44 thoughts on “The original environmentalists

  1. Lame. Was this done by a 12 year old?
    Increases in life expectancy = medicine and sanitation
    Would be funny if I was ignorant.

  2. Yeah that’s a valid point. But many environmentalists are against the medicine-producing (drug) companies because they operate for-profit, so I guess it’s not so lame after all.

  3. Indeed… many are even opposed to vaccinating their children, and will shun mainstream medicine in favour of “alternative” or “natural” remedies (even though these too are sold for profit).

  4. It is “lame” because it has offended your sensibilities – please tell us how sanitation and medicine alone have increased life expectancy, and how an unmodernised, non market economy would provide these services?

  5. That’s easy Mark: Cuba. The single biggest factor in improving life expectancy is reducing the life expectancy of bugs. Furthermore the idea that everyone died at a young age way back then is silly, the stats are heavily skewed by a monstrous child mortality rate. We have no real idea of how long humans lived back then and should be wary of generalisations in relation to 200 years ago let alone 20,000 years ago.

  6. It is lame. It is silly to think of environmental purity on one end of a plane, and life expectancy on the opposite, like mutually exclusive goals – and if we have one, we can’t have the other.

  7. The choices presented are between:

    (i) a pristine environment bereft of modern development where everyone lives in caves. Life expectancy must necessarily be low, as it is unachievable without winding back development, e.g. the cars that allow us to rush to hospitals quickly and save lives.

    (ii) tolerating some level of pollution as society modernises and improves technology to eliminate existing levels of pollution.

    The point of the cartoon is to dispel the common misconception that the ONLY solution to environmental problems is to revert back to situation (i). As Winston points out, we can have both life expectancy and a clean environment — if we continue economic progress as per situation (ii).

    More economic growth, make people as rich as possible, and we can have a very clean environment without living in caves and dying young.

    The onset of the car eliminated a probably worse form of pollution (horse shit). Likewise, Australia (a developed country) has a cleaner environment than India (a developing country).

  8. The link isn’t between life expectancy and the environment. It’s between life expectancy and development.

    If you halt or wind back economic development on the belief that you’re protecting the environment, you will harm life-expectancy.

    We can go back to horse-drawn carriages to stop global warming, but people should expect an increase in the mortality rate.

    Someday we’ll all be flying around in hovercrafts that run on renewable energies. In the meantime we should tolerate coal, oil, and dirty fuels as the technology improves. And technology can’t improve unless governments stop meddling in the energy market and trying ‘pick winners’.

    That’s the real moral of this cartoon.

  9. Sukrit,

    Your ability to read so much into a cartoon is astounding. As to your open claims that increasing economic growth will solve environmental problems, there are so many holes in that argument that it hardly warrants serious consideration. Environmental problems are addressed by addressing environmental problems, not waxing lyrical about the pervasive wonders of the market. Sheesh, the way some of you people think one gets the impression that all we have to do is look after the market and look out here comes Utopia.

  10. actually you are probably right, and I didn’t think about what the cartoon was implying very long. I suppose the environmentalist counter argument to what you are saying is that the rate of productivity, demand and growth is so unprecedented from what the world has seen before that the old rules of development toward clean technology no longer apply. Eg While China and India are simply going through a stage in industrialisation akin to the US 50-100 years ago, it’s industrialisation on steroids – hundreds of millions of people migrating toward production centres and ‘destroying’ the environment in irreversible ways that won’t be able to be healed by later green technology – global warming, extinction of fish species, toxic waste perhaps, etc.
    Essentially, the argument that humans can forgive rapid dirty growth now is gambling on the assumption that that growth can be fixed by clean growth in the future.

  11. Insitutions matter. British riverine environments never got polluted as cities because there was virtually no common pool problem on privately held streams.

    While no one can argue against the importance of sanitation and antibiotic medicines, has a society like Cuba ever come up with ideas like these? How can they when they produce figures like Lysenko?

