Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The tragedy of industrialized private property

I've been reading a report by the Kachin Development Networking Group which I came across thanks to a link from Chatham House about the Hugawng Valley and the confiscations of land and forced relocations that began in 2007 when the Yuzana Company started to turn the valley into an industrialized farming landscape of monocrops. It also happens to be an internationally recognised tiger reserve.

It is hard to digest in the safety of my living room the brutality these people have to face. The completeness with which their lives and villages are being destroyed. There being encircled by there oppressors, cut off from their culture and their connection to the land; their right to farm their lands and to gather in their commons, their forest and their streams and rivers, forced to grow alien crops in their "model village". I find their dogged stoic resistance awesome.

This a warfare between peasants and industrialized farming, the sort that was fought in England in the 18th century. Now I understand the pain of those labourers and peasants. It seems that little changes just the location. It is a concentration of the world's wealth from the many to few so that the developed world can enjoy artificially cheap goods at the expense of the long term health of the environment.

Another parallel is the American frontier. I'm reading, in a slow and leisurely fashion, Turner's The End of the American Frontier. I'm not sure about the "end". There are frontiers everywhere. Hukwang Valley is a frontier between a traditional life of common property and invading industrialization and private property. These are land wars.

This is the tragedy of property, the conversion of commonly held resources to privately held and exploited resources. Economics has it arse about.

Friday, October 22, 2010

privatize the profits and socialize the environmental costs

When a mine becomes an environmental bombshell, is it the technique of mining companies or operators to sell it to a minority government owned shareholder and skedadle on out of there, leaving somebody else holding the baby? Chevron in Ecuador? BHP at Ok Tedi? Rum Jungle and Rio Tinto?

Olympic Dam sustainable?

I've been reading BHP's Olympic Dam sustainability report for 2008.

It is the last sustainability report for the mine I can find. Maybe 2009 and 2010 had some breaches that weren't worth recording?

A couple of points or so.

There are some 7 pages on employee safety at the start of the report and two and half pages on the environment. Safety is important but why is in the Sustainability report. Is it something along the lines of "if I kill or maim my employees my business is unsustainable". Safety and employee welfare is an HR& S issue and shifting it to the front of the sustainability report just muddies the issue. It looks like window-dressing. You could stick your finances into the sustainability report and say that without money my business is not sustainable. It just do justice to HR&S either. In the context of a sustainability report it looks like padding to me, but it is common in mining companies sustainability reports.

A definition of sustainable development is that which "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." (Brundlandt Report) So I'd want to know in the case of Olympic Dam in its sustainability report about water. What impact will pumping so much water out of the Great Artesian Basin have on other parts of the aquifer. Is it being pumped out at a sustainable rate? Is it being refilled at the same rate as it is being pumped out? There's no mention of aquifer or Great Artesian Basin anywhere in the report. Yet that's what is at great risk of unsustainable development.

It is nice that the BHP has a program that encourages the use water-saving showerheads at Roxby Downs, but in the context of being the largest industrial user of underground water in the Southern Hemisphere, cosuming some 35 million litres a day, it probably just isn't having a whole lot of impact. The pressure in the local springs has been much reduced in recent years. It's observable.

By the way the water doesn't cost BHP.

A small point it says BHP finalize an agreement with three Aboriginal groups who "claim" an interest i the regions. That suggests that BHP doesn't believe them.

It does raise the question in my mind about how seriously mining companies are about their sustainability programs, and how much it is just window dressing.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Ranger - green wash of the darkest hue

Here's a link to ERA's water treatment page on their website. Jeez that sounds nice I thought when I read it. But now I'm reading that the tailings dam is estimated to be seeping at 150,000 litres a day, and in December a dam burst releasing 6 million litres of contaminated water into the national park.

The website when I was reading made much of the tailing dam exceeding original design specifications but according to Wikipedia the original design specifications grossly underestimated the rainfall in the region. Nice to exceed original specs but not actually nice enoug. The original authorization of the mine required water to be contained at all times.

