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‘WildPolitics.net’ begins – a comment on the impact of the Timor oil spills

November 15, 2009

The impetus for starting this blog has been born of experiences in the past 20 years working within environmental politics around the world to safeguard places for wildlife to live.

The world has changed in this time and the medium for communication has opened considerably and I now feel compelled to join the throng of marking my thoughts in this medium.

And perhaps to set the tome of what people can expect from me I bring you a synopsis of the recent Timor oil spill disaster. I have said in a blog elsewhere that, although cliché, a picture speaks a thousand words.

unknon photogrpaher - published on SkyTruth

More pictures of the aftermath of the spill fire can be seen on SkyTruth

This spill has revealed much about our collective political choices over the past five or six decades. Up to 2000 barrels of oil a day leaked from an offshore oil-rig for more than 10 weeks. On November 3rd the spill was finally capped but the ecological impact of millions of litres of oil spilled into these tropical waters is likely to persist for years to come.

Twenty years after the Exxon spills the impacts are still surfacing, as covered in Field Notes, by the Polar Field Services . “Most of the people we have talked [about the Exxon spill] to believe the ecosystem will not recover in their lifetime,” Dr. Duane Gill, of Oklahoma State University said. “For many, the only way the disaster will end is when they die.”

At the beginning political officials and the fossil fuel lobby in Australia denied there was any concern, claiming there would be little or no impact and that the oil and gas condensate would natural evaporate. As the weeks progresses and the Government felt the pressure for truth from Indonesia, East Timor and its own population, their own investigation revealed that the spill was in fact a slow motion disaster. With their ‘Teflon’ coating falling away the industry turned on itself and for a short time we glimpsed how poorly regulated and poorly prepared they really were.

None of this is really surprises for anyone close to this debate. Indeed, Guy Pearse in a Quarterly Essay, Quarry Vision, has drawn some clear and distinct lines between the political process and the access of this industry in Australia. While I can not say my position is informed than anything more than a gut hunch, I am fairly confident that Australia is not unique.

As we march, albeit confused and reluctant, towards Copenhagen next month I wonder if the world’s decision makers will actually be able to steer us towards a future that might work. I wonder if some of those representatives will hold these images fresh in their minds, along with the reality of the inquiry that has resulted from such poor political discussion making and an industry that has, until now, regarded its self untouchable.

I hold no expectations of a monumental outcome – not because I have a maladaptive coping or a philosophical consolation response (thank you Clive Hamilton for your warnings) – but simply because I know that the wheels of international agreements move very slowly. But I do hope for the steps to be in place to allow the work to continue, because what we are all considering now – emission reductions, emission trading and the physical or impacts on human populations (extreme weather events, famine and displacement) – is merely scratching the surface. We have yet to grapple with saving enough of the world’s biodiversity that our crops will be safeguarded; that an ecological balance can be maintained such that the future has some options. Even further way is the dialogue that lies closest to my professional life – what will we do to safeguard the wild places for the wildlife that share this planet with us.

And so I set the tone for the reflections of what you can expect from me in the coming weeks, months and maybe even years (if your interest lasts that long).

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