Saturday, September 04, 2010


I am currently working on a large painting which I'll be able to load up on the BLOG soon. This new painting causes an oscillation of perspective...and as regular readers of this BLOG know...I am fascinated by perspective and distance. But, until then I am going to introduce you to RISK!

RISK, above, is from my series looking at water and the various issues that surround this fundamental life giving and sustaining gift to the planet. My last post 'Airspace and Phantoms' showed you some of my recent works on paper that also look at issues of water ie: irrigation, entitlements, coal seam gas industry [CSG] and so on.

But, RISK, whilst still inspired by water issues, is a work where I wanted to question how risk is analysed. For instance, the Coal Seam Gas [CSG] industry promotes itself as a provider of  'cleaner' energy...reducing emissions etc. This declaration has been questioned, particularly when the entire CSG process is examined. Plus there is the fact that methane is a more dangerous contributor to warming than carbon dioxide. In the process of extracting gas, there are concerns being voiced by farmers, scientists and environmentalists with regards to the potential degradation of prime and strategic farming lands, and the depletion of underground aquifers. In the gas extraction process underground water also comes to the surface. This water is a 'by-product' of the extraction process. It has to be stored as there are no immediate broad usages for the water due to its salt content. I recently wrote about this issue in a post called 'Salt'  Soil salination is a major worry.

Open cut mines are also a great concern for farmers and environmentalists who are not convinced that prime agricultural land can be rehabilitated, after the lifespan of a mine, to re-instate the richness of soils. A mine's life maybe 20-30 years, whereas some of the farmland in Queensland, which is in jeopardy, could produce food for thousands of years. Farming in Australia has become increasingly ecologically driven. As a farmer's daughter I have witnessed the evolution of farming from often unsustainable practices to sustainable ones. Most farmers love their land, and if they have stock, they love them too! Most farmers are not anti-mining, but they are anti mining on prime and strategic farm land, plus mining without due consideration of water issues.

So, there are a few issues to be examined. A broad one is whether the so called 'cleaner' energy provided by CSG is worth potentially degrading the prime agricultural land which produces food for a growing global population. Is it killing the goose that laid the golden egg? Alternative fuel is a much more attractive idea than alternative food! In this day and age where food and culinary programs on tv, books etc seem to swamp us, I doubt that many people would enjoy the thought of eating alternative food, just so mining could strip the land for so called cleaner energy. 

Back to are required, by law, to adhere to strict regulations with regards to pumping and using water. I've written about this many times before. Water infrastructure is complex and the legalities are not well known in the general population. However,  the mining industry does not fall under the strict regulations required by government water resources departments and legislation! So, whilst a farmer needs to comply with rules regarding pumping from rivers and aquifers, the CSG water 'by-product' does not. Farmers are worried that the water extracted during the CSG process will deplete water levels in the underground aquifers and destabilise pressure, thus restricting use by farmers for such things as drinking water for stock, some irrigation, and domestic use on remote properties/stations and municipal use in remote communities. The potential for across aquifer contamination and introduced contamination is a major concern. Please look the Basin Sustainability Aliance site for predictions on how much water will be potentially extracted from underground aquifers. It is enormous.

So back to risk! It seems to me that risk is a highly nuanced consideration. If I want to jump out of a plane I need to take account of the risk to me, and the potential impact on my family and friends if I smash to the ground. However, the risk is not far reaching beyond the sadness of my family. The risk of degrading prime farmland goes way beyond the 'now' to future generations and their food supply. The risk of depleted or contaminated aquifers is not just about impacts on farmers and communities now, but also into the future...for all.

I am reminded of various things Lord Martin Rees, Royal Astonomer and Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics and Master of Trinity College at the University of Cambridge, wrote in his book 'Our Final Century' . I have previously written about this book and its influence on my work.

The book is essentially an examination of risk. On pages 7-8 he writes,

It may not be absurd hyperbole—indeed, it may not even be an overstatement—to assert that the most crucial location in space and time (apart from the big bang itself) could be here and now. I think the odds are no better than fifty-fifty that our present civilisation on Earth will survive to the end of the present century. Our choices and actions could ensure the perpetual future of life (not just on Earth, but perhaps far beyond it, too). Or in contrast, through malign intent, or through misadventure, twenty-first century technology could jeopardise life’s potential, foreclosing its human and posthuman future. What happens here on Earth, in this century, could conceivably make the difference between a near eternity filled with ever more complex and subtle forms of life and one filled with nothing but base matter.
Martin Rees, Our Final Hour: A Scientist’s Warning: How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind’s Future in This Century—On Earth and Beyond (New York: Basic Books, 2003) p.7-8

RISK, gouache on paper ,30 x 42 cm is painted with little $ signs to question 'value'. The underground water, the river depression and the rain falling from the sky are all $ signs. The word RISK is also painted with $ signs. These are red to make an almost SOS or DANGER statement.

Currency, [playing with all ideas of currency] and value are not the same...especially when one thinks of the future...ha!..currency can really only mean NOW. 'Currency' is a play on the idea of money, flow and being current ie: contemporaneousness. If you read Martin Rees's quote, consideration of the future is vastly important.

A scientific risk analysis is very different to one business would consider. Would business ever consider a .05% risk too much? NO. But, in certain circumstances, science would. My impression is that the rush to extract gas and increasingly larger amounts of coal [and other resources] has more to do with business risk than a scientifically based one. My impression is that governments and other players are even applying a business type risk % parametre when considering environmental, health and sustainable food production impacts. However, surely these should be scrutinised with a stringent scientific analysis?

Added 28-1-12
This painting sold just before Christmas.

1 comment:

Audubon Ron said...

I dunno Kathryn, taking a risk is too risky. I think.

The water and salinity is a big issue here too. As we deplete the fresh water supply the gulf fills in with salt water.