14 October 2010

Mine how you go, now.

A group of pale, shaggy, underpaid and exploited workers trapped in a sunless hole that while technically of their own creation, was dug at the urging of their bosses, forced to endure politician after politician showing up every few days to tell them that everything possible was being done to make things better before flying off in a government jet to another round of lavish meals and late night drinks with those in industry who were truly responsible for the collapse.

But enough about Ireland.

Like most of the world, it seems, I have tuned in at various stages over the last 24 hours to see the remarkable rescue of 33 men trapped more than 2,000ft below the surface for 69 days, the longest period anyone has survived underground. There was something incredibly moving watching as miner after miner emerged, some praying, some chanting national slogans to the crowd gathered round, and all grabbing hold of wives, partners and children they never thought they would see again, some passionately, some tenderly, all pure and simple displays of love.

Even some eighteen hours after the operation began, watching live images on the Channel Four News was still an emotional affair, not least because of the obvious joy and amazement in Jon Snow's commentary as he too watched the footage with us. There is something so very positive about this rescue, not least of which because it is a story with a happy ending from the Global South, a story where non-white victims have been given the same level of coverage as individuals normally afforded only to white Americans or Europeans by Northern media. We know their names, we know their histories, we know them as people, not as a faceless mass waiting for Western aid agencies to swoop in and save the day.

This happy ending shouldn't erase the hard questions about their working conditions, the fact that the oldest of those rescued, Mario Gomez, is 64 and has been working in the mines since he was 12, and our own complicity in the West through our insatiable hunger for copper. The ever illuminating "Information is Beautiful", and Lester Brown in his 2006 book "Plan B 2.0" both estimated that we have in the region of 25 years worth of accessible copper left in the ground based on US Geological Survey data, current global demand, and current mining and extracting technology. As supplies dwindle more and more risks will be taken with the lives of human beings to reach what little stores remain in the ground and the joyous scenes that greeted the end of this disatser are unlikely to be repeated the next time round.

But maybe for today it is enough to simply be happy that for these 33 men life will continue and perhaps, as a result of the intense interest in their ordeal, improve significantly.

Then tomorrow we can return to our own continuing ordeal, trapped in the damp and the dark with little prospect of freedom, wondering when our own rescue tunnel will be dug and where the escape capsule will come from to pull us up one by one and out of our national nightmare.

In the meantime, maybe someone could sort us out with better broadband, so at least we could communicate with the outside world?



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