Indigenous Australians Fight Nuclear Waste Dump

Protecting Country

Ngikalikarra Media (2017)

Film Review

Protecting Country is about a collection of indigenous Australian tribes who are fighting government efforts to site a uranium mine and an international nuclear waste dump on their treaty lands.

Thousands of Maralinga people have already suffered horribly due to British nuclear tests on their land in the 1950s.

The nuclear waste dump is illegal under international law. As a signatory to the UN International Treaty on Indigenous Rights, Australia is prohibited from depositing toxic waste on indigenous land without their permission.

Fracking: When Fossil Fuel Companies Turn Your Community into a Sacrifice Zone

Sacrifice Zone: The Story of a Real Australian Gas Crisis

Directed by David Lowe and Eve Jeffery (2018)

Film Review

Sacrifice Zone is a full length documentary about a vibrant resistance movement dedicated to shutting down fracking (for Coal Seam Gas) in a pristine rural area of New South Wales (Australia). My chief interest in the film stems from striking parallels in Taranaki, a comparable region in rural New Zealand. Here in Taranaki, which is also frequently described as a sacrifice zone, residents are also engaged in a similar battle against fracking for shale gas and oil.

Because NSW farmers have learned from the bitter experience of Queensland farmers (who have been fighting fracking for more than ten years), there has been much stronger opposition in NSW.

The other immediate parallels are the lies farmers were told by Santos (the oil/gas mining company), eg that fracking would create local jobs (the vast majority of workers are flown in from someplace else), that there would be no water or air contamination and that there would be no adverse health effects. As in Taranaki, Santos also deliberately misled farmers about the number of wells they planned to drill (one or two wells quickly turns into eight or more). I also strongly identified with the stress of living 200 meters from constant flaring and drilling and traffic noise, the absence of any fire safety planning and the reckless disposal of contaminated fracking waste into unlined pits and streams used for drinking water. The latter has led to the total decimation of formerly pristine Queensland forest land.

Like Taranaki farmers, NSW and Queensland farmers are unable to sell or insure their land once a fossil fuel company sinks a fracking well on or near their property.

For the most part, Australian farmers seem primarily concerned about the potential contamination of the Great Artesian Basin (GAB), an underground lake that supplies water to the majority of Australia’s agricultural land. The GAB is fed by a complex system of aquifers that interface with the coal deposits Santos is fracking (fracturing) for gas. Environmentalists and indigenous Australians are mainly concerned that fracking will destroy the Pilliga Forest, which sacred land and contains numerous endangered species. In light of the horrendous wildfires Australia has experienced over the last several years (and the extremely flammability of the methane gas they are extracting), I find it mind blogging the NSW government is allowing open flaring at Pilliga Forest well sites.

Overall I found it extremely gratifying to see conservative Aussie farmers (who have never protested against anything) uniting with environmentalists and indigenous activists.

Taranaki activists have played a similar role to Queensland activists in persuading other New Zealand communities not to open their pristine agricultural land to foreign oil and gas companies. At present Taranaki Energy Watch is battling local government and the petroleum industry in Environment Court to keep new fracking rigs away from our homes and schools. You can find out more about our case (and donate if you feel so inclined) at our Givealittle page:Taranaki Energy Watch

“If You’ve Got Dough, You Don’t Have to Go”

Episode 4 – Doubt

The Vietnam War

Directed by Ken Burn and Lyn Novick

Film Review

Maori TV showed Episode 4 of the Vietnam War series this week. 1966, Lyndon Johnson’s second year in office, saw a massive escalation of US forces in Vietnam – increasing from 200,000 in January to 500,000 in June 1967. Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and South Korea also sent troops to serve in Vietnam. Because both Australia and New Zealand had compulsory conscription until the early 1970s, there was a sizeable anti-Vietnam War movement in both countries.

The UK and Europe, in contrast, opposed the Vietnam War and called for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Johnson also substantially escalated bombing campaigns against North Korea, Laos and Cambodia (the North Vietnamese used a network of jungle roads in Laos and Cambodia to transport arms and personnel to South Vietnam). North Vietnamese civilians, most of them women, worked day and night restoring the so-called “Ho Chi Minh trail following US bombing raids.

