Cobalt and Congo

In my blog article last March I gave an update on my further research into Coltan (Columbite Tantalite), a ‘conflict mineral’ whose importance in modern technological devices has fueled a bloody civil war that to date has resulted in around 6 million deaths in central Africa. A 2010 U.S. law requires American companies to attempt to verify that any ‘conflict minerals’ such as tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold they use is obtained from mines free of militia control in the Congo region. The result is a system widely seen as preventing human rights abuses.

But to believe that these conflict minerals are the only problem is an inaccurate picture of the global reality. On the first of October, Todd C. Frankel, following on site investigative research, wrote an article in The Washington Post entitled, “Africa’s Cobalt Pipeline: Where Your Mobile Phone Starts,” in which he shows how this mineral, not listed as a ‘conflict mineral’ contributes equally to the violence, poverty, exploitation and suffering of the people of the Congo. In this article I’ve reduced Frankel’s long 15-page article to 6 021222-congolese-miners-052816pages, to make it more accessible. The tragedy of the Congo is that it is an incredibly rich source for these minerals that have found central importance for the technology boom. In particular, Frankel points out, it lies at the heart of the world’s mad scramble for cheap cobalt. 60 percent of the world’s cobalt originates in Congo — “a chaotic country rife with corruption and a long history of foreign exploitation of its natural resources.”

Why is Cobalt important? Because it is a mineral essential to the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power smartphones, laptops and electric vehicles made by companies such as Apple, Samsung and major automakers.

The global interest in lithium-ion batteries is that they are seen to be different from the dirty, toxic technologies of the past. Lighter and packing more energy than conventional lead-acid batteries, these cobalt-rich batteries are seen as “green.” They are essential to plans for moving beyond petrol run vehicles. Already these batteries have defined the world’s tech devices. Smartphones would not fit in pockets without them. Laptops would not fit on laps. Electric vehicles would be impractical.

Cobalt is the most expensive raw material inside a lithium-ion battery. The price of refined cobalt has fluctuated in the past year from $20,000 to $26,000 a ton. Worldwide, cobalt demand from the battery sector has tripled in the past five years and is projected to african_metals_copper_and_cobalt_oreat least double again by 2020. This increase has mostly been driven by electric vehicles. Every major automaker is rushing to get its battery-powered car to market. Tesla’s $5 billion battery factory in Nevada, known as the Gigafactory, is ramping up production. Daimler aims to open a second battery plant in Germany soon. LG Chem makes batteries for General Motors at a plant in Holland, Mich. Chinese company BYD is working on huge new battery plants in China and Brazil.

While a smartphone battery might contain five to 10 grams of refined cobalt, a single electric-car battery can contain up to 15,000 grams. As demand has grown, so has the importance of ‘artisan’ (diggers) mined Cobalt in global markets. Artisan mining has taken a big place in the supply chain. Artisanal cobalt is usually cheaper than product from industrial mines. Companies do not have to pay miners’ salaries or fund the operations of a large-scale mine. Indeed, with cheap cobalt flooding the market, some international traders canceled contracts for industrial ores, opting to scoop up artisanal ones.

The industry should be a boon for a country that the United Nations ranks among the least developed. But it hasn’t worked out that way. The world’s soaring demand for cobalt is being met by workers, including children, who labor in harsh and dangerous conditions. An estimated 100,000 cobalt miners in Congo use hand tools to dig hundreds of feet underground with little oversight and few safety measures, according to workers, congo-cobaltgovernment officials and evidence found by The Washington Post during visits to remote mines. Deaths and injuries are common. And the mining activity exposes local communities to levels of toxic metals that appear to be linked to ailments that include breathing problems and birth defects, health officials say.

With few formal sites to claim for themselves, artisanal miners dig anywhere they can. Along roads. Under railroad tracks. In back yards. When a major cobalt deposit was discovered a few years ago in the dense neighborhood of Kasulo, diggers tunneled right through their homes’ dirt floors, creating a labyrinth of underground caves. Other diggers wait until dark to invade land owned by private mining companies, leading to deadly clashes with security guards and police.

Pay is based on what they find. No minerals, no money. And the money is meager — the equivalent of $2 to $3 on a good day. Deaths happen with regularity too, but only mass casualties seem to filter out to the scant local media, such as the U.N.-funded Radio Okapi. Thirteen cobalt miners were killed in September 2015 when a dirt tunnel collapsed in Mabaya, near the Zambia border. Two years ago, 16 diggers were killed by landslides in Kawama, followed months later by the deaths of 15 diggers in an underground fire in Kolwezi.

The U.S. Labor Department lists Congolese cobalt as a product it has reason to think is produced by child labor. No one knows exactly how many children work in Congo’s mining industry. UNICEF in 2012 estimated that 40,000 boys and girls do so in the childrengminecountry’s south. A 2007 study funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development found 4,000 children worked at mining sites in Kolwezi alone. Local government officials say they lack the resources to address the problem.