  12. It took them decades to clean out the Thames, the fish in Sydney harbour is too polluted to eat, there is a massive underground environmental spill heading towards Botany Bay, you don’t want to eat too much from Port Phillip Bay, you can’t swim or fish in many dams because of blue green algae caused by nitrate runoff. Environmental lead levels are through the roof, Ex Strata is going to get its arse sued because of all the lead in children in Mt. Isa. Oh and lets not forget OK Tedi. A recent analysis found 1 in 4 New Yorkers have elevated mercury levels … . Pollution is now associated with everything from dementia to cancer.

    So tell me Mark, how much environmental news and research do you read?

    We do not have to stop development to save the environment but we cannot deal with many environmental by waiting for the market to catch up. It’s too late for that.

  13. John, you seem to imply that suing people is an example of market failure. It’s not. The market includes the rule of law, and polluters must pay in court. Government is among the worst polluters. Just look at how much gas the Americans are burning while fighting the Iraq war.

    Basic fact – today the filthiest countries in the world are socialist Third World nations.

    My point is that rich countries have money to take care of the environment. The environment is a second-order issue to feeding the people. Australia doesn’t have absolute poverty – so now we can think about the environment, and we are a very clean country comparatively speaking.

    A rich society is better placed to fix environmental problems. We should not be asking people to sacrifice economic growth to fix the environment.

  14. John, you raised another point about the market catching up. Are you in favour of complete deregulation of the energy market (subject only to safety regulation)?

    If you want the market to catch up, get the government out of the way. Don’t attack the market for not coming up with better technology when the government won’t let it.

  15. Sorry Mark, I misunderstood you.


    The trouble Sukrit is simply this: by the time the problem is established the damage is done. If you are happy to wait decades until the problem emerges and then more years until the courts make a decision then you are basically saying: tough luck to those that got poisoned. “The needle and the damage done”, peoples’life and liberty can be destroyed by agents that were introduced into the environment decades ago, long after the relevant responsible entity has disappeared. Moreover because many of these agents diffuse so rapidly it can be extremely difficult to determine the relevant entity.

    I honestly don’t know how we can address these problems but I am very concerned about them. I find the idea of waiting for firm evidence of damage done by pollution because by then it is too late. Something akin to Pascal’s wager.

    For libertarians it raises an interesting paradox: we don’t want to regulate but the historical evidence makes it clear that many individuals lives have been damaged. So what is more important here, the rights of the individual or the demands of the market? I am not being sarcastic, I do consider this an interesting quandry.

  16. Consuming organic and free-range food is one reason they didn’t live past 30. It’s unhealthy.

    That’s not just a statement of obvious bias (which I acknowledge) but a scientific fact. Those foods are far more likely to be contaminated with dangerous bacteria. But for antibiotics, many of the luvvies who consider themselves superior because they eat organic and free-range food would have karked it by 30.

  17. David, I haven’t heard that before – do you have some references? Nutrition Australia (http://www.nutritionaustralia.org/food_facts/faq/organic_foods_faq.asp), while warning that the expectations of those who choose organic foods “may occasionally be too great”, don’t seem to indicate there are any health risks associated with dangerous bacteria.

    FWIW, I don’t personally bother with organic food because the benefits simply aren’t enough to justify the price difference, especially in Australia where our non-organic food is of high quality with very low levels of chemical residue. There’s also the (debatable) environmental issue of the extra amount of land-clearing required for some organic crops. But I’d never come across a serious claim that organic food was actually less healthy.

    Having said that, it seems inevitable that eventually scientists will figure out how to engineer and grow food in quite artificial manners that is healthier, tastes better, and causes fewer environmental issues that current methods of agriculture.

  18. NPOV, organic food is in the same category as cocaine – God’s way of saying you have too much money. It seems to be equally as addictive and devoid of reason too.

    Yes I have references showing the higher bacterial risks. As I can only include one link in posts, this shows that organic and “all natural” products are 8 times more likely to be recalled for safety related problems than conventional products, according to U.S. FDA and Health Canada records.

    The organic food industry also refuses to countenance irradiation. It’s the only method guaranteed to eliminate pathogenic bacteria from food.