Because the US was incapable of gaining territory in Vietnam, it used body counts to measure its success. The latter frequently included civilians and were always exaggerated. The US goal was to reach a “crossover point” – where the US killed more North Vietnamese soldiers than North Vietnam could replace. This never happened.

In May 1966, the US puppet government in South Vietnam nearly collapsed owing to mass demonstrations in Saigon demanding representative democracy and a negotiated settlement to the war.

As US forces swelled in Vietnam, the Pentagon was forced to begin drafting college students, which massively fueled the antiwar movement. It was common for well-to-do families (like the Bushes) to arrange deferments tor their kids. As the saying went, “If you’ve got dough, you don’t have to go.”

In Vietnam, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, a disproportionate number of draftees and casualties were African American.

How Neoliberalism Gave Us Brexit and Trump

Revenge of the Rich: The Neoliberal Revolution in Britain and New Zealand

by Austin Mitchell

Canterbury University Press (2017)

Book Review

Revenge of the Rich, by British economist Austin Mitchell, describes how the neoliberal revolutions of Margaret Thatcher and New Zealand finance minister Roger Douglas virtually gutted the economies of the UK and New Zealand. The result has been years of declining or negative growth rates, virtual destruction of manufacturing, massive job loss, wage stagnation and higher deficits and overseas borrowing.*

As an article of faith, neoliberals maintain that mass layoffs of public service workers will reduce government deficits. The reality, as Mitchell ably demonstrates, is the exact opposite. When you lay off 400,000 public servants (as David Cameron did between 2010 and 2016), they quit paying taxes and increase government costs by claiming unemployment and other benefits.

Britain’s EU Membership: Setting the Stage

According to Mitchell, Britain’s decision to join the EU in 1973 set the stage for the neoliberal revolution that subsequently occurred in both countries. EU membership forced Britain to end their special trading relationship with New Zealand (an other Commonwealth countries), resulting in significant economic decline in both countries. Neoliberal trade liberalization was meant to stem these losses. Instead the loss of tariff and other import protections quickly destroyed manufacturing in both countries.

New Zealand, which was fortunate in having agricultural exports to fall back on, succeeded in developing alternative trade relationships with Australia, China and other Asian countries. Nonetheless, thanks to their 1980s neoliberal experiment, New Zealand has one of the highest levels of foreign ownership (of land, homes and companies) in the developed world. It also has the highest house prices, the second highest prison population and extremely high child poverty levels (1/3 of Kiwi children grow up in poverty). Meanwhile it’s failure to provide jobs for young adults means a sizeable proportion leave New Zealand permanently for other developed countries.

Brexit and Trump: The People Rebel

Mitchell describes the rise of left and right wing extremist groups in Europe, the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump as a direct popular reaction to the immense human misery caused by neoliberal policies. In New Zealand the 1996 citizens referendum adopting proportional representation was a direct reaction against both major parties (Labour and National) advancing neoliberal policies.

At this point, the traditionally pro-corporate International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have both come out against austerity and similar “deflationary” neoliberal policies. Instead they argue strongly for increased stimulus (public) spending to stabilize the world’s developed economies.


*Similar effects under American neoliberals Reagan, Bush Sr and Jr, Clinton and Obama inflicted similar damage on the US.

What Causes Civilization to Collapse?

collapse

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive

Jared Diamond

Penguin Books (2005)

Book Review

This book was very different from what I expected. I anticipated an account of the environmental mismanagement that caused the collapse of prehistoric civilizations such as Easter Island. Collapse is actually a detailed historical analysis of a wide spectrum of both failed and successful societies. In addition to Easter Island, Diamond also covers the vanished Anazazi civilization in New Mexico, the Mayan civilization, the Viking settlements of Iceland (which persists to the present day), Greenland and Vineland (present day Newfoundland and New Brunswick), pre-1853 Japan, the New Guinea highlands and modern day Rwanda and Australia (the modern society he describes at highest risk for collapse).

