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COAL MINING AND THE EXTINCTION OF WILDERNESS Author: JEREMY RIDL - Drummond, 3 October 2022 To many, maybe most people, “wilderness” is synonymous with “wildlife park”, a place that is largely unspoilt and is inhabited by wild animals. It is where terms like “ecology” and “biodiversity” reside. To those who “know” wilderness, it is a lot more. It has both physical and spiritual attributes that require the deepest of all understanding of the natural world.It would be logical to expect that to develop this deep understanding, a person would have to be exposed to “wilderness” at an early age, to be born in it, grow up in it, and live and breathe the natural world in its purest form. It is paradoxical therefore, that two of the best-known exponents of wilderness philosophy in the modern era, Ian Player and Roderick Nash, both had childhoods far removed from the wilderness, Player, in a mining town and Nash in the New York inner city. Player became a professional game ranger, and Nash an environmental historian. On the face of it, they have nothing in common, yet both were inescapably drawn to wilderness, physically and intellectually.
Player and Nash both “got” wilderness, despite their “disadvantaged” backgrounds. They both experienced the intangible, enduring and universal character of wilderness, and were influential in its protection, in both its physical and non-physical forms.
The first arguments for the inclusion of “wilderness zones” in protected areas and for its legal protection came at time that “preservation” of our wild lands gave way to the “conservation” of natural resources in the interests of “sustainability”, which in turn became “sustainable development” and was coupled with economic growth. In the “sustainable development” era, natural resources became commodified, were valued and protected for the “environmental goods and services” they provided. In other words, nature had to pay for itself to justify its continued existence. Fast forward to today, and the protection of the environment is high on the agenda as humanity recognises the threats to its continued existence. Chronic abuses of the environment have led to the depletion of the resources on which it is dependant, and climate change, probably the greatest challenge yet to face humanity, has begun to reveal its destructive forces.
Humanity is dependent on the exploitation of its mineral resources to sustain its economic development and way of life. It follows that mining is the linchpin of the world’s major economies, the largest and greediest consumers of the planet’s natural resources. Environmental impact assessments and environmental planning tools (“EIA”) are used to assess and mitigate the consequences of human activity. In the EIA process, the environment is made fungible. It is not valued as a place but rather as an agglomeration of animals, plants and habitats that are ranked according to an artificial hierarchy in which human interests are placed first. Everything is tradable, and where there is a deficit, this is remedied by “offsets”.
The fallacy of offsets is the assumption that there can be like for like in the trade. However, pristine environments, endemic fauna and flora are irreplaceable. In the words of George Monbiot, author and environmental activist, “much of the delight of nature is that it is unscripted, spontaneous, unofficial, that it owes little or nothing to human design”.
Wilderness is pristine, and by definition must show no evidence of “human design” or human endeavour.
Mining is a destructive process. It cannot coincide with wilderness. The loss of wilderness cannot be compensated by “offsets” or alternatives.
Wilderness has both spatial and spiritual dimensions. This makes its definition elusive and its protection difficult. Impacts of mining within, or near wilderness areas destroy its physical character. Non-intrusive impacts by their very occurrence impair “sense of place” and the experience of wilderness. Photo Credit: Solly LeviOnce lost, wilderness is gone forever, becomes extinct. We have no difficulty identifying “endangered” species of fauna and flora, and even vegetation types, and accord them the highest levels of protection. Why then do we not recognise and protect spaces for their uniqueness and rarity, their special ability to provide a place for humans to connect or reconnect with nature, and importantly, to experience the “inner wilderness” that gripped Player and Nash? We must choose – mining or wilderness. Mining is replaceable, can be offset, and can be controlled by making simple choices. Wilderness cannot. It must be preserved or it faces extinction. Say NO! to mining in or anywhere near our remaining wilderness areas.