Monday, August 13, 2012

Positive media stories: towards 'tipping points'?

I was somewhat taken aback over the weekend when I read in The Weekend Australian an excellent article by Paul Cleary entitled 'One law for the mines...'.  It is neither the type of story or perspective I associate with Murdoch's main Australian paper.  Cleary's central argument is a good one that goes to the core of on-going systemic failure in governance that, in particular, relates to the biophysical environment. He says:

'As governments have begun approving mega-mines and risky coal-seam gas [CSG] developments, the number of conditions attached to each project has risen inexorably.

Extensive lists of conditions make for impressive press releases from ministers approving projects. Interestingly, though, the mining companies don't complain about the conditions, largely because they know governments rarely enforce them. The reality of Australia's "world's best-practice regulation" is that both state and federal governments lack the willingness and capacity to enforce the environmental limits set out in their approval criteria.'

Regulation is easy to put in place - as are many other traditional policy prescriptions - but as we have shown in our decade or more of research on social learning (an alternative form of governance to that of regulation, education/information and fiscal or market mechanisms) these are hard to monitor, police and enforce.  This is why Australians, or citizens of any country where a coal seam or shale gas rush is breaking out,  would be well-advised to heed Cleary's arguments. Cleary is a writer for the Australian and author of the new book Mine-Field which 'plots the dubious networks created and greased by mining companies to get their projects through, and exposes regulatory gaps that must be addressed to prevent enormous and irreversible harm to our society and environment.'  As he notes in his article, which draws from his latest book: 

'In a race to the bottom, mining regulation in Australia is a case of one rule for the miners and gas companies, and another for everyone else.'  ......'Drug disasters like thalidomide were quick in their impact, and governments responded, but the potentially damaging effects of CSG projects on groundwater may take decades to show up.   In the meantime, state governments will be cashing in on their share of the production revenue via royalty agreements.    And, at present, they can't authorise new projects fast enough.'

The assault on the Earth through CSG, the accumulation of toxic wastes, fracking of shale deposits and the like constitute a 'theatre of war' in the Anthropocene. The irony is that it is war with ourselves and one in which all of us humans will ultimately be losers.

In London does the success of Ten Billion – a scientist's one-man show on environmental woes – which has has been an unexpected sell-out hit augur well for a tipping-point breakthrough, or is it yet just another performance in the theatre of the resistance?

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