Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Save New England - how do we manage our environmental wars?

I have mixed views about New England's environmental wars, although I have tried to report on them objectively.

I have two of these sloppy joes. On the back it reads, no Big Guns on New England. They date back many years to a time when there was a proposal to take a large part of the New England Tablelands and turn it into a military firing range,

I was happy to join that protest because it struck me as a crazy idea. So I am not averse to personal participation in protests. Indeed, so far as New England is concerned, I seem to have been protesting much of my life!

One of my central concerns has been the structural decline in the area that I love, the rise of both relative and indeed absolute poverty. I have seen skills and jobs stripped away through economic change combined with Government policy and regulation. I became a supporter of the environmental movement many years ago and then moved away because its proponents could not answer a basic question: you say that this is a good thing, that it will have environmental benefits, but who will compensate us for the economic costs that we must bear?

I was in Grafton when I was handed a flier opposing the logging of old growth forests. I broadly supported that, if not with the passion of the exponents. I looked at the flier. On jobs, it said don't worry, new jobs will be created in Oberon through plantation tree farming. I looked at them  Leaving aside any issues that might be involved in the expansion of plantation farming, they were trying to tell me that a job created in Oberon was an equivalent offset to a job lost in Grafton. Tell that to the people losing their jobs.

In many of these battles we are dealing with absolutes that cannot be reconciled. The proponents, both sides, will use whatever arguments they can to support their case.Both are passionate. Neither are objective.

In trying to steer a personal path through this maze, I have tried to argue two things: the first is the need for objective assessment, the second for compensation and benefit sharing.

This is an environmental video on the the current environmental battles affecting the Liverpool Plains. Here the battle is over a proposed coal mine. I have included it for two reasons. The first is that it is an example of the sophistication of the current environmental campaigns. The second is that it shows a little of the beauty of the area, the colours that I have written about in speaking of both paintings and film. Further comments follow the video.

I have known the Plains all my life. It is a beautiful, fertile area with the best ground water in New England. For that reason, as well as my dislike at the way external bodies and especially governments can simply come in and strip away local rights in the name of progress, I am instinctively inclined to support the protests at personal level. And then I remember the way that Gunnedah was on its beam ends because of the combination of rural decline with decline in coal mining. So how do we balance this?

As late as the 1960, new state New England had a population and economic base greater than WA or SA. Now we are are behind SA. We also have some of the poorest areas in Australia as measured by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.So I don't think that it is sufficient to oppose particular developments,. I would argue that we have to do more than that. I think that we need to explain the positives, not just present the negatives.      .

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