March 13, 2015

One of those 'world's gone mad' weeks

The madness may have started with the leaking of the latest craziness in Mining World, aka the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. There are 16 proposals for new or expanded open-pit mines in the Upper Hunter. Seriously. They would cover an area 18 times the size of Sydney. Not the Harbour: we're not talking volumes of swimming pools here, but city limits. This would dwarf any existing mining development in the Hunter, which already scars a once-beautiful farming, wine-growing and horse-breeding region. The current LNP government of New South Wales had been hoping to progress these plans much further before the imminent state election (on 28 March), but there have been setbacks. Hopefully there will be more if the people wisely make this outrage an election issue.

Only a week or so previously, a report, Coal and Health in the Hunter Valley, produced some alarming figures about the coal industry, not least of which concerned its impact on the region's health budget. The ill-effects, both physical and mental, of living in the midst of open pit mines have long been documented, if not acted upon. Perhaps the addition of large numbers and dollar signs will force local government and state politicians to sit up and take better notice.

The expansion plans include a proposal to move an entire village, Bulga, and its 350 inhabitants, out of the way of the already-approved enlargement of the Mount Thorley-Warkworth mine, southwest of Singleton. New South Wales's Planning Assessment Commission has suggested the move in order to address the issues of noise, air quality and landscape blight. Many of us know, however, that coal dust blowing in the wind is no respecter of boundaries.

In the space of about 12 hours on Tuesday I read a lengthy piece by Naomi Klein entitled Don't look away now, the climate crisis needs you, an extract from the introduction to her latest book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate; and I watched Gasland 2, Academy Award-nominated Josh Fox's second exposé of the US gas industry's fracking practices and their risk to communities, water and land.

Ms Klein is a well-respected author (No Logo and The Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Disaster Capitalism, among others) and advocate for social change. Her piece – part of The Guardian's major focus, just begun, on the climate crisis – is worth reading for the analogy in the first four paragraphs alone. But I encourage you to read the whole article because there is a positive at the end of a massive tunnel of gloom. There's also a clip from a work-in-progress doco that features the environmental footprint and human cost of tar sand extraction in Alberta, Canada. I can't begin to describe how wretched it made me feel: I needed that ray of hope by the end.

Gasland 2 is pretty desperate stuff, too: not only for the appallingly devastating effects on water resources and the health of those living near thousands and thousands of gas wells from Pennsylvania to Wyoming to Texas, but also the powerlessness of the people and governments in the pockets of large corporations.

Yes, on Tuesday I was challenged to find reasons to be cheerful.

However, one can often rely on Australian PM Tony Abbott for a laugh. 'The suppository of all wisdom' was a winner. Alternatively, his gaffs may be infuriating, staggering or perplexing. Was this guy really a Rhodes scholar? Just when you think he can't come up with anything more outrageous, he manages it, seemingly quite easily. This week he excelled himself. While defending the indefensible – the removal of funding for essential services to remote communities by the state government of Western Australia – he suggested that Indigenous people inhabiting distant outstations were making a 'lifestyle choice'.

For the self-styled 'Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs', who even spent a week in an Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory shortly after he was elected and yet still doesn't seem to have got to grips with custodianship of country, this was a mistake of monumental proportions. For 'the facts behind the outrage'…

That's probably enough madness – insanity or otherwise – for one post. Have a nice weekend. I might give the media a miss for a couple of days.

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