Infernal encounters: extractive communities at the intersection of earth system and stratigraphic trouble
Lauren Rickards (RMIT University)
Paper short abstract:
Our concern is a new species of trouble emerging at the intersection of earth system change and geological destratification. In the context of a 2014 wildfire-ignited coal seam fire in Australia, we explore how extractive communities are complexly positioned as victims, witnesses and perpetrators
Paper long abstract:
Disasters often serve as ontological disturbances - sparking improvisations and political mobilisations. But what happens when disasters interpellate people and elements in profoundly irreconcilable ways? In 2014, bushfire in Victoria's Latrobe Valley ignited opencast workings at the Hazelwood mine - which supplied highly-polluting lignite coal to Australia's largest thermal power facility. For 45 days fires blanketed nearby Morwell in toxic haze, the crisis precipitating permanent closure of the power plant on which the town depended economically. Official inquiries avoided drawing direct connections between hydrocarbon extraction, climate change and escalating wildfire hazard. They also eschewed genuine consultation with `difficult' local communities - who were already beset by socio-economic vulnerability and exceptional work-related morbidity.
Hazelwood's fearsome collision of shifting earth-systemic processes (fire, weather) and deeper, slower-moving, geological formations seems paradigmatic of conditions shorthanded as the Anthropocene. We conceive of the self-augmenting feedback of earth system and destratification as a new inhuman species of trouble. Coal participates doubly as generator of climate change and wildfire's `quarry', water as object of climate-driven scarcity and vital fire-fighting resource, fire as essential ecological process and objective of hydrocarbon extraction. Mining communities, meanwhile, are complexly positioned as victims, witnesses and perpetrators. While considering a range of historical encounters involving indigenous landowners, farmers and environmentalists, we also address extractive communities' deep collective experience of a stratified earth. More generally, we ask, what forms might collective action take in a world increasingly assailed by runaway earth system-stratigraphic strife - and how is such participation mediated by rock, water, fire?
Disasters and participation: inventive/disruptive encounters