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BHP’s Desecration of Aboriginal Sites in Western Australia is Deferred

A travesty has been averted — for now. What would have been the worst cultural, environmental, and climate news of the week has been put on hold. The news reported in The Guardian by Lorena Allam and Calla Walquist that BHP Billiton, a huge joint Australian and Anglo-Dutch mining company, was planning to destroy at least 40 and as many as 86 heritage sites did spark considerable outrage, both among Australian citizens and BHP’s international shareholders. Under pressure, BHP relented, promising that no action would be taken without further consultation with the Banjima, the indigenous owners. However, the reprieve is temporary, and the power disparity between the Banjima and BHP remains. The Western Australia (WA) state government, while acknowledging the legitimacy of the Banjima’s claims, weighs them as insufficient to counter the jobs BHP creates and the support for the local economy it provides. The WA ministry hasn’t revoked its permission for BHP to proceed, so a denouement depends on the outcome of negotiations between the Banjima and BHP. A resolution of sorts will be reached, the number of cultural sites destroyed will be scaled back a bit, but there is little likelihood that all will be preserved. WA laws will be amended to somewhat redress the imbalance of power between profit and heritage. However, resolving this particular WA issue won’t solve the bigger one, which is how to align the long-term good of the whole of Australian society with a  governance perspective that is persistently short-term. Australia is rich in resources, but exploiting them sustainably is a requisite for continued survival. Australia’s aboriginals know this, and have practiced it for 40 millennia. Modern Australians need to learn from them. They need a government that gets serious about curbing carbon emissions, and  replacing fossil fuels with  renewable power sources. Climate activism, it should be clear after last Fall’s devastating bushfires, is Australia’s path to sustainability. Not to take it ensures more fires and hotter temperatures, pushing more and more people from marginal existences to unsurvivable ones. Even the coasts will become unlivable. Many will emigrate or die. The aboriginals will have their continent back.

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