    Further, natural pesticides such as sulphur and copper are used in much higher quantities in organic food production than synthetic pesticides are used in conventional production. They are more toxic and environmentally persistent than synthetic pesticides and, at the rates used, more toxic.

    There is nothing debatable about organic food requiring more land. It’s almost invariably lower yielding, especially over a prolonged period.

    I agree with you that technology will allow us to grow food “artificially” that is better in every way. My concern is that the organic food Nazis will prevent it from becoming generally available. Africa would be growing a lot more food but for anti-GM fanatics.

  19. David, I’m afraid if that’s your idea of a reliable source for scientific information on…well…just about anything…then your claim doesn’t have a lot going for it.
    Further, even if it were true that the recall rate for organic foods was higher, it hardly proves the actual products reaching consumers are actually causing health issues. Most of the recalls

  20. (oops, hit return too early)

    Most of the recalls seem to be due to inadequate or inaccurate labelling, which is not that unexpected given many players in the organic food industry are smaller and newer to the game. If there was evidence of widespread negligence or worse, deliberate deceitfulness, I’d be more concerned, but that’s up to the FDA to investigate.

    As far as irradiation goes, presumably those selling organic products have determined that consumers are more interested in avoiding radiation than bacteria, irrational as it may be.

    And yes, most organic crops require more land than their non-organic equivalents, but that doesn’t necessarily mean more land-clearning, as organic crops are often grown on plots of already-cleared unused land that are too small for commerical non-organic farming.

  21. As Einstein said, everyone’s a relative! A life-span of 30 years, in the days before TV and good books, would have been so boring that it would have seemed like 120 years, I reckon!

  22. Really Mark? You’ve had someone hold a gun to your head, telling you to eat organic apples OR ELSE?
    And what is the agenda of the typical organic food customer these days anyway? I’ll have to make a point of asking other shoppers next time I’m at Coles (who surely sell far more organic food produce than the various specialist stores combined).

  23. An alternative opinion of the cartoon would note the deep psychic pessimism which grounds those of us who are so unhappy with our present existence that we glorify some ‘noble savage’ or ‘golden age’ of the long ago past, as if human progress should go backwards in order to be ‘moral.’ Romanticism in Europe had this deep pessimism which found the noble savage to be so attractive (Shelley, Lord Byron, etc.); Rousseau’s social contract is another version; today’s jihadist is the penultimate contemporary example.

    The glorification of the past–or the utopia of the future–is the saccharine sweetener for a deeply pessimistic psychology. It is, unintentionally, quite toxic.

  24. A recent analysis found that organically grown foods have higher nutrient content and that this improved with each crop,the clear implication being that organics improve soil quality over time and are more nutritious.

    Copper is an essential nutrient and sulphur compounds are needed. The problem is quantity. Too much copper is very problematic and bad for brains. Rotenone, that favourite of pesticides on both sides of this fence, is for practical purposes best perceived as a risk for Parkinsons’Disease, there are a number of other pesticides also implicated. Organics use lots of rotenone because it is natural but it is one of the most dangerous pesticides.

    Quality control in Australia is to a very high standard but overseas foods will be subject to generally laxer standards. At your own risk, as various recent outbreaks of food poisoning and contamination(even of pharma products) has revealed to many consumers. Never consume products from Chinese traditional medicine, these have a shocking history of toxicity and contamination.

    GM foods have not been subject to the same standard of testing as other foods and there are studies clearly pointing to potential problems, including severe allergic reactions, to some GM components. Hands up anyone here who has heard of such research? I doubt it, you just don’t hear about these studies in the mass media because ????(Caveat: such research was mentioned recently on the Insight forum on GM foods. Only SBS???)

    However it is a very long stretch to argue that organics are less healthy than the alternative. Calling this a “scientific fact” belies a complete misunderstanding of what science is about. In science you prove by experiment not deduction. Copper and sulfur are “too persistent”? Good one, like these are essential components of life so I certainly hope so!

    Organics are simply impractical and consumers of organics are often way too anal about their health, probably because they are terrified of dying the gutless swine.

