Stonehart Dec 2016
I have an idea for a film script, or maybe just a long skit on a black satire program. It’s about a very badass antihero called Birgita Stonehart, who is also fat – which is tricky, because nobody would want to say that fat people are greedy or mean. But this big subject almost demands visual metaphors – think Tiddalick the Frog, or that other unedifying amphibian Jabba the Hutt. Yes, they both put me off my lunch. So this Birgita Stonehart is bad indeed – she eats her children, gives mothers, miners and even the political right whom she bankrolls a bad name. With vast inherited wealth, she seeks to control everything, from large swathes of the country to independent media that might on brave occasions seem critical.
Now she wants to sue some government somewhere because they banned fracking and thereby reduced some of her profits. She can do this because of a penchant for expensive litigation and because in money terms she is bottomless. Why would a government do such a thing? Well, fairly obviously because fracking is such a stupid, dangerous idea, as farmers, indigenous folk and others who love the land will tell you. Imagine drilling deep into the Earth’s crust and pumping in under pressure water, sand and toxic chemicals to fracture the crust and release deep gas or oil; contaminating ground water and probably causing earthquakes in the process, and poisoning land with the extracted or leaked ‘overburden’. Well it’s not your imagination, as fracking has spread like a cancer across the globe, with governments slow to scrutinise and regulate. They are at last becoming suspicious of the mining industry, as disturbing patterns have emerged: miners cause irreparable damage to the land, then conveniently go bankrupt, leaving massive cleanup costs to the taxpayer, said costs too huge even for governments. Read the great Jared Diamond’s description of once gorgeous Montana in ‘Collapse’, or Naomi Klein’s deconstruction of fracking in ‘This Changes Everything’. I love the story of ‘The Stingray Sisters’ of Maningrida in north Arnhem Land; they are traditional land owners who, faced with government weakness, have galvanised local resistance, helped by the Lock the Gate alliance.
Anyway, back to the film script. It’s simple really. Stonehart sues but eventually loses because shareholder and corporate risks investing in such a dangerous practice are judged foreseeable. So the progressive government wins, the ending is a happy one. But truth is stranger than fiction, isn’t it.