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Pilbara Destruction or Beauty

Sometimes it is hard to tell where beauty ends and destruction begins.  At least from the air, everything has a view where it all looks beautiful. The flight from Exmouth, WA to Broome in May was both spectacular in the natural beauty of the Pilbara coastline and the powerful images of the iron ore industry in Port Hedland. And while we did put up some photos of the iron ore loading facility, we did not show the other part of the flight up the coast.  But here they are showing the coast line, offshore islands, mud flats and some human tracks.

But the question remains to where beauty ends and destruction begins.   I found the Port Hedland infrastructure to be a majestic work of art with all the ships, ore movers and sheer number of machines loading, sorting, piling, scrapping earth’s dirt.  So the ore industry itself is not destructive nor is its equipment.  They dig ore, send to the mills, make the steel that builds our homes and cars.   Nothing wrong with that.   So why do people fear the mining industry and places like Port Hedland?  I guess it all comes back to the people who live and work there.  The values of Western Australia were probably the most powerful thing we encountered during our month-long trip there.  The idea of country – something lost in the US decades ago; culture and heritage – something that was considered wrong in the US due to oppression of someone else’s civil rights; these things remain strong in the Pilbara and Kimberley.  And from these values comes the region’s power and beauty.

As I live in California now, this state is not a place to be proud of its culture.  A confused political system has bankrupted the state, taxes continue to go up while property values drop and there is no simple way to fix what ails the state.  In contrast, the Pilbara and Kimberley are incredibly rich regions with trillions of dollars of mineral wealth.  The best economic years are ahead of this place.  And the citizens can expect economic opportunity to expand along with taxes, income and development.

But let’s go back to the pictures of the Pilbara and consider the choices.  It is hard to stop “economic progress” especially when the control of that “progress” is from a remote corporation or government. And the local community takes the brunt of the impact of the industrialization in terms of loss of control over their community destiny.  From what we learned of Port Hedland from a local worker, the original town disappeared with the influx of the mining industry and now there is a new town – same name but different values, people, jobs, culture, almost no heritage.  So is that ok?

And there is more talk or rather a debate about destruction of ecosystems or do they adapt to a more sustainable form.   There is a somewhat related story in the NY Times about coral reef resilience – the old school and the new school thinking here in Andy Revkin’s Dot Earth blog.  See where you stand.





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