You hear this argument from drillers, miners and loggers nowadays: For every tree we don't cut here, a forest falls in Siberia. For every proposed regulated mine we don't dig in the West, a river system is poisoned in China. For every oil or gas well we don't permit here, a rainforest in Africa is turned into an industrial zone.
We all should be
rightfully concerned. The not-in-my-backyard syndrome will never
solve any problems unless everyone is minding their own backyard.
Unfortunately, many less-democratic countries don't allow their
citizens to meddle in state business, a privilege we sometimes take
for granted in our country.
So how should we
react to this defeatist argument? Not by backing down, but by
exporting the American environmental movement. It requires some
work, but it's not impossible. And the rewards can be vastly
Just ask Eugene Debs Bernofsky, a
U.S. Postal Service worker in Missoula, Mont. Bernofsky, 61, grew
up in New York's Coney Island and was named after union organizer
Eugene Debs, a brash defender of human rights.
Bernofky developed a similar sense of justice
and combined it with innovation. In the 1960s, he organized one of
the first hippie communes "- Drop City near Trinidad, Colo. Photos
of the brightly colored geodesic domes made of car tops graced the
pages of Time magazine.
his family and film career at the commune, producing and directing
16 mm black-and-white underground films that won an almost a cult
following. After leaving the commune, he attended the University of
Kansas, later becoming a postman to support his growing family.
When he transferred to an opening at the Missoula post office,
Bernofsky became interested in wildlife films, thanks to Chuck
Jonkel, founder of the International Wildlife Film Festival. But
Bernofsky began making films that focused on mining issues.
He was the first to bring public attention to
the proposed Noranda gold mine on the border of Yellowstone
National Park. Bernofsky distributed the film, "Undermining
Yellowstone," to media across the nation free of charge, and over
the years he produced a dozen more films exposing the
transgressions of mining companies.
Bernofsky traveled to Georgia to make an award-winning film,
"Trembling Waters," about a proposed DuPont titanium mine on the
border of the Okeefenokee Swamp. A year later, he received an
e-mail from a citizen of Nairobi,Kenya, describing how the Digo and
Kamba people were being run off their homeland by a Canadian mining
firm, Tiomin of Toronto, that wanted to dredge for titanium.
The Kenyan asked Bernofsky to inform the world.
Still a full-time postal worker, Bernofsky raised barely enough
cash to fly himself and videographers Ken Furrow and Jim Kinsey to
Kenya. The three produced the innovative film "Dongo Kundu11," in
which native Kenyans tell their story without the aid of a
narrator. Bernofsky printed up 3,000 copies of the film and
distributed them across Canada, and Kenya.
time passed, opposition to the mine intensified in both countries.
Two years later, the Kenyan Supreme Court negated the mining
permit. As things stand today, it looks as if the Digo and Kamba
people will be allowed to remain on their homeland.
Bernofsky never made a penny from his
environmental work, yet he's champing at the bit to go back to
Africa. He describes the country as "virgin territory" for
environmentalists. "There's so much to do over there," he says.
Bernofsky plans to retire soon from the post office and devote the
rest of his life to challenging corporations who ignore the social
and environmental impacts of mining, logging and drilling.
If he could raise enough money, he says, he
would jump on a plane tomorrow and head to Tanzania. There, 300,000
small-scale miners and their families have been evicted from the
richest body of gold ore in East Africa by theTanzanian government
and Canadian-owned Kahama Mining Corporation Ltd.
Bernofsky is no green Indiana Jones. With a
bird\'s nest of hair surrounding the bald spot on his head, and
chunky cheeks, he looks like the average Joe you'd find behind any
Post Office counter. But Bernofsky epitomizes the spirit of those
early idealists who often sacrificed their own time and resources
to try to protect the land and communities .
one likes to work for nothing, not even idealists, but I hope that
people find inspiration in Bernofsky's story. As he proves, it just
takes a little cash and a lot of enthusiasm and willpower to change