Diamond’s thesis is that the ability of any society to meet the survival needs of its members depends on certain basic preconditions. He maintains historical forest management is the most critical – deforestation features in every historical collapse he mentions. Forests are not only essential to provide fuel for cooking, heating and refining metal, but loss of forest cover leads to soil erosion and destruction of topsoil, as well as decreased rainfall and fresh water shortages.

In some societies Diamond analyzes, collapse was the direct result of environmental mismanagement. In others, the odds of survival were extremely low to begin with, due to low rainfall, a cold or windy latitude or poor soils. In many cases, a political factor such as war, lack of external supports (eg trade), overpopulation and/or a greedy ruling elite diverting resources to luxuries were important contributing factors.

The section I found most interesting concerns the New Guinea highlanders, who (prior to the arrival of Europeans) maintained an environmentally sustainable civilization via bottom up direct democracy for over 46,000 years.

Australia’s Battery Powered Solar Revolution

Battery Powered Homes

Catalyst (2016)

This is a short made-for-TV documentary promoting Australia’s preeminence in the uptake of battery based solar systems. Because solar panels don’t produce electricity at night, homeowners with solar panels must either have large enough batteries to supply their evening energy needs or purchase power from the grid to cover these periods. In 2016, thanks to major technological advances, the price of lithium solar batteries dropped from $15,000 to $10,000.

The popularity of solar batteries in Australia seems to mainly relate to the high price of grid-based power.* However there are clearly other factors. In parts of Australia, some local councils pay residents a rebate covering half the cost of their solar battery. This is because solar batteries can be crucial in fighting a severe bush fire that causes the grid to go down.

What impressed me most about the documentary was all the innovative ways battery manufacturers use to increase the uptake of their product. For example, a home owner has a number of different options in selecting a solar battery package. For $10,000 they can purchase a battery that makes them totally independent from the grid. For considerably less, they can purchase a smaller battery that stores enough electricity to get them through peak evening hours when power company charge the highest rates.

In Perth, where one out of five private homes have solar panels, battery manufacturers are collaborating with developers to construct apartment buildings with solar batteries large enough to supply all the units. In this case, the landlord will ultimately own the battery and tenants will pay their power bill to her.

Other communities with high solar panel penetration are investing in enormous batteries that supply entire neighborhoods. All surrounding solar homes feed into the battery during the day and draw from it at night.


*Typically power companies by power during the day from solar-powered homes for 7 cents a kilowatt hour and sell it back at night for 28 cents a kilowatt hour.

 

The History of Medical Marijuana Research

A Life of Its Own: The Truth About Medical Marijuana

Helen Kapalos (2016)

Film Review

A Life of Its Own profiles the parents movement behind the 2016 Australian law allowing doctors to legally prescribe marijuana for their patients. The grassroots movement began with a policeman and his wife who obtained black market cannabis (on a doctor’s advice) to treat their son for severe side effects of cancer chemotherapy. It came to include dozens of other parents who had to break the law to treat children with intractable epilepsy and other severe disabilities.

Cannabis has been used to treat a variety of medical conditions for over 5,000 years. American doctors first used cannabis resin to treat children’s seizures in 1841. In the 1930s, shortly before the paper, plastics and petroleum industry conspired to have hemp (and cannabis) taxed out of existence (see The Politics of Hemp), US doctors wrote more than 3 million prescriptions for cannabis tincture for a variety of conditions.

There are few (roughly 100) randomized controlled trials of marijuana’s effectiveness as a medical treatment. This relates partly to strict laws in most countries prohibiting the cultivation of cannabis and partly to the unwillingness of the pharmaceutical industry to fund medical marijuana research.

I was very surprised to learn that most of this research occurs in Israel, funded by US foundations. The world pioneer of marijuana research is Raphael Mechoulom, professor of medicinal chemistry. Mechoulom, who first began studying the medical effects of cannabis in the 1960s, was the first to identify tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), its main therapeutic ingredients. In addition to identifying the presence of CBD1 receptors in the brain and CBD2 receptors in the immune system, he has also developed dozens of cannabis strains specific for different illnesses.

Israel has conducted the largest number of cannabis trials in the world, involving 20,000 patients at four hospitals. In addition to epilepsy, conditions studied include Parkinsonism, Tourette’s, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, PTSD and terminal cancer.