Doctors at the University of Lubumbashi already know miners and residents are exposed to metals at levels many times higher than what is considered safe. One of their studies found residents who live near mines or smelters in southern Congo had urinary concentrations of cobalt that were 43 times as high as that of a control group, lead levels five times as high, and cadmium and uranium levels four times as high. The levels were even higher in children. One study the university doctors published in 2012 found preliminary evidence of an increased risk of a baby being born with a visible birth defect if the father worked in Congo’s mining industry.

How such serious problems could persist for so long, despite frequent warning signs, illustrates what can happen in hard-to-decipher supply chains when they are mostly unregulated, low price is paramount and the trouble occurs in a distant, tumultuous part of the world.

The Washington Post traced the cobalt pipeline and, for the first time, showed how cobalt mined in these harsh conditions ends up in popular consumer products. It moves from small-scale Congolese mines to a single Chinese company — Congo DongFang International Mining (CDM), part of one of the world’s biggest cobalt producers, Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt. It is this company that for years has supplied some of the world’s largest battery makers.

Apple, in response to questions from The Post, acknowledged that this cobalt has made its way into its batteries. Apple estimated that 20% of the cobalt it uses comes from Huayou Cobalt. Paula Pyers, a senior director at Apple in charge of supply-chain social responsibility, said the company plans to increase scrutiny of how all its cobalt is obtained. Pyers also said Apple is committed to working with Huayou Cobalt to clean up the supply chain and to addressing the underlying issues, such as extreme poverty, that result in harsh work conditions and child labor. Some say cobalt should be added to the conflict-minerals list, even if cobalt mines are not thought to be funding war. Apple told The Post that it now supports including cobalt in the law.

For most artisanal miners in Congo, the global supply chain begins in a marketplace. Small shops, known as “comptoirs,” are stacked cheek by jowl along the highway that leads to the border. The artisans bring heavy sacks of their diggings and each load is minercobaltmine_2720757ktested by a radar-gun-like device called a Metorex, which detects mineral content. The higher the content of cobalt, the better the price. Miners do not trust the machines, believing them to be rigged, but they have no alternative.

There are many shops, but all sold to the same company: Congo DongFang Mining. The Post reported that Congolese workers, in jumpsuits with CDM printed in block letters on the back, stood watching other men loading cobalt sacks from these shops onto a truck. Later, The Post followed the truck until it reached an entrance with armed guards and turned inside. The facility with big blue walls was clearly marked CDM.

It was at these same gates that CDM says its inspection of its supply chain had stopped, never extending to the mines or marketplace. Last year, CDM reported exporting 72,000 tons of industrial and artisanal cobalt from Congo, making it No. 3 on the list of the country’s largest mining companies, according to Congolese mining statistics. And CDM is by far Congo’s top exporter of artisanal cobalt, according to analysts and the company.

CDM ships its cobalt to its parent company, Huayou, in China, where the ore is refined. Among Huayou’s largest customers are battery cathode makers Hunan Shanshan, Pulead Technology Industry and L&F Material, according to financial documents and interviews.

These companies — which also buy refined minerals from other companies — make the cobalt-rich battery cathodes that play a critical role in lithium-ion batteries. These cathodes are sold to battery makers, including companies such as Amperex Technology Ltd. (ATL), Samsung SDI and LG Chem.

LG Chem, the world’s largest supplier of electric-car batteries, said the company it buys cathodes from, L&F Material, stopped using Congo-sourced cobalt from Huayou last year. Instead, it said, Huayou now supplies L&F Material with cobalt mined from the South lg-chemPacific island of New Caledonia. As proof, LG Chem provided a “certificate of origin” to The Post for a cobalt shipment in December 2015 for 212 tons. But two minerals analysts were skeptical that LG Chem’s cathode supplier could switch from Congo cobalt to minerals from New Caledonia — or, at least, do so for long. LG Chem consumes more cobalt than the entire nation of New Caledonia produces, according to analysts and publicly available data.

Cleaning up the cobalt supply chain will not be easy for Huayou Cobalt, even with the support of a powerful company such as Apple. The question is whether Huayou’s other customers, after years of buying cheap cobalt with no questions, will be supportive.

Starting next year, Apple will internally treat cobalt like a conflict mineral, requiring all cobalt refiners to agree to outside supply-chain audits and conduct risk assessments. Apple’s action could have major repercussions throughout the battery world. But change will be slow. Apple spent five years working to certify that its supply chain was free of conflict minerals — and that action was enforced by law.

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Care Not Killing!

Recently I received a response from a friend of mine after writing an article on how Christians are persecuted, not only in the middle ease or Africa, but in Western countries such that any stand we take on issues like Euthanasia or Abortion are immediately pounced on as examples of how the Church is irrelevant, holding such archaic views that lack compassion. His response to me was: “Elder abuse is a big story the western media is ignoring. That’s why I don’t think the church’s stance on euthanasia is archaic, however I can think of many other scenarios where it is. A compassionate stance should be trying to create a society where older people feel valued.”

