Friday, 13 November 2009

Thrills and spills: communities winning and losing their battles

The Coal Ash Spill into the Clinch River under the governance of the Tennessee Valley Authority is one of the greatest environmental disasters ever.  The spill is nearly 50 times as big as the famous 1989 Exxon-Valdez spill in Alaska. It occurred around 1am on December 22nd when a wall holding back 80 acres of sludge from the TVA’s Fossil Plant gave way. Eight days later, the TVA has yet to release sampling data from the ash pile, and they’re actually trying to claim that the fly ash is not toxic.

Now as if all this was not bad enough,

It makes me wonder, firstly,  how much can human communities bear and how much can our planet bear.  Then, secondly, I wonder about Australia. 

We have been fortunate in not having disasters of quite the same magnitude as the USA manages to produce.  Is it their larger population - more than ten times the number of Australians?  If so, this has consequences for us as our Prime Minister seems to optimistically encourage and imagine a much larger population for Australia.  His projections are still a long way from the population figures for the USA - but on the driest inhabited continent on earth with scarce arable soils what are the conseqneunces of unchecked population increase for Australia and its people?  Then again is all this part of the USA's weddedness to capitalism, even laissez-fare capitalism as demonstrated by their determination to be the only country in the developed world without a national system of medical insurance?  I doubt that,  The responsible authority is a publicly owned utility.

What does concern me is the attitudes abroad in Australia from corporate and political and bureaucratic big-wigs to the person in the street.  The Top End of Town likes to be inclusive of its own and often acts to exclude wider interests and the well-being of whole communities.  Although, communities have triumphed twice this week: on the matters of the Traveston Dam in Queensland and poker machines in Romsey, Victoria. Congratulations!  These Australians cared about their communities and their well-being - and they won through.

Communities and the electorate-at-large have to remain aware and vigilant.  If they don't, they can suffer the same fate as the Clinch River residents - overcome by poor decision making and corporate, political, and bureaucratic complacency.  Better to remain on watch than to be faced with messes that can't be cleaned up and corrected.

All my sympathies go out to the affected communities and citizens of the Clinch River.  Please God, save Australians from themselves and show them how to emulate the determined citizens who stopped the Traveston Dam and the pokies at Romsey.


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