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2011/10/26

Killing ourselves slowly, by degrees

A penfriend sent me this: 

Tribute to Peter Whittall (poem) - CEO of Pike River Coal.
Cool and calm and collected ...These are All such awesome traits
But how does a man portray them when so worried for his mates
Not many could front up to be so honest and forthright
Especially not continually and not for so many nights
The Turmoil deep inside you must have been tearing you apart
But you swallowed all that anguish and delivered from the heart
Brave is not the word... That describes your week of hell
Not only coping with the families ...but with the media as well
If ever there was a model to who’s character I would aspire
Pike River’s Peter Whittall’s would have to be my first desire
Stoic, strong and true ....and just plain brave beyond belief
You've won the heart of most Pete, as you've led us thru this grief
I think I've heard it said that you're from across the Tassie ditch
Mate that isn't a problem.....well ...perhaps just a little glitch
Nothing that can't be solved I'm sure most people will attest
You are now an adopted KIWI and perhaps, one of the very best
A truly deep and caring man... Whose pain was put aside
To report about his men ...in whom he couldn't mask his pride
You are a legend Peter, one who I would be proud to call a mate
You are very much a KIWI...one who’s hand I'd like to shake
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What the families of the Pike River coalminers must have been going through - then and now - I cannot imagine.

After reading this tribute, I googled the subject of mine disasters and found:
- this TVNZ vid clip, which tells us some more: Pike River's Peter Whittall
- and this Rolling Stone article: Don Blankenship: The Dark Lord of Coal Country

The Don Blankenship item is about the other, darker, old side of cynical capitalistic coal mining in the US - which is apparently very much alive and well today and causing wholesale human misery. The objective is to get the coal out of the ground as fast as possible, as cheaply as possible, and regard all productive assets (i.e., including the miners) as expendable and never mind the widescale desolation and spoliation of the natural habitat and negligent poisoning of all potable water sources. It made for fascinating and chilling reading. Shades of the film "The Corporation". I find it amazing how that sort of thing still legally continues on a grand scale today in the US.

New Zealand's Pike River disaster was a tragedy, but, as the subsequent inquiry shows, like all mining accidents it was probably an avoidable one, and you avoid it entirely by not mining using humans.
It's statistical probability - see?
If you are a coalminer or other kind of miner, try getting a cheap life insurance policy and you will see what I mean. The occupation presents too high an actuarial risk - similar to hanglider flying or parachute jumping (though at least you're presumably having fun with those).
Maybe it was an "Act of God", but, as a Christian, that never really made any sense to me, and anyhow, in an increasingly secular and atheistic world it stands out as a starkly irrational statement.
Maybe one day we will be able to see a way to blame these accidents on the myth of AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) instead, and pay bureaucratic homage to the myth by allowing ourselves to be taxed further into oblivion with carbon credits.

If it's not greed encouraging men to carelessly put their own lives or the lives of others at risk (should Pike River be included in that?), then it's corporate greed from some other area causing an "externality" in their environmental footprint. For example, the intensification of farming in the South Island, which is quietly laying waste to wide tracts of land and riparian vegetation, polluting waterways and killing off freshwater fish stocks.

This report from the NZ Ministry of the Environment in 2002 is interesting:

Summary of the report: We had a super time flying around in helicopters taking pictures. Gosh, intensive milk farming in the Buller catchment is causing environmental problems? Who'd a thunk it? Surely the environment can absorb the effect of a few hundred thousand more milking cattle? Isn't that why it's called "sustainable"?

And Fonterra and other, lesser milk processors are not really concerned about it, because it's essentially the farmers' problem? Why, I suppose that kinda makes sense - it is an externality for the processors, after all.
It must be society's (the government's)  problem then, right? 
What to do, what to do? Force the farmers to go bankrupt building workarounds (bridges) to the current symptomatic problems, slap a few wrists, slap on a few more environmental restrictions under the RMA, and let the intensification continue. That should sort it out nicely - until the next time we get asked to fly around in helicopters and take photos again. We'll probably figure out a way to blame it on AGW later. AddThis Social Bookmark Button

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