The last statement in particular got me thinking that perhaps it is not specifically an anti-religious or anti-Catholic stance, but rather a by product of a Consumerist/Capitalist philosophy that has problems with citizens who are not or no longer productive units of consumerism-guerrillamarketer-com_the economy, but rather an economic drain on the budget.

The Liberal reforms in England of 1906 to 1914 marked a change in government policy from a largely Laissez Faire approach to a more ‘collectivist’ approach. The government now accepted that it should have a much larger role and responsibility in helping those sections of society who could not help themselves. The aged care pension passed into law pensions4in 1909 as a recognition of the life contribution citizens make to the society, and as such was an expression of their value. Today, the need to balance budgets mean that governments are looking for ways to cut down expenditure. Raising the pension age is pensionslooked at as a potential strategy, the argument being that when the pension came in originally, people did not live as long. In 1900, less than 1% of the population in Western countries were 65 years of age or older. In 1992, it was 6.2% and the predictions are that in 2050, it will be a fifth of the population that are 65 or older. This, of course, has been due to improved medicine and sanitation.

In the 20th century, the risk of death from infectious disease had diminished. Degenerative diseases associated with aging – heart disease, stroke and cancer – have become much more important. This not only puts a strain on the budget due to pension payouts but also puts a strain on health care. All these factors have our, and other Western governments, worried. But the danger, in an society that favours an economic rationalist philosophy, is that instead of valuing our aged citizens, they are become as an economic liability or problem. This can lead them to contemplate what might at one time have been considered unthinkable.

In a society where the predominant philosophy is secular and consumerist, we need to be particularly vigilant against the deterioration of what values we have left. After all, a supermarketconsumerist model suggests that if you buy something at a shop, and it eventually wears out, the colour fades, or you just don’t like it anymore, you get rid of it and buy a new one. It is much cheaper to do this than to try to get it fixed. Isn’t it the same with people? Isn’t it the same with relationships?

Australian-Canadian ethicist, Margaret Somerville, remarked recently that she was mcgill-professor-margaret-somerville-speaks-to-mediaappalled by the euthanasia debate in this country. As she put it, “The pro-euthanasia people can’t wait to get killing people.” (The Catholic Weekly 25/8/16). In the National Post she rejects euthanasia arguing that it is dangerous for vulnerable people and society.

In an article in Arts and Opinions, 2006, Somerville writes: The case for euthanasia is easily made by focusing on heart-wrenching individual cases of very difficult deaths that make dramatic and compelling TV footage. The case against euthanasia is much more difficult to present because it depends on harm to some of our most important societal values, to the important institutions of medicine and law, and to present and future generations and societies.

Euthanasia is intentionally killing another person to relieve their suffering. It is not the withdrawal or withholding of treatment that results in death, or necessary pain- and euthanasia4symptom-relief treatment that might shorten life, if that is the only effective treatment.

Euthanasia is not, as euthanasia advocates argue, just another option at the end of a continuum of good palliative care treatment. It is different in kind from them. To legalize euthanasia would damage important societal values and symbols that uphold respect for human life. If euthanasia is involved, how we die cannot be just a private matter of self-determination and personal beliefs, because it involves other persons and society’s approval of their actions. It overturns the prohibition on intentional killing, which the British House of Lords called “the cornerstone of law and human relationships, emphasizing our basic equality.”

Medicine and the law are the principal institutions involved in legalizing euthanasia. In a secular, pluralistic society they are responsible for maintaining the value of and respect for human life. Euthanasia would seriously damage their capacity to do so. Paradoxically, their responsibility is much more important in a secular society than a religious one, because they are the “only game in town.”

To legalize euthanasia would fundamentally change the way we understand ourselves, human life and its meaning. We create our values and find meaning in life by buying into a “shared story” — a societal-cultural paradigm. Humans have always focused that story on the two great events of every person’s life, birth and death. In a secular society — even more than in a religious one — that story must encompass and protect the “human spirit.” By the human spirit, I do not mean anything religious. Rather, I mean the intangible, invisible, immeasurable reality that we need to find meaning in life and to make life worth living — that deeply intuitive sense of relatedness or connectedness to all life, especially other people, the world, and the universe in which we live.

To assess the impact that legalizing euthanasia might have, in practice, on society, we must look at it in the context in which it would operate: The combination of an aging population, scarce health-care resources, and euthanasia would, indeed, be a lethal one.

Euthanasia is a simplistic and dangerous response to the complex reality of human death. Physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia involve taking people who are at their weakest and most vulnerable, who fear loss of control or isolation and abandonment — who are in a care-not-killing-alliancestate of intense “pre-mortem loneliness” — and placing them in a situation where they believe their only alternative is to be killed or kill themselves. How a society treats its weakest, its most in need, its most vulnerable members tests its moral and ethical tone.

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Muslims in Church

Last night I saw an article on the news about a far-right nationalist group, that links itself to One Nation Party leader Pauline Hanson, who stormed a church service on Sunday dressed in Muslim-style attire and chanting anti-Islamic slogans. I could well imagine that such a violation of the sacred space of a Church service would have left some members of church invasionthe congregation deeply traumatized.

