I woke up from a dream that I want to call a bad dream, but was really more of a confusing dream. And then, well, I laid in bed for about 2 hours before getting up to read the New York Times. Gail Collins has a way of making me feel connected to home – like she’s the practical, liberal family friend who shares a conspiratorial laugh with you when the dinner party gets a little too politically conservative and you’re not sure whether to put up a fight or go do the dishes. I love that about her. Especially at 4:41 am on the other side of the planet.
There’s been a lot happening recently. Like, well, moving to Australia, finding a place to live, applying for jobs, and all that you would expect to go with that. But there’s been more too. I won’t go into all the details, but some recent events have gotten me into a reflective mood about what I want and who I am. I think Australia may be a great opportunity for me to change direction in certain parts of my life – and I am pretty excited to begin.
I ran a 5k with R and his company yesterday. It was insane. There were so many people that you couldn’t exactly run, but you could shuffle. So, I alternately shuffled and sprinted a 5k. I don’t think I PR’d.
Anyway, the 5k was a bit different than in the states because so many companies in Brisbane supported teams to run it. Huge teams. People are so much more fitness oriented, and group-oriented. There’s a very distinct pack mentality. But, back to the running. Here in Oz, they don’t give out t-shirts to identify all the members of a team. Nope. They give out singlets. Ooh yeah. Sexy singlets. Sexy singlets with names like Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Peabody, Hancock…
If you’re not aware of who these companies are, let me bring you up to speed. Ever heard the song “Paradise” by John Prine? Well, it laments the loss of a boy’s childhood paradise in Appalachia to coal mining. Coal mining carried out by Peabody.
Or Rio Tinto? Well they’ve been associated with espionage in China and the company is named after a river in Spain that runs red from runoff of nearby copper and gold mines. The Government of Norway officially divested from Rio Tinto saying the following:
Exclusion of a company from the Fund reflects our unwillingness to run an unacceptable risk of contributing to grossly unethical conduct. The Council on Ethics has concluded that Rio Tinto is directly involved, through its participation in the Grasberg mine in Indonesia, in the severe environmental damage caused by that mining operation.
BHP Billiton? Well, they have run into many of the same criticisms. In South Australia, their Roxby Downs uranium mine gets it’s water for free from the Great Artesian Basin. This is the driest state in Australia and has suffered from serious droughts in the last 5 years, so it seems questionable to give free water to a mining company, but it happens through the Roxby Downs Indenture Act, the same act which allows the company to override the South Australian Aboriginal Heritage Act. The company is also involved in some extremely controversial water projects aimed at providing inland mining operations with a consistent water source.
But enough of this dredging up dirt (oh, for more on dredging check out this article on the Gladstone LNG Project), my point is that Brisbane, and Australia in general, is a superhub of natural resource extraction. Based on my reading, this is both fueled by China and in many cases funded by China. Of course, the companies I just mentioned aren’t Chinese. They are British and Australian and have links to Canada. They’re multinationals. They are many headed hydra with obscene negotiating powers based on their size, their promises of economic boons to local communities, and their multinational status.
I thought about this as I ran this 5k yesterday. Good people all around me were running for charity in their Rio Tinto singlets and I’m guessing based on how crowded it was, that a lot of money was raised. That’s fantastic. But what of the larger issues? All these good people working for Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Peabody – are they thinking critically about the environmental impacts of their work? Is their work done with an eye to the precautionary principle?
There is much to learn here in Australia, both about the culture and about environmental ethics here, and I don’t want to make any snap judgments on the culture, but I find it worrisome being in such a pro-extraction milieu. I hope I can find work that doesn’t compromise my environmental ethics. I also don’t want to work in the relatively cavalier environment of extraction because there is significantly more racism and sexism there than elsewhere in Australia – already a fairly racist country. R relayed to me that when he was doing driver training for work, his instructors entertained the class by sharing lewd and racist jokes throughout. Incredibly offensive jokes that I won’t repeat. So, it’s kind of a different world here and I am hoping I can find my place.
There is some good news on the horizon though – I found a yoga studio that will let me do cleaning around the studio in exchange for classes. Score!!!
These are the things I think about at 4 am when I can’t sleep.