surely eking out a place in modern politics. Although prone to radicalism (particularly on the left side of the political spectrum), environmentalists seem to be finding more and more flexible solutions (for a controversial example Lomborg:2001). From a theoretical perspective the key to solving the public utility puzzle seems to lie around constructing an adequate theory (non-normative I would add) of intrinsic value for non-human natural entities and for nature as a whole (Carter:2007, ch. by Callicoot). There is a generational contract that lies at the heart of both environmentalism and the existing welfare-ism inherited from the Golden Age that be the cornerstone of future politics. Certainly, with powerhouses like the US and China vociferously arguing against global warming this future is not as near as it should be. Therefore, suffice it to conclude for the time being that unlocking intricate cases such as Romania might provide valuable lessons for environmentalists world-wide as they struggle between populist politics, radicalism, laymen economics and nationalism.
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