The incident, on the NSW Central Coast, reflects the emboldened attitudes of anti-Islamic groups following the political resurgence of the One Nation party at the recent Federal elections. Like the Donald Trump phenomenon and the Brexit decision, it is clear that people are fearful of terrorism and this fear is pushing them to make more extreme right-wing choices, without truly thinking through the consequences.

The response of Australia’s peak Muslim body was to demand that Senator Hanson denounce the group’s actions. The incident has also triggered calls for the new Parliament to retain the full strength of discrimination laws amid a new push for the repeal of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which makes it illegal to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” a person, on the grounds that it limits free speech merely to prevent hurt feelings.

Why the 10 members of the Party for Freedom on Sunday disrupted the morning sermon Bad guysat the Gosford Anglican Church is because it is widely known for its embrace of multiculturalism, refugees and asylum-seekers. The church is nationally renowned for a sign at the front that often bears messages critical of Australia’s hardline border protection policies, such as “Hell exists, and it’s on Nauru“.

Father Rod Bower, the church’s pastor, said that members of the Party for Freedom burst into the church about 9.30 a.m., halfway through his sermon. “Using a loud speaker, starting to abuse me in particular for the work we do … they violated our sacred space,” Father Bower said. “It was typical rhetoric from the extreme right, vilifying Muslims and multiculturalism as a whole. “[They said] Muslims are taking over, they had some prayer mats and mock prayed; they had a recording of the Koran being sung.”

In video footage of the incident, the intruders can be heard speaking sarcastically of the “rich tapestry of Islam”, claiming, “the Western world is living in denial”.

As the group left the church a few minutes later, they warned the congregation: “Do not promote Islam.”

Some parishioners could be heard laughing afterwards, although Father Bower said some were left “deeply traumatized”, especially older people, parents of young children and parish priestasylum seekers. “People were confused and I had to reassure them,” Father Bower said.

Father Bower said the rise of the One Nation Leader, whose party has snared four Senate spots, was “symptomatic of a group of people feeling marginalized”.

What I find interesting, in contrast to this church visit by false Moslems was the church visit by real Moslems following the Killing of Fr. Jacques Hamel, an 84-year-old French priest, by two IS militants. The two attackers, who claimed they were from IS, slit Fr. Hamel’s throat during a morning Mass.

The following week, in a show of unity in the face of terror after this and other horrifying attacks carried out in the name of Islam, Muslims attended Mass in the church where Fr.

epa05449739 members of the congregation in Santa Maria Caravaggio church in Milan, Italy 31 July 2016 during a multi faith service organized by Italy's Islamic Religious Community (COREIS). The organisation called on Muslims to join Christians in condemnation of Islamist terrorism after extremists murdered a Catholic priest, Jacques Hamel, during Mass near Rouen in France 26 July 2016.  EPA/FLAVIO LO SCALZO

epa05449739 members of the congregation in Santa Maria Caravaggio church in Milan, Italy 31 July 2016 during a multi faith service organized by Italy’s Islamic Religious Community (COREIS). The organisation called on Muslims to join Christians in condemnation of Islamist terrorism after extremists murdered a Catholic priest, Jacques Hamel, during Mass near Rouen in France 26 July 2016. EPA/FLAVIO LO SCALZO

Hamel was killed, as well as is Santa Maria Trastevere church in Rome, Santa Maria Caravaggio church in Milan, and other Italian churches.

Outside the cathedral in Rouen, close to Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, where Fr. Jacques died, people applauded when a group of Muslims unfurled a banner reading: “Love for all. Hate for none.”

The remedy for the fear people are currently feeling in this time of uncertainty and terrorism is not to enter into the spiral of violence, generating more fear. The answer is love.

“In love there can be no fear, but fear is driven out by perfect love; because to fear is to expect punishment, and anyone who is afraid is still imperfect in love. We are to love, then, because He loved us first. Anyone who says, “I love God,’ and hates his brother, is a liar, since a man who does not love the brother that he can see cannot love God, whom he has never seen.” (1 Jn 4:18-20)

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Refugee Resettlement in Papua New Guinea

Tony Fedele has been a long time friend of our Passionist Community in Templestowe, Melbourne. His son, David Fedele, has become an independent documentary filmmaker, who recently traveled to city of Lae in Papua New Guinea, to witness first hand the plight of asylum seekers, recognized by the Australian Government as authentic refugees, being resettled there. He published an article in the Guardian Newspaper about his David Fedeleimpressions entitled, “Resettling Refugees in Papua New Guinea: a Tragic Theatre of the Absurd.” His article is as follows:

I have recently spent six weeks in the city of Lae in Papua New Guinea, with unique access to the first group of refugees resettled from Manus Island, and have been able to experience their resettled life first-hand.

Instead of integration and assistance, I have witnessed the total lack of mental support and infrastructure provided to these men, who – fresh from the trauma of their time in detention – have been left to fend for themselves far away from media scrutiny and the national spotlight.

I have also witnessed scenes of despair and disillusionment as they realise the reality of their “resettled” life is very different from what they were led to believe, and at odds with the hollow rhetoric and political spin that is being fed to the Australian public.

