Laughing in the Dark

Are we the only self-hating species? The only species that commits suicide? Are we the only species that laughs? Have you noticed how little humour there is in mass extinction and environmental destruction? That this secular end of days is the source of hardly any comedy?

It’s unseemly — profane even — to laugh out loud about the anthropocene. Unless it’s that grim, knowing, gritted-teeth kind of laughter in which we marvel at being part of a civilisation more concerned with counting calories than carbon. (If only we could harness vanity in the service of ecological repair); in which we mutter, “well, you gotta laugh because what else can you do?” or “if I didn’t laugh, I’d be weeping”.

Yes, there’s a lot of Weeping in the Dark, but not much laughing. Which is also surprising, because we often laugh at tragedy. Think war (Black Adder Goes Forth, Waugh’s Scoop); racism and red-neckerism (All in the Family); religion, which is a tragedy only to some of us (The Life of Brian, Religulous, the Bible); humanity (where to start? Perhaps Gulliver’s Travels, Candide, or the Bible, again.)

If Henri Bergson is right and laughter doesn’t exist outside the pale of what is strictly human; and if, as he says, its natural environment is society, then shouldn’t this be a time of rolling in the aisles clutching our stomachs in uncontrollable mirth? Because what could be more human than this human-all-too-human epoch?

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Rena Case Going to Enviro Court

The Bay of Plenty Regional Council announced today that it has decided to refer the application to leave the rest of the Rena wreck on Astrolabe reef to the Environment Court. The council saw the writing on the wall: it was going to wind up there anyway, via appeals.  The Chief Executive, Mary-Anne Macleod was quoted in the BOPRC’s media release as saying:

 “First, it is clear from comments made by interested parties and submitters that any decision made by the Council is likely to be appealed to the Environment Court anyway. Given the inevitability of an appeal, it makes no sense to impose duplicate costs on those submitters who wish to appear in person. Also the costs to the ratepayer would be significantly increased if the Council were to hold its own hearings, only to have to participate again at an Environment Court level.”

The so-called Astrolabe Community Trust, set up by the owners and insurers of the Rena, have lots of money to fight this in the court and they wanted it to go there, while opponents will have to scrape up what they can since it seems likely our ‘representatives’ (the various councils) will be about as useful at protecting residents and the environment from shippers and insurers as the councils around Waihi are in protecting residents there from mining companies. Still, now that it’s gone to the court, there will be a bit of money available for objectors through the Govt to fund their case. I think a maximum of $40,000 if memory serves.

And while I’m whining about the media (oh, wait, but I wasn’t), how come the BOP Times gets to put their own tagline on this story: Rena Application Goes to Environment Court. Can you see any difference between that and the media release titled Rena Application Heads for Environment Court? (OK, “Goes” rather than “heads”). Could they at least have “added some value” by getting comment from some of the interested parties?

In related content, my previous post was on this issue, and was titled The Rena Sellout.

More Writing: Joe Harawira; Women’s Rights; Books

I first saw Joe Harawira speaking last year at the CTU-Iwi leaders hui in Tauranga. He seemed such a quiet, unassuming man, but the story of his struggle, along with fellow former Whakatane timber mill industry workers (SWAP, or Sawmill Workers Against Poisons), was quite mind blowing. It took them decades to win recognition for their claim that their exposure to PCP (pentachlorophenol) in the timber mills was causing some pretty severe health problems. In addition, that the poison-laced waste used as landfill (often around marae) was an environmental problem.

12305714041500807562choochus_Wolf_Head_Howl_1.svg.medI kept meaning to contact Joe — since I live not too far from Whakatane, in the Bay of Plenty — and catch up on where he and the former mill workers were at, how the clean-up was going and were their health issues being resolved, something I finally did this March. He came to my place, managing to drive himself here despite having an arm that doesn’t work too well — one of the many health problems he himself has developed. (He’s 67 now.)

And, yes, he is a quiet, unassuming man. (I asked him about that: he said, well, if he’d seen me “30 years ago, probably 20 years of those 30 years, I would probably cut your neck off out there. We were shocking, but after thinking about it now, we needed to go down that track.”) We talked for an hour and a half or so, and I wrote up a wee piece for, Toxins in the Timber Mills. The full story of Joe and SWAP has been told elsewhere, including in a documentary called The Green Chain that was shown on Māori TV in 2011. (There’s a link to that in the Werewolf piece.)

