Tales Of Ponds And The Physics Principle We Cannot Escape

By | August 13, 2014

Originally published as a column in the AM News on Friday August 8, 2014.

The day was heavy…I woke up to a hazy sky and had my thoughts clumped under it the whole day. Tailings pond disasters, the humanitarian crisis in Irak, the Ebola outbreak… The list is longer than we care to admit or even know.

We cannot do much about many of the crises in the world other than sign petitions when needed, donate money or goods when possible, and hope.

As for the the tailings pond sad story at home, that is one we can deal with more directly. Some more than they ever bargained for.

Environmental disasters should not happen when there are warning signs to be heeded, not when there are ways to prevent them. Not only is this story not new, but there is a rather worrying precedent of having the disaster in the news for a while and then washed thoroughly in corporate crocodile tears promising cleanup and making amends, but really, much of the aftermath is left in the hands of those who are living with it every day, many of whom likely said no to a potentially risky project to begin with and end up with the worst of it when the proverbial fan gets hit.

The Mount Polley disaster is a sad and anger-causing occurrence, but also a nudge towards considering how our own back yard or part of it could change should something similar take place nearby. Yes, the Ajax mine tailings pond suddenly become more threatening than before.

The problem with environmental disasters like that (the word is harsh, I agree, but so is even a ladle-full of arsenic, let alone a few hundred thousand of them) is that they linger for a long time. It’s not like spilling milk on the kitchen floor.

There are 7 billion of us and growing, and the planet’s resources are dwindling as we speak. In an effort and rush to get the most profit over a short period of time, companies often forgo extra security measures or delay the process of making sure safety comes first. A double whammy if you will.

Then the unthinkable happens and the PR team gets busy. Ethical issues become as appealing as eating a handful of dirt and often they are pushed to the side in ways that are more surreptitious than they should be. That too is an art in itself.

Whether we’re dealing with mines, tar sands, or fracking, the question that comes back every time with more vengeance is this: what is happening to social conscience and to truly understanding and facing the consequences of our actions when we go that way?

What is driving us humans to put our own environment at risk, and why doesn’t the thought of a possible disaster make us all shudder knowing that should we sicken our environment, our own health is affected?

Here’s a thing I keep repeating: no matter how far or close one is from the actual site of a natural resource exploration site, the effects of such enterprises can leave a serious imprint on our world, let alone when disasters happen. We’re in it together.

The hazy sky over Kamloops today was not from any local wildfire but from down south.

We share the planet, we share the consequences of our collective actions. When people oppose mines and pipelines they do not do it because it’s trendy to do so but because they ask loudly ‘What if?’ and because the answer is a complex, often scary one. Even scarier when it becomes reality.

We are not disconnected from the natural world that keeps us alive, I choose to stubbornly believe that; we are just temporarily absorbed by a life that happens too fast and it dazzles us with too much.

We cannot be disconnected because we cannot afford to. There’s nothing remotely positive about the recent Mount Polley disaster but if we agree that knowledge is power, let’s use the power of having just learned that disasters can happen in preventing future ones.

How? That points to another recurrent theme: needs before wants. Nothing else will do. Not when there are so many of us and more coming. Not when we have one planet between all of us to share.

We are but part of the world we live in, and not its uncontested masters. The old physics principle of ‘for every action there is a reaction’ still applies, and recent happenings show that actions can sometimes trigger reactions we are not prepared to deal with or cannot fix any time soon. So why not do it better then?

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