Papua New Guinea is an extraordinary country very close to my heart, but I can say with absolute surety that it is not an appropriate country in which to resettle refugees. After the supreme court of Papua New Guinea ruled that Australia’s detention of asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island was illegal, immigration minister Peter Dutton dutton_20141105001056321214-originalcontinues his hardline stance, confirming that recognised refugees will not be brought to Australia, but will be settled in PNG and provided assistance to integrate into PNG life and society.

Ranked 153rd out of 187 countries on the United Nations human development index, Papua New Guinea is currently struggling to look after its own people. It is plagued with extremely high levels of corruption and political instability. There is no true social security system for its population, and excruciatingly high living costs, unemployment and crime.

Though Papua New Guineans are extremely welcoming people, there is a growing resentment towards the idea of settling refugees in their country, believing that PNG is being used as a dumping ground for Australia’s problems, and fearing they will receive preferential treatment over locals, many of whom are struggling to meet their own daily needs. There are also concerns about how Muslim refugees would be integrated into PNG, with its strong Christian majority.

Papua New Guinea is also currently in a state of political turmoil. There are serious fraud allegations surrounding the prime minister, Peter O’Neill, which has resulted in a split in the police force, leading to the closure of the national fraud and anti-corruption directorate which was investigating the allegations. Students at universities around the country are currently boycotting classes, demanding that O’Neill stand down immediately.

Lae is considered the most dangerous city in Papua New Guinea. I would describe it as rough and ready, and a number of the local buses proudly emblazon the phrase “Wild West” across their back window.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s website advises Australian baki,0citizens “to exercise a high degree of caution in PNG because of the high levels of serious crime”, with particularly high crime rates in Lae, where “bush knives (machetes) and firearms are often used in assaults and thefts”.

Yet, somehow, Australia has chosen this city as the ideal place to resettle refugees.

In total, six refugees have been resettled in Lae from Manus Island. One secured employment independently, while five were placed in jobs with a local building company and paid the PNG minimum wage of 3.50 kina per hour (approximately A$1.50), which is barely enough to survive. Three have since quit, citing disputes over pay, safety, working2362 and living conditions. Disillusioned with their new life in Lae, these three men have returned to Manus Island, unsuccessfully attempting to re-enter the detention facilities where they had spent the past two-and-a-half years.

Today, only one of the refugees is living in any sort of permanent housing, with the others all currently staying in hotels both in Lae and back on Manus Island, paid for by the immigration department.

During my time in Lae, two refugees were twice held up at gunpoint by groups of raskols, the local term used to describe street criminals, armed with guns and bush knives. They believe they were specifically targeted, and now no longer walk around the streets of Lae unless they have to. They definitely don’t walk around at night.

They also had a lucky escape when armed raskols unsuccessfully attempted to enter their living compound while they were sleeping. For weeks I witnessed their stress as they were forced to continue living in this accommodation in constant fear for their safety.

They demanded to be moved to safer accommodation, but were told by their case worker 930821-pngthere were no options other than living in the squatted settlement areas in the outskirts of town, known breeding grounds for raskols and hardcore criminals. They were eventually moved to a hotel, which is where they remain.

Straight from the real-life theatre of the absurd, the one refugee who remains working for the building company is paid a daily wage of 28 kina (about $12), yet is being accommodated in a hotel costing 330 kina (about $140) per night. He desperately wants the opportunity to go to university and is distraught at the knowledge that so much money is being wasted when it could be redirected to his education, to his future. It would be comical if it wasn’t so tragic.

The Australian and PNG governments have now had almost three years to prepare for the proper resettlement of refugees, yet it is clear the system is broken and lacking any sort of long-term vision.

The refugees were told they would have access to mental health professionals and support networks, including culture and language classes, however these services are nonexistent. The situation is particularly dire for nonskilled or semi-skilled refugees; apart from the one building company, there doesn’t appear to be any other employment opportunities and no plans for suitable and safe long-term living accommodation.

Even the refugees’ legal status in Papua New Guinea is temporary. They were given a PNG identity card and working visa, but these documents were only issued for one year, which is in contravention of the United Nations charter for refugees. And due to bureaucratic incompetence, some of these documents are now invalid, expiring a few days ago on 1 May 2016, so a number of the refugees are now technically without valid documents to remain and work in PNG.

I have observed the failure of our asylum seeker policies first-hand and spoken to those whose lives have been adversely affected by them. It is clear asylum seekers and refugees have become pawns in the Australian governments’ game of political chess. They are being used as human collateral, a working deterrent and trophy on the mantelpiece of our toxic asylum policy, to show the world if you attempt to come to Australia by boat, this is the future that awaits you.

Resettling refugees in PNG is just another way of delegating our legal responsibility and moral obligation to our poorer Pacific neighbours, with little or no regard for the wellbeing of either the resettled refugees nor the population of the host country – out of sight, out of mind.