In the wake of the Pike River mining disaster, and the calls that followed for more oversight and better regulation, it struck me while listening to Joe that his story had a lot in common with other community-level struggles I’ve heard about over the past year or so — like the Waihi residents battling plans to mine under their town; and the iwi challenging the Port of Tauranga’s expansion plans, to mention just two.  They share that sense of being powerless in the face of business interests, who usually also win over public sentiment by talking about how many jobs their project will create. (Sometimes that’s true; sometimes it’s not. But the ‘economic growth’ at any cost has been widely seen as contributing to what happened at Pike River.) It’s nigh on impossible, for example, to conclusively prove links between things like chemical exposure and health problems (think agent orange or dioxin in Taranaki), and when you’re a group of blue-collar workers — well, good luck with that. Similarly, in all the RMA hearings over mining, the local groups are up against well-resourced companies with experts on tap and reports that a lay person can barely make head nor tail of. True, the residents are supposed to have moderately well-resourced local government looking out for their interests, but ask the Waihi residents what they think about that. Whoa! A lot of them actually see the council as the biggest problem,  not the mining company.

Among other things, the RMA is supposed to even the playing field a little bit. But most everyone has bought into that “there’s too much red tape” and “decisions take too long” narrative, hence the current legislation that’s designed to speed up some of the decision making. Sounds innocent enough, but unless a lot more effort is put into actually listening to and acting on the concerns of the people on the ground, there are surely more costly clean-ups in our future (be they health or environmental).

Other Recent Stuff

I had a much more in-depth piece in the Werewolf before (27 February 2013) about Policing Pregnancy, (I’m convinced the official and unofficial surveillance of pregnancy is a human rights issue that should be on more people’s radars) and some more book reviews up at The New York Times in February. Also, at The Hand Mirror, UN ‘Family’ Resolution Raises Concern, (20 March 2013) looks at a proposed UN Human Rights Council Resolution on “Protection of the Family”, and the potential  impact it could have not just on reproductive health and rights, but on those of LGBTI people; while in  ‘Careless Driving Causing Death’, (4 March 2013) I report on a case before the courts in Wellington in which a husband has been charged with careless driving causing death after a relatively minor accident that apparently led to the death of his wife’s 31-week fetus. A heart-breaking case in every possible way!

A Few More BOP Times Columns

Below are links to my four five most recent BOP Times columns. Those the newspaper doesn’t put online are here as PDFs, and labeled as such. And all my BOP Times columns are here.

Less Than Golden Memories, (online) 3 November 2012
Whatever else gold has given Waihi over the years, it’s certainly provided a rich seam of conflict.

Townies and Farmers at Odds, (online) 27 October 2012
The rural-urban divide will only get wider if the agriculture lobby continues to reject efforts at environmental regulation.

New Media Good News for Old, (PDF) 20 October 2012
Might blogger Keith Ng’s WINZ scoop be an example of how new and old media can work together for the good of journalism?

Crime and the Fear Factor, (online) 13 October 2012
The media’s over-emphasis on crime coverage makes us all feel less safe. 

Oil Spills Leave Lasting Stain, (online) 6 October 2012
A bit of a personal look at the Rena disaster from a committed BOP beach runner, (and deep-sea oil drilling opponent).


Polling and Spin – Part I

[See a 25 Oct UPDATE below with some links] There was something familiar about a pro-mining an article in the New Zealand Herald last week, Public Back Mining: Poll, and it wasn’t just that the headline was rather like one that ran on July 9, Mining Poll Result Shows Kiwis Alert to ‘Misinformation’. For one thing, there were a few quotes from the mining lobby group Straterra, whose CEO is Chris Baker:

Oct. 15
Baker said the results revealed most New Zealanders supported responsible exploration and mining for minerals, “contrary to what a vocal and persistent minority would have us believe”. “But the results also show relatively poor public understanding of the reality today of minerals activities in New Zealand,” he said. “The misinformation advanced by parts of the community, however well-intended, does not help informed debate on our economic future.”

July 9
“However, the survey shows that misinformation on minerals and mining promulgated by a vocal and persistent minority is rejected by most New Zealanders, who have confidence in our regulations and who see every reason for mineral exploration,” Baker said.

It seems “vocal and persistent minority” is the focused-group phrase for – whoever – since, according to today’s article, “Baker did not identify any group.” Though the article went on to discuss Forest & Bird.

But more importantly, last week’s article (which originally ran a few days earlier in the Otago Daily Times) gave the reader almost no information about the poll on which it was based. It surely isn’t the same poll as the one reported in July, since that surveyed 750 people, and the one quoted last week apparently surveyed 1000. But who commissioned it? Who carried it out? What were all the questions?  All we are told is that it was “a recent 1000-person national poll”.

I’ve written about the news media’s coverage of polling before. And this is another case of Not Nearly Enough Information.

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