22 December 2006
Raising some interesting Qs
Ancient rock art to be removed to make way for Australian gas project
Last Updated: Friday, December 22, 2006 | 11:22 AM ET
A petroleum company plans to begin removing more than 150 ancient rock paintings from a site just off Australia's west coast after the federal government turned down an application for a heritage listing that would have preserved the art.
On Friday, federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell rejected an application to issue an emergency heritage listing for the Burrup Peninsula, saying a listing could hamper the oil and gas industry.
"It's important that we protect our heritage but also protect our economy, protect our jobs …. Also see natural gas being exported to the rest of the world," Campbell said.
Woodside Petroleum says it will act quickly to remove the petroglyphs from the site to make way for a $5-billion Australian ($4.2-billion Cdn) gas project.
Environmentalists and heritage organizations had applied for the heritage listing to protect the more than one million rock carvings on the Dampier Archipelago, a chain of islands off a remote part of Australia.
The carvings are 6,000 to 30,000 years old and chronicle the cultural heritage of ancient Aboriginal societies.
The petroglyphs are under threat because of acid rain from existing petrochemical plants in the region, and projects that involve blasting to clear the way for development, according to a report by the National Trust, a conservation organization.
Aboriginal groups have pressed for protection for the region, along with Australia's Green party.
"I'm not very happy at all because they are destroying our heritage and as I've always said, they are destroying our Bible that's lying on the Burrup," said Wong-Goo-Tt-Oo elder Wilfred Hicks.
Archeologists say there has been little study of the remote region — all the works have not been catalogued and not much is known about the ancient cultures that created them.
The rejection of the heritage listing, made after just 10 days of study by the minister, is unacceptable, said Senator Rachel Siewert, a representative of the Green party.
"This is undoubtedly a heritage site, of not only national, but of world significance, and if he can't see his duty is to protect this area — to list it and protect it — he should step down as minister because he's incapable of carrying out his duties," she said.
This brings up interesting questions of priorities. What are we willing to give up to continue feeding our incessant thirst for energy? Are we willing to give up historical and cultural heritage sites, either relocating or destroying them? How much of our environment are we prepared to give up as it is plundered, mowed over, or polluted? In Alberta, in the past a big point of contention has been gas exploration and extraction in the Foothills, especially in the Kananaskis region, with oil companies, environmentalists, and NIMBYs all getting involved. But as we move forward, what about the Fort McMurray region and the Lake Athabasca/Peace River watershed? If the tar sands are fully exploited and plundered, I think we can safely say that this region will be irrevocably damaged in the name of getting at more energy sources, possibly to the point of being a dead zone. Are we willing to sacrifice our legacies in order for short-term profits? Especially those energy sources that we know we are going to have to wean ourselves off of anyways?
This makes me think of the issue surrounding the Taliban's destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001. They were destroyed because Afghanistan's Islamist clerics began a campaign to crack down on "un-Islamic" segments of Afghan society. The Taliban soon banned all forms of imagery, music and sports, including television, in accordance with what they considered a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
These 2500 year old statues were destroyed in the name of religion. How much different is it to destroy something in the name of resource extraction? Is there a big distinction? We seem to be able to make the distinction, if only to make ourselves feel better about this wanton destruction of history and/or nature.
Are we then any better? We may think so, but at what cost? In 100 years, when all of Alberta is one big reclamation site, with all of our water and natural resources permanently altered or gone, will we think differently about the consequences of our decisions?