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It’s a Fracking Problem

The body of evidence is growing that fracking is not only bad for the global climate, it is also dangerous for local communities. In April, parliament member and Greens NSW mining spokesperson, Jeremy Buckingham, demonstrated how it affects the environment by setting the Condamine River on fire. He called on the government to assess the true fire_on_river_0impact of these emissions saying, “The methane gas bubbling through the Condamine River could be just a very visible tip of the iceberg when it comes to fugutive emissions and huge quantities of gas that could be venting into the atmosphere because of unconvetional gas extraction.”

Fracking, or ‘unvonventional gas extraction’, is a form of extraction that injects large volumes of chemical-laced water into shale, releasing pockets of oil and gas. In the US, in 2014 alone, fracking created 15 billion gallons of wastewater. This water generally cannot Unknownbe reused, and is often toxic. Fracking operators reinject the water underground, where it can leach into drinking water sources. The chemicals can include formaldehyde, benzene and hydrochloric acid. As concerns about the health impacts of fracking have increased, 20 US states now require the disclosure of industrial chemicals used in the fracking process.

If there is no need for concern, then one has to ask why 3 federal state senators for North Carolina, USA, introduced a bill that would slap a felony charge on individuals who disclosed confidential information about fracking chemicals. Many energy companies argue that the information should be proprietary, but public health advocates counter that they can’t monitor for environmental health impacts without it. Under public pressure a few companies have begun to report chemicals voluntarily.

Fracking, as Jeremy Buckingham emphasised, is also bad news for the climate. Natural gas is 80% methane, which traps heat 86 times more effectively than CO2 over a 20 – year period. Newly fracked wells in the US released 2.4 million metric tons of methane in 2014, the equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 22 coal-fired power plants. Mr. Buckingham said, “Depresurising the coal seams to allow the gas to flow may well be causing gas to migrate up natural or fracked pathwasy, or water bores or abandoned wells, to seep out of the ground.” Researchers at Harvard University used satelite retrievals and surface observations of the atmospheric methane to suggest that US methane emissions have increased by more than 30% over the 2002-2014 period. While the authors said there is too little data to identify specific sources, the increase occurred at the same time as America’s shale oil and gas boom.

Here in Australia, in 2010, the ‘Lock the Gate Alliance’ was formed following community meetings in NSW and Qld. A declaration was made that farmers would lock their gates to the rapacious coal seam gas industry. Six years on and the Alliance continues to gain LockTheGate-Glenugiemomentum with rural and urban communities all over Australia. Tragically, the issue was highlighted in October of last year when Western Downs landholder, George Bender, took his life after a long-running dispute with resources companies, one of which wanted to put 18 wells on his farm near Chinchilla. We hope his death will count for something.

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Our Mother Earth, Our Future!

Our Passionist Province of the Holy Spirit includes Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam and Papua New Guinea (PNG). PNG has been a mission of our province for many years now, and we have seen the environmental devastation caused by Indonesian logging companies, who have contracts with the PNG government, who have a devastating impact on the environment and on the local people.

At a recent Province Assembly I was speaking to Joey Liaia CP, one of our PNG students, about what is happening. Joey, I discovered, is passionate about this issue as he comes from a part of PNG where his own people have been impacted by the short sightedness of the government’s approach to grow the PNG economy. I asked Joey if he would write an article for this month’s blog, and he enthusiastically agreed. Below is an account of what is happening from his perspective.

Tropical PNG

Papua New Guinea is situated about 1000 km north of Australia and it is home to the largest remaining tropical rainforest in the Asia-Pacific region. “A two-thousand kilometre long central mountain range soaring to over five thousand metres has created a myriad of microclimates and an astonishing diversity of plants and animals, with the range of vegetation including mangrove forests, lowland rainforest, alpine vegetation, grassland, and savannah woodland”.

According to the ‘Rainforest Information Centre of Papua New Guinea’, “there are 11,000 known species of vascular plants, 200 species of ferns and over 1,200 species of trees. More than half of these grow nowhere else in the world. PNG is home to 700 species of birds, 445 of which inhabit the rainforest areas. Twenty four bird species are now under mapthreat of extinction. PNG is home to more parrot, pigeon and kingfisher species than anywhere else in the world. There are 90 species of snakes, 170 species of lizards, 13 species of turtles, nearly 200 species of frogs, 445 species of butterflies and 250 known species of mammals including the world largest bat, many tree kangaroos and the world largest species of crocodile”. (


In the last 20-30 years, the Asia-Pacific region has lost most of its tropical rainforest through deforestation. In Papua New Guinea particularly, most of these rainforests were lost through logging activities. Some of the logging activities were carried out illegally, while others, even though they were approved by the government, benefited only a few 2papua-new-guinea-deforestationgovernment officials or so-called landowner’s spokespersons. Many of the poor landowners could hardly read or write, but as long as they could scribble something on a piece of paper, that allowed the company to exploit them and their forest. Logging activities are still happening today in many parts of PNG like Vanimo, West New Britain and Gulf Province.