  25. GM foods have not been subject to the same standard of testing as other foods and there are studies clearly pointing to potential problems, including severe allergic reactions, to some GM components. Hands up anyone here who has heard of such research?

    Nobody will put up their hands is because such research does not exist.

    The only genuine toxicity associated with GM foods is the gene that expresses peanut allergen, a well known and avoided risk. The same risk occurs in conventional food too, through contamination. It only affects those with acute allergy to peanuts.

    GM foods are subject to far higher standards of testing than conventional foods. In fact, unprocessed and semi-processed conventional foods have not been tested at all except by trial and error.

    The Office of Gene Technology Regulator http://www.ogtr.gov.au/ and Food Standards Australia New Zealand http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/ have the Australian data all there. There is obviously a lot to be found in other countries too, if you’re interested. Even the World Trade Organisation has a lot.

  26. So the scientist and the professor on the forum last week were lying?

    GM foods are subject to far higher standards of testing than conventional foods. In fact, unprocessed and semi-processed conventional foods have not been tested at all except by trial and error.

    I have read a great many primary research articles relating to commonly ingested foods. There is abundant research on foods and related compounds, as there is on many non-conventional treatments. (Many people assert the the herbs and spices dished out are not tested. Bollocks, and there is a lot of very strong evidence to suggest that the judicious use of some of these substances can improve health and address specific pathologies.) In any event the point is moot, we’ve had enough time to know what is safe to eat and not so safe, though even that knowing remains problematic.

    No evidence of toxicity my arse>:

    Vazquez et al, “Bacillus thuringiensis Cry1Ac protoxin is a potent systemic and mucosal adjuvant,” Scandanavian Journal of Immunology 49 (1999): 578­584. See also Vazquez-Padron et al., 147 (2000b).
    V. E. Prescott, et al, Transgenic Expression of Bean r-Amylase Inhibitor in Peas Results in Altered Structure and Immunogenicity, J. Agric. Food Chem. 2005, 53
    Fine structural changes in the ileum of mice fed on delta-endotoxin-treated potatoes and transgenic potatoes
    28/04/2008 10:28PM

    New Analysis of a Rat Feeding Study with a Genetically Modified Maize Reveals Signs of Hepatorenal Toxicity
    Journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology

    Nordlee, J.A., Taylor, S.L., Townsend, J.A. and Thomas, L.A. (1996) Identification of a Brazil nut allergen in transgenic soybean. New England Journal of Medicine 334, 688-692.

    What does not exist in this debate is honesty. It is clear the risk of GM is very low but to ignore that risk if very stupid. There are a whole host of issues here which I won’t bother with except to say this: biomedicine is replete with a history of it’s good for you it’s bad for you but the truth is we can never know with comfortable certainty until many decades have passed.

    My personal view is that people who discuss GM in one broad generalisation don’t appreciate that this technology must be perceived and analysed in much smaller categories. So GM to improve salinity resistance and improved output are worth persuing and carry little risk, but GM to introduce herbicide and pesticide resistance needs to be approached with more caution. That is, David, unlike yourself and the vast majority of people, when I hear sweeping statements about GM being either good or bad I lament the failure of such people to realise that GM is a much more complicated issue than that.

  27. Really NPOV, you’re telling me that it doesn’t already happen?

    Please explain Rudd’s idea to tax alcopops more and tell us what happens if you grow GM that is banned – even if there is no or contrary evidence as to it’s safety?

    Another example is that gamma ray irradiation of (most) food is banned.

    Let’s have the opponents of this technology explain the chemical and physiological mechanisms of what they claim. Otherwise they are attributing the impacts of random factors to a factor they simply don’t like.

  28. See this “highly scientific” critique of irradiation:


    ” Are there long term health implications from eating irradiated foods? Many adverse effects show up in mammals fed irradiated food for a prolonged time: lowered immune resistance, decreased fertility, damage to kidneys, depressed growth rates, Vitamin A,B, C, E and K deficiencies, as well as a surge in polyploid lymph cells. These findings are backed up by other research in which human lymph cells were brought into contact with irradiated sucrose solutions. Extreme toxicity followed, cell divisions were inhibited, chromosomes appeared shattered, and four times the normal level of polyploids were evident.”

