Monday, April 13, 2015

Experience the systemic impacts of mining on the Oliphants Catchment, SA

As in this article there is a need to bring widespread appreciation to the citzenry of the massive, systemic effects mining is having on landscapes and particularly the functioning of river catchments.  The Oliphants Catchment is the most mined river basin in South Africa - and mining is conducted by many of the same companies operating in Australia. 

Australian's should look to the Oliphants to see how bad it can become.

This article is striking partly because of the photography. The author flew over the area with a Bateleurs pilot – they fly as volunteers for environmental causes.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The wrecking of the Hunter Valley, NSW - a cry of anguish

My long term friend and colleague, John Drinan has lived and worked in the Hunter Valley for most of his life.  He has a strong sense of place with links to ancestors, to his children and grandchildren as well as carrying a strong intellectual understanding of what is, and is not happening in the Hunter.  As well as friendhip I myself feel connected to the Valley through 'an Ison tree' which last heard was still doing well on his farm. Hence my concern when John sent me this note a few hours ago:

some of you may have flown over or driven through the Hunter Valley in the past few years. If you haven’t, you might take time to look at it through Google Earth.

You have seen or will see some of the extent of wreckage of this Valley by coal mining. Most of the product goes for export to profit mainly multinationals and the NSW Government.

I have been involved in fighting against the resulting environmental and social damage bequeathed to us and future generations for many years, and keep trying to make more people aware of what is happening. It is not just our problem.

The attached was published as a letter in the Singleton Argus a few weeks ago, and a similar one to the SMH was binned – probably too long or too passionate or too poorly written.

So, I’m resorting to a different approach, and you are one of many friends and others to whom I’m sending this. You may be interested enough to read it and, perhaps, pass it on.

Kind regards

John Drinan
Here are John's two letters in full:

Letter 1

Dear Editor,

Another 45,000 hectares of the Hunter Valley are to be dug up for coal (SMH 28 February). And, to cap that off, the village of Bulga can be wiped out to make way for mine expansion (ABC News 6 March). Good news for some, but not for others.

For one with deep roots in the Hunter Valley, every drive through the wreckage of this once lovely landscape is accompanied by feelings of sickness and despair. Anger, too, at how NSW governments from Askin to Baird have enthusiastically helped mining companies to sack the Valley for short-term gains and long-term pain. Balanced development of the Hunter, once the hope of many, has been trashed in favour of rape and pillage by governments whose members do not have to live with the consequences.

Destruction of streams and aquifers has damaged the waters of a valley unusually blessed with this precious natural resource. Many thousands of hectares of land have been stripped, gouged out, and left as bare, rocky moonscapes or revegetated with varying degrees of success. Entire forests, grasslands and other ecosystems have been wiped out. The grand natural shapes of the landscape have been replaced by featureless mountains of spoil and great holes in the ground. The air is hazy with pollution. 

The economic consequences are little better. The costs of overstretched infrastructure, inflated prices in the boom times, and crashes of incomes and home prices when they bust, affect the whole community. Shrinking industry diversity stems from inability to compete with coal wages, or direct attacks on their lands, and so reduces our community’s ability to sustain itself through the ups and downs. And government makes little provision for the Valley’s future once the flow of coal dollars dries up.

Bulga’s perilous situation and the virtual wipe-out of other villages is just one face of the social damage being done. That lack of concern for everyone’s sense of belonging to the place they call their home and community is breathtaking. 

Future generations will survey the wreckage of the Hunter valley left by our generations and wonder why. They will ask: “What was gained to replace all that has been lost? What right did those generations have to make such blind, selfish decisions? Did they ever think of our needs?”

John Drinan
18 March 2015
Published in the Singleton Argus, 20 March 2015

Letter 2

Dear Editor,

Ian Hedley’s challenging advertorial (Argus 27 March) was a welcome antidote to disappointment that the recent forum on the future of Singleton generated little in the way of new ideas. As Mr Hedley’s contribution has amply shown, there is probably nothing more important or urgent for our Shire. 

How easily we forget that mining booms and busts, and how easily do the booms seduce us into thinking the streets will be paved with gold forever. It is only about 20 years since the last bust, the cries of anguish, and attempts by Council to find alternatives to coal. Regrettably, the industry took off again, thinking for the future lost its urgency, and now we are back in the same hole. Once again we have enjoyed the fat years and ignored common sense that they be used to prepare for the poor ones.

Who is going to break the cycle? It seems our newly elected member of parliament chose not to attend the forum. We can only hope he and the government will soon accept that they have a responsibility to engage with the problem.

It seems some of the coal companies see themselves as part of the solution. The best legacy they can leave the Hunter would be a well-educated community abuzz with ideas, energetically turning them into new enterprises. The issue claimed a remarkable amount of discussion time at December’s Upper Hunter Mining Dialogue workshop. And Coal and Allied and Glencore are offering initiatives encouraging new thinking and action. 

But we need much more, and it would be crazy to leave it to others. If we want a decent future for our kids and theirs, we have to generate the ideas and enterprises ourselves, with help from wherever it can be found. 
Sadly the high wages of the boom lured many of our young away from continuing their education and preparing themselves for a career after mining. So much potential lies waiting there and in the kids still in school. 

The variety of mine service businesses that grew during the boom must have generated lots of new skills and technologies which can be turned to other purposes with the right encouragement. The natural resources of the Valley and established industries such as power generation and agriculture offer so many options.

If Council, Chamber of Commerce, coal companies and others work together, we can re-invent our Shire and the Hunter as a thriving, sustainable society and economy. People and businesses can be encouraged to offer, develop and test their ideas and turn them into viable enterprises. This is what is offered by models such as The Hub – a place where creative people can work alongside other creative people, stimulated by each other and professional coaches.

The possibilities are endless if we can open our eyes and encourage those whose thinking is not stuck in a mould.

John Drinan
Glendon Brook                                                                     
8 April 2015

I am posting this blog from Oliver Tambo Airport, South Africa where the government that Tambo struggled and fought for enshrined in legislation

“The environment is held in public trust for the people, the beneficial use of environmental resources must serve the public interest and the environment must be protected as the people's common heritage.”
(The National Environmental Management Act, 1998)

But here in South Africa Big Coal is king, much as in Australia.  As a recent report notes:
  •  Coal is South Africa’s major primary energy source. More than 90% of our electricity, approximately 30% of the liquid fuel, and an estimated 77% of total energy are produced from coal, and current indications are that it will remain the base resource of South Africa’s energy mix for at least the next 15 years, even if this mix becomes more diverse. 
  • Coal mining and related activities have significant negative impacts on biodiversity, land, air and water quality; causing potentially irreversible and often large scale habitat loss, at times in areas important to the provision of important ecosystem services such as the delivery of potable water. These environmental impacts affect other development options including agriculture and tourism, wildlife and human health. These impacts are concentrated and expanding; in Mpumalanga 61% of the province was under mining or mining rights or prospecting applications in 2014, and new areas have been approved for mining in Limpopo.
This power imbalance between coal interests and citizens and the lands they have responsibility for  has to be broken, and broken quickly.