Deforestation at my doorstep

I grew up in a small village called Bitagunan in Rabaul, East New Britain Province. When I was home for my summer vacation last year, I noticed that something was not right. I remembered very well from the time I was a small boy, the diversity of plants that covered some hundreds of hectares of land and amidst these is a big river (Kerevat) that supplies water not only the village people, but also our small town located on our land. I saw that the biodiversity that spread some hundred miles upstream and into the dense forest had vanished!

The variety of trees and thousands of species of flora and fauna that were very much part of my childhood were not there anymore. I was struck with a deep sadness and resentment at such massive destruction that has been done to the environment; our village environment. The beautiful streams and water holes that supplied anyone searching for proper drinking water or for other household use, have been covered with soil by bulldozers, turning them into pools of mud. This massive destruction has been done to the environment just to clear the land to plant palm oil trees. The Oil Palm Project is mainly initiated by our local government as part of a rural development plan. It is one of the projects the government perceives will add to the growth of the economy and benefit the rural people.

About a decade ago, we lost most of our virgin forests to logging companies who came and destroyed anything that stood in their way. This action endangered the lives of thousands of plant and animal species that inhabited these forests. After the loggers had gone, we began to realise how much harm had been done to the forests and to ourselves. We discovered that the number of birds, wild pigs, cassowaries, and other animals that we used to hunt for our daily meals have decreased rapidly. In fact, most of the animal species that could survive migrated to other places while others became extinct. This reality, along with the recent eradication of precious virginal forests in our area for the Oil Palm project, has caused massive destruction to our mother earth.

Deforestation continues in PNG

The pressure for economic development and material prosperity has resulted in enormous destruction to the environment in most parts of PNG. The country has lost millions of hectares of pristine tropical rainforest through logging activities, unsustainable farming and other economic developments. In the last five years the destruction has almost doubled its pace. This is being driven by the governments so-3deforestation-papua-new-guinea-600x450called ‘Vision 2050’, a dream to be among the top developed countries by the year 2050. In working towards its vision, the government has started major projects like mining, oil and gas explorations as well as agricultural projects. These projects have already had a tremendous impact on the environment and the livelihood of the people. As the country continues to become economically developed it is losing most of its pristine tropical rainforest. Unless something is done to protect and preserve our forests in PNG, we will lose most of our pristine forests by the year 2050. Since we are now aware of the global implications of this activity, this is not only a tragedy for PNG, but for the entire planet.

A Perspective of Developmental Change

Deforestation is becoming a major concern in PNG mainly because little is done by the government and other responsible organisations to protect and preserve our forests. Only a few leaders and non-government organisations are working tirelessly to prevent further damage to our tropical forests.

The government is blinded by its so-called vision for economic ‘change’ and it has overlooked how much the country and its people will suffer in the future if it loses all its tropical rainforests. A PNG musician once said that in order to ‘change’ PNG, one has to promote and preserve what is already great about PNG. It is a beautiful country with diverse cultures and traditions, languages and pristine tropical rainforests that are home to myriads of plant and animal species and a source of life for the people of PNG. The awareness of what is being lost should be recognized, heightened and incorporated into any planning for the development of the nation.

120516PNG_6188107I am deeply troubled at the fact that all our beautiful forests are now disappearing. The magnificent forests and their ecosystems that were part of our childhood back home are vanishing. Our forests are everything to us. They are our hospitals where we go to for medicinal herbs; our supermarkets that we go to fetch food and water; and they are our hardware store that provides us with materials for our houses. Our tropical forests, produced by our mother earth, have everything that we need to survive and keep us happy. Now, they are all gone through logging, mining, unsustainable agriculture and other developments that lead to the destruction of the environment. Our children and our children’s children will no longer see many of our beautiful plants and animal species that have been around for thousands of years. They are gone in the wind of economic change and the greed that seeks wealth.

Most of these children will be born into barren lands and will not know what a forest looks like or what hornbills and cassowaries look like. They will be born into a world of destruction. Their world will be one in which nearly or all of the forests are destroyed, many animals, birds and insects gone, the air polluted and the water no longer safe to drink. They will be born into a planet on the verge of extinction and paralysed by natural catastrophes that resulted from human negligence and short sightedness, in the way we treated our beautiful planet. It is crucially important to preserve and protect our forests and our environment now in order to save ourselves, our children and our mother earth. In the words of Gary Juffa, MP, “We will one day look at our barren land and realize that we have nothing but sadness…only than we shall realize…that in our search for material riches, we lost everything we had, and that everything we had, was happiness

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The Marrakesh Declaration

In the lead-up to Easter, UK Prime Minister David Cameron committed his government to fighting the persecution of Christians abroad, saying no group is under more pressure for its faith. He is not alone in making the claim. In February, US Congressman Chris Smith said “The global persecution of Christians has gone from bad to worse.” In christian-syrian-soldier-2November 2012, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said “Christianity is the most persecuted religion worldwide.”