    Yeah, how did it happen – finger pointing is not evidentiary.

    Not to mention, where are their references besides “Wellbeing Magazine No. 65”

  29. On irradiation:

    Basically it is banned because cranks lobby the Government to stop producers using it by the barrel of a gun.

    This is about the only explanatory reference found on google to “radiomimicry”


    “Synergy of EMR and Chemicals

    The synergy of EMR and chemicals or drugs is illustrated for example when we see that microwaves can potentiate the effect of a number of drugs including the tranquilizer Librium. This interaction of EMR with drugs and toxic or potentially toxic agents should not be overlooked. Gunni Nordstrom addresses this issue in her book The Invisible Disease. (See Bibliography. ) (12) (37)

    An early researcher and prolific inventor of electrical devices, Nikola Tesla , was aware of the affinity of electricity with chemicals. He too suffered strange maladies that defied medical treatment of the day. He may well have been a victim of his own experiments as his exposure to the fields of energy with which he worked can reasonably be seen to have precipitated his strange health conditions.

    Rachel Carson in her book “Silent Spring” (1963) alerted the community of the changes that had taken place in the flora and fauna in the countryside of the USA, as a result of the prolific use of DDT and other pesticides and herbicides, then in use. Those changes were so profound that birth defects and reproductive capacity was seriously affected in a number of bird, reptile and animal species.

    Carson’s work was not taken seriously for many years, long after her own death from cancer. When it was eventually acknowledged, the effects she described and her warnings of the consequences of continued use of these powerful chemicals, were sobering indeed. (51)

    Radiomimicry is also mentioned in the book Secrets of the Soil, ( © Bird and Tomkins). The authors compare the damage caused to the environment by use of agricultural chemicals as multiple the effect of one atomic bomb used in world war ll.

    Everyone is now aware of the health toll to the individual and community from the harmful effects of tobacco and asbestos, but it took decades before early warnings were believed. If the scientific and empirical evidence of EMR induced health damage continues to be denied by all those concerned, we may yet see a similar scenario as Carson revealed – only on a far greater scale.”

    The evidence against irradiation comes from the same league of arguments as do laetrile and colloidal silver – best left in the garbage dump of espectable science.

  30. The best a health magazine can do is point you towards the research. There are multitudes of articles out there stating GM is this bad, that bad, blah blah blah, if you actually check the research they are purportly citing the story is very different. For eg. one website I looked littered with F”references” that were linked kept coming up with “page not found”.

    In this case the below sounds scary and perhaps it is, but keep in mind the cooking at high temperatures of most fats – in particular the omegas, will generate lots of potentially nasty alterations in fats. I *believe* the risk from this is far greater than from irradiation. A lot of people could help their health by throwing out their frying pans … .

    Food Chem Toxicol. 2007 Dec;45(12):2581-91. Epub 2007 Jun 28.Click here to read
    Toxicological potential of 2-alkylcyclobutanones–specific radiolytic products in irradiated fat-containing food–in bacteria and human cell lines.
    Food irradiation has been considered as a safe processing technology to improve food safety and preservation, eliminating efficiently bacterial pathogens, parasites and insects. This study aims to characterize the toxicological potential of 2-alkylcyclobutanones (2-ACBs), radiolytic derivatives of triglycerides, formed uniquely upon irradiation of fat-containing food. In irradiated food they are generated proportionally to fat content and absorbed radiation dose. The cyto- and genotoxic potentials of various highly pure synthetic 2-ACBs were studied in bacteria and human cell lines. While pronounced cytotoxicity was evident in bacteria, no mutagenic activity has been revealed by the Ames test in Salmonella strains TA 97, TA 98 and TA 100. In mammalian cells genotoxicity was demonstrated mainly by the induction of DNA base lesions recognized by the Fpg protein as determined by both the Comet Assay and the Alkaline Unwinding procedure. Formation of DNA strand breaks was observed by the Alkaline Unwinding procedure but not by the Comet Assay. The extent of cytotoxicity and genotoxicity were dependent on chain length and degree of unsaturation of the fatty acid chain. Further studies will have to clarify mechanisms of action and potential relevance for human exposure situation.

