Mining watchdog Radhika Sarin answers questions
What environmental organization are you affiliated with? What does it do?
I work for Earthworks, a new partnership designed by the Mineral Policy Center, which seeks to protect communities and the environment from irresponsible mining. We bring together activists, organizers, scientists, engineers, and community leaders in an effort to change mining policies and practices.
What’s your job title?
International Campaign Coordinator.
What do you really do, on a day-to-day basis?
We’re launching the No Dirty Gold campaign next week, which is a consumer campaign designed to create pressure for an alternative to dirty gold. So I’ve been helping to produce campaign materials such as a consumer-focused report on mining’s impacts. I am doing outreach to students and other activist bases. I’m also in constant communication with our partners in Ghana, Peru, Argentina, Romania, and elsewhere to support local campaigns through targeted actions against mining companies and elected officials.
How many emails are currently in your inbox?
With whom do you interact regularly as part of your job? What types of people? What other organizations or government agencies?
Other international and national NGOs [non-governmental organizations] that work on mining issues, such as Oxfam America; amazing community leaders around the world who are involved in local mining campaigns; student activists. The people I work with are truly inspiring. Daniel Owusu-Koranteng, executive director of a Ghanaian community-based NGO, has been investigating human-rights abuses by a major gold mining company in Ghana. Marta Sahores, an activist in Argentina, helped to organize a referendum against a mine proposal that threatens her community. Bernice Lalo, a Western Shoshone tribal member, travels proudly on her tribal passport, educating airport and immigration authorities about Western Shoshone lands and culture.
Who’s the biggest pain in the ass you have to deal with?
Crazy people who call me up out of the blue with even crazier “solutions” to various environmental problems. For example, when I used to work for a population stabilization group, I actually had someone call me up to suggest that we sneak contraceptives into the public drinking water supply!
Who’s nicer than you would expect?
Stressed out students who take time out of their already-packed schedules to help us distribute No Dirty Gold valentines!
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I’m sort of a global mutt. I was born in North India, but spent many years in Cote d’Ivoire before I came to the United States. I currently live and work in Washington, D.C.
What was your environmental coming-of-age moment?
I love getting food from street vendors, and I remember getting really upset when I was young and saw people throwing their ice cream wrappers on the street. This was in India, where trash disposal is a major problem in most urban areas.
What has been the worst moment in your professional life to date?
When the media had a field day over Bjorn Lomborg’s book.
What’s on your desk right now?
What environmental offense has pissed you off the most?
The fact that our recycling rates are so low that we remain dependent on mining, rather than using our “above-ground” stocks. In the 1990s, Americans discarded enough aluminum cans to make 316,000 Boeing 737 airplanes!
Who is your environmental hero?
The farming community of Tambogrande, Peru, for successfully booting the Manhattan Minerals mining company out of their town and for proudly stating that their livelihood is worth more than gold.
Who is your No. 1 environmental villain?
Well, the mining industry produces more toxic waste than any other industry in this country!
What’s your environmental vice?
When I was in India a couple of months back, my little nephews insisted on going to McDonald’s. I felt really guilty, though I was amazed by the long vegetarian menu!
How do you get around?
I’m very fortunate to live in a city where I can walk, ride the bus, or take the Metro. I’m a public-transportation junkie!
What are you reading these days?
Brick Lane by Monica Ali. I really enjoy reading books and watching films about the immigrant experience.
What’s your favorite meal?
Fried, sweet plantains, attieke (manioc couscous), and hot sauce!
Are you a news junkie? Where do you get your news?
Yes. BBC, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and NPR. I really depend on allAfrica.com as well, because most papers here do such a shoddy job of reporting on what’s going on in African nations.
Which stereotype about environmentalists most fits you?
SUVs make me so angry!
What’s your favorite place or ecosystem?
Moist coastal forest.
If you could institute by fiat one environmental reform, what would it be?
That industries engaging in resource extraction respect the rights of communities to defend their cultures, lands, and livelihoods, and that mining companies refrain from projects that have not secured the free, prior, and informed consent of the communities concerned.
When was the last time you wore tie-dye? How about fleece?
Tie-dye — maybe 6th grade. I’m wearing a fleece sweater right now!
Do you compost?
The apartment building that I live in is very enviro-unfriendly.
Which presidential candidate are you backing in 2004?
Whoever can beat Bush!
Would you label yourself an environmentalist?
Absolutely! To me, an environmentalist is someone who recognizes that a healthy environment is critical for healthy communities and our future well-being. There is, of course, baggage that goes along with any label, but identifying as an environmentalist also gives me an opportunity to talk about environmental issues and hopefully bring others into the environmental movement.
What’s one thing the environmental movement is doing badly?
It’s not necessarily that the environmental movement itself is at fault, but I think we need to do a better job of diversifying our ranks. We need to involve communities of color, strengthen North-South partnerships, and especially bridge the class divide. Too many times, environmental issues are dismissed as rich folks’ concerns, and this really hurts the movement.
What’s one issue about which you disagree with other environmentalists?
Birkenstocks. I hate them.
What could the environmental movement be doing better or differently to attract new people?
Make a stronger connection between the environment and human health. Many people who don’t consider themselves environmentalists do care about clean drinking water and their children’s health. Similarly, resource extraction issues are not just about the environment; they are also about rights and justice! Those who care about indigenous communities and cultures, for example, should have just as much interest in mining as do environmentalists.
What was your favorite band when you were 18? How about now?
Bob Marley and the Wailers. Then and now!
What’s your favorite TV show?
Law and Order.
If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?
Visit NoDirtyGold.org on or after Feb. 11 and take the No Dirty Gold consumer pledge!