The accounts of the persecution of Christians by ISIS in Syria and Iraq are appalling but we must always be cautious when the media and politicians present us with strong language that can easily turn into propaganda against all Muslims. A sobering check to retain a balanced view is very much needed, especially after the recent terrorist attacks in Europe. We have a tendency, as human beings, to demonize all members of a cultural or religious or ideological group. As the famous social experiment conducted by Jane Elliot in 1933 on brown/blue eyes, people can be easily conditioned to hold prejudiced and bigoted positions unless they are helped to recognize how they are manipulated by social propaganda, so too do we need, in the face of the current climate, a balanced view of Islam and Muslims. I believe that this balance can be found by making people aware of, amongst other things, the Marrakesh Declaration.

The Marrakesh Declaration is a statement that was made in January 2016 by around 250 Muslim religious leaders, heads of state, and scholars, which champions “defending the rights of religious minorities in predominantly Muslim countries” The declaration was made in Morocco and “representatives of persecuted religious communities — including Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakech, MoroccoChaldean Catholics from Iraq” were included in the conference. The conference, in which the Marrakesh Declaration was signed, was called in response to the persecution of religious minorities, such as Christians and Yazidis, by ISIS. It builds on historical Islamic sources such as the Charter of Medina. King Mohammed VI of Morocco stated “We in the kingdom of Morocco will not tolerate the violation of the rights of religious minorities in the name of Islam…I am enabling Christians and Jews to practice their faith and not just as minorities.”

The text of the declaration is as follows:

In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate

Executive Summary of the Marrakesh Declaration on the Rights of Religious Minorities in
Predominantly Muslim Majority Communities 25th-27th January 2016

WHEREAS, conditions in various parts of the Muslim World have deteriorated dangerously due to the use of violence and armed struggle as a tool for settling conflicts and imposing one’s point of view;

WHEREAS, this situation has also weakened the authority of legitimate governments and enabled criminal groups to issue edicts attributed to Islam, but which, in fact, alarmingly distort its fundamental principles and goals in ways that have seriously harmed the population as a whole;

WHEREAS, this year marks the 1,400th anniversary of the Charter of Medina, a constitutional contract between the Prophet Muhammad, God’s peace and blessings be upon him, and the people of Medina, which guaranteed the religious liberty of all, regardless of faith;

WHEREAS, hundreds of Muslim scholars and intellectuals from over 120 countries, along with representatives of Islamic and international organizations, as well as leaders from diverse religious groups and nationalities, gathered in Marrakesh on this date to reaffirm the principles of the Charter of Medina at a major conference;

WHEREAS, this conference was held under the auspices of His Majesty, King Mohammed VI of Morocco, and organized jointly by the Ministry of Endowment and Islamic Affairs in the Kingdom of Morocco and the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies based in the United Arab Emirates;

AND NOTING the gravity of this situation afflicting Muslims as well as peoples of other faiths throughout the world, and after thorough deliberation and discussion, the convened Muslim scholars and intellectuals:

DECLARE HEREBY our firm commitment to the principles articulated in the Charter of Medina, whose provisions contained a number of the principles of constitutional contractual citizenship, such as freedom of movement, property ownership, mutual Marrakech-declarationsolidarity and defense, as well as principles of justice and equality before the law; and that,

The objectives of the Charter of Medina provide a suitable framework for national constitutions in countries with Muslim majorities, and the United Nations Charter and related documents, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are in harmony with the Charter of Medina, including consideration for public order.

NOTING FURTHER that deep reflection upon the various crises afflicting humanity underscores the inevitable and urgent need for cooperation among all religious groups, we
AFFIRM HEREBY that such cooperation must be based on a “Common Word,” requiring that such cooperation must go beyond mutual tolerance and respect, to providing full protection for the rights and liberties to all religious groups in a civilized manner that eschews coercion, bias, and arrogance.


Call upon Muslim scholars and intellectuals around the world to develop a jurisprudence of the concept of “citizenship” which is inclusive of diverse groups. Such jurisprudence shall be rooted in Islamic tradition and principles and mindful of global changes.

Urge Muslim educational institutions and authorities to conduct a courageous review of educational curricula that addesses honestly and effectively any material that instigates aggression and extremism, leads to war and chaos, and results in the destruction of our shared societies;

Call upon politicians and decision makers to take the political and legal steps necessary to establish a constitutional contractual relationship among its citizens, and to support all formulations and initiatives that aim to fortify relations and understanding among the various religious groups in the Muslim World;

Call upon the educated, artistic, and creative members of our societies, as well as organizations of civil society, to establish a broad movement for the just treatment of religious minorites in Muslim countries and to raise awareness as to their rights, and to work together to ensure the success of these efforts.

Call upon the various religious groups bound by the same national fabric to address their mutual state of selective amnesia that blocks memories of centuries of joint and shared living on the same land; we call upon them to rebuild the past by reviving this tradition of conviviality, and restoring our shared trust that has been eroded by extremists using acts of terror and aggression;

Call upon representatives of the various religions, sects and denominations to confront all forms of religious bigotry, villification, and denegration of what people hold sacred, as well as all speech that promote hatred and bigotry; AND FINALLY,

AFFIRM that it is unconscionable to employ religion for the purpose of aggressing upon the rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries.

27th January 2016.

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