    Oh gosh …

    ood-borne radiolytic compounds (2-alkylcyclobutanones)may promote experimental colon carcinogenesis.

    The colon of four of six AOM control rats exhibited only one small tumor ( &6 mm3). Multiple tumors were observed in four and three of six animals treated with 2-tDCB or 2-tDeCB, respectively. Medium (6 < S 25 mm3) tumors were detected only in 2-ACB-treated animals. This is the first demonstration that a compound found exclusively in irradiated dietary fats may promote colon carcinogenesis in animals treated with a chemical carcinogen.


  31. I hope you all read the new book out, ‘Scared to Death’. It shows how public policy is driven in Britain. One of the items, relating to food, shows how a supposed neutral committee started a scare campaign, with references, with the purpose of making some vitamin supplements so expensive to make that only established pharmaceutical companies could have done it. Diligent reporters found out that the supposed references were based on one experiment, done once and never duplicated. They also found out that the committee was sponsored by… (you’ll never guess) big-name pharmaceutical companies!
    It always pays to look at the footnotes and references.

  32. Like recently with the study that said taking vitamins was basically linked to illness – except for multivitamins.

    The point here is to be careful about the actual research.

    Whilst multivitamins might be better, since roughly half of all others where considered dangerous, with no reasoning why, it seems like mere randomness of the subjects taking the supplements in the study…

  33. John Hasenkam “and let’s not forget Ok Tedi”

    John – pop quiz – what was the life expectancy of folk living in Ok Tedi pre BHP’s mine starting? What is it now? Would you prefer to be clean and dead or a little dirty and alive?

  34. So what you are arguing Andrew is that poisoning thousands of people, condemning them to pain and suffering for extended periods, is fine so long as we raise their living standards. So then, if the factory next to me is pissing out dangerous chemicals I have no recourse for compensation because this factory raises the overall standard of living?

    So much for individual freedom and protection from harm. The rights of individual sacrificed on the alter of progress. If that is a libertarian value you’ll never gain a following.

  35. I don’t think it is a libertarian value. But there is value in being balanced. Ultimately progress does not need to be ugly nor slowed down.

  36. John,

    Compromises need to be made in life. The Ok Tedi mine brought an unprecedented level of community services to people in the Ok Tedi region. Health, education etc.

    I’ll answer the quiz for you. Pre the mine, life expectancy was 30 years and infant mortality was 1 in 4. In the late 1990s life expectancy had increased to 50 years and infant mortality reduced to 1 in 30. Still appalling by Western standards – but a massive improvement that would not have been achieved without the BHP mine.

    The left wing view would probably be – we should have been able to do that anyway if we shared the wealth in rich Western countries and provided the Ok Tedi people with these services as a charity. Yeah – right, good luck with that!

    On balance, the Ok Tedi mine was a major boon to the people of the Ok Tedi region. It did impact their life – the river silted up in patches and some traditional villages who subsisted on fishing in the silt zones were adversely impacted. But, on balance, it was a good thing. Don’t use it as an example of why progress is bad!

  37. So what you are arguing Andrew is that poisoning thousands of people, condemning them to pain and suffering for extended periods, is fine so long as we raise their living standards.

    What irrational reasoning! How are living standards raised if they are being poisoned?

    What’s really poisonous is forcing people to endure a life expectancy of 30 because big companies might ‘exploit’ them or pollute their bacterial contaminated water with barely detectable levels of synthetic pollutants. Greenpeace, for example, is pure poison.

    The rights of individual sacrificed on the alter of progress. If that is a libertarian value you’ll never gain a following.

    That’s the approach of the Communist Party of China. You obviously haven’t bothered to find out what libertarianism is yet.