The Mirrarr people and the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal corporation are opposing expansion of the mine, asking how a mine that can't meet current standards can be allowed to expand. The Greens are asking the same question.

The mining companies sort a foot in the door so they could shove it wide open.

So is ERA practicing green wash of the darkest hue?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

disappointing IPA report

I found Tim Wilson's "Green Excuses: Collusion to promote protectionism?" a disappointing read. The report seemed badly structured with a lack of clarity about its intent. It came across to me as a reader as a grab bag of ideas, rather than a coherent argument. It is an article about the dumping of toilet paper in the Australian market with a bit about the Labor Party's policy of banning illegal timber imports tacked on the end. The pieces do not fit together well. As the first IPA paper I've read I was disappointed it wasn't more convincingly argued even if I didn't agree with the basic premise. The author frequently conflated green groups industry and unions together and then attributed a common goal to them. He uses 'industry' as a catchall term but never defines what he means and in context of the paper the meaning of the term seems to slide around. He also conflates any organization with an environmental interest into the one conspiracy.THe WWF and FSC are separate organizations, for example. He makes accusations of collusion for which he provides no convincing evidence except on occasion narrowly sharing the same goals. The CFMEU is not a green organization. It is a union that has often been in conflict with environmental organizations in Tasmania.The goals of unions and business and organizations are sometimes shared but I don't see any evidence of collusion. The language was colourful and the author ignored the evidence provided by

As well as these general comments there is a particular point I'd like to make. Wilson says: "For years environmental groups have claimed there is mass deforestation and illegal logging

occurring in the developing world." implying that there isn't deforestation and illegal logging since it is only 'claimed'. He uses the CIE report to support the idea that illegal logging is overstated. Wilson says; "The study released in February 2010 concluded that the actual volume of illegal logging internationally appears to be grossly over-estimated and may only be between five and ten per cent." And what the CIE report actually says:

The extent and size of illegal logging is debatable, but even forest associations agree that some illegal logging occurs in all countries. Estimates of the extent of overall level of illegal logging vary substantially, and depend on who is doing the estimates and the methodology and assumptions used. At the lower end, forest associations estimate that illegal logging accounts for around 10 per cent of the total harvest (American Forest and Paper Association 2009), whereas environmental NGOs estimate that the proportion is up to 80 per cent (for example, Greenpeace 2009), and others somewhere in between. The World Bank (2006) considers that significant proportions of timber production in South East Asia, Central Africa, South America and Russia are illegal.

The Bank estimates the following proportions of illegal harvest to total harvest.

Russia — 50 per cent of far eastern production

Southeast Asia:

Cambodia — 90 per cent

Indonesia — 70 to 80 per cent

Lao PDR — 45 per cent

Malaysia — 35 per cent

Thailand — 40 per cent

Vietnam — 20 to 40 per cent

Papua New Guinea — 70 per cent

South America — over 40 per cent

Africa — on average over 50 per cent.

I don't see that there is much debate that deforestation is a huge problem and Wilson's article comes across to me as Wilson egregiously refusing to acknowledge what his own sources are saying, which then goes to a lack of quality in the article and the arguments he is presenting.

Monday, October 4, 2010

We depend on the sea

"All surface life depends on life inside and beneath the oceans. Sea life provides half our oxygen and a lot of our food and regulates our climate." Ian Poiner, chairman of the steering committee of the First Census of Marine Life, which is establishing a baseline against which changes in the 21st century can be measured. .

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Labor goes again

Tony Burke announced during the election that labor will: "implement a package of reforms to restrict the sale of illegally logged wood in Australia". And they did that at the last election, but nothing happened. A report from the Centre for International Economics said it wasn't worthwhile doing it because we constitute such a small proportion of global timber exports, and it was cost more than it was worth. But isn't it worth setting an example? Isn't worth doing what is right? What is the CIE's measure of worth.