  38. Try again with correct italics:

    So what you are arguing Andrew is that poisoning thousands of people, condemning them to pain and suffering for extended periods, is fine so long as we raise their living standards.

    What irrational reasoning! How are living standards raised if they are being poisoned?

    What’s really poisonous is forcing people to endure a life expectancy of 30 because big companies might ‘exploit’ them or pollute their bacterial contaminated water with barely detectable levels of synthetic pollutants. Greenpeace, for example, is pure poison.

    The rights of individual sacrificed on the alter of progress. If that is a libertarian value you’ll never gain a following.

    That’s the approach of the Communist Party of China. You obviously haven’t bothered to find out what libertarianism is yet.

  39. Then neither has Andrew David. I know that isn’t the libertarian way. Ok Tedi was about dangerous pollutants maiming thousands and killing hundreds if not thousands. Spare me the straw men arguments, hardly “barely detectable”. Come on David, you should know me well enough by now that I do my homework and don’t fall for such egregious and supercilious arguments. Even BHP acknowledged major environmental damage and ended up paying out gazillions in damages.

    There is an interesting back story to this which points to the culpability of the both the Aus and PNG govts. Nonetheless, BHP knowingly did major environmental damage and only changed when public pressure forced them to change.

  40. John,

    No the environmental problem at Ok Tedi was silt – not “pollutants killing hundreds if not thousands” (by the way – where did you get that info from if you do your homework?)

    Ok Tedi was originally built with a tailings dam, but it washed away in the first wet season. BHP made the decision that building another one wasn’t economically viable and so disposed of the tailings (the fine silt left from the ore processing plant when the ore is concentrated for transport to a smelter) into the Ok Tedi river. Unfortunately the silt built up in a number of areas downstream and choked parts of the rivers – including some areas where traditional villages existed.

    BHP settled for damages and stopped mining operations after those leeches from Slater & Gordon started a class action. They took the view that the publicity from damage to the BHP brand from the unsightly silt mess wasn’t worth the fight and so agreed to settle.

    BHP lost out, Slater & Gordon made some nice cynical cash, the anti-development lobby groups had a win, but the real losers are the people of the Ok Tedi region who lost a major economic driver behind their improved standard of living.

  41. By the way – an addendum – the mine was reopened by the PNG government (operating as Ok tedi Mining Ltd) and still sends tailings into the river today. So it can’t have been that bad! BHP was just an easy target for environmentalists and Slater & Gordon. Visual images of silt build-up make nice copy for the anti-development lobbyists.

  42. So if Keith Faulkner recognised a serious environmental impact, if various studies have found elevated levels of heavy metals, that’s ok. Can anyone here tell me the risks associated with heavy metal accumulation? Here’s a hint: haber-weiss.

    As to the ideq that because a govt made a decision it must be a good one. Laughable logic.

    Would you care to explain to me why in the below study only the fly river barra had elevated mercury?

    From the MD’s of ok tedi’s annual report:

    “One of Ok Tedi’s greatest challenges is the well documented impact of the mine
    wastes on the Ok Tedi and Fly River system. The most concerning development in
    the past few years has been the increasing risk presented by Acid Rock Drainage,
    the result of oxidation of sulphide minerals in the waste materials, particularly the mill
    tailings. Exhaustive studies have resulted in a project for the removal of pyrite (an
    iron sulphide mineral) from the tailings and the permanent safe storage of this
    material where it cannot oxidise and pose a risk to the river system. Studies have
    concluded that the safest storage site is at Bige where we dredge the mine wastes
    from the Ok Tedi.”

    Mercury in Marine and Freshwater Fish of Papua New Guinea

    C Sorentino


    A survey was carried out of the mercury content of 19 fish species from 18 locations In the coastal and fresh waters of Papua New Guinea. Most commercial catches had total mercury contents well below the 0.5 µg/g limit recommended by the World Health Organization, the only exception being barramundi (Lates calcarifer) caught in the Fly River system. The presence of mercury in this river is discussed.

    Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 30(5) 617 – 623

    Full text doi:10.1071/MF9790617

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