Thursday, 18 October 2012

What they teach our children in schools today… and what they don't

The facts of life? Certainly. The facts of quarrying? Apparently, yes.

Using funding that was meant to tackle the problems created by quarrying and benefit communities affected by it, the Mineral Products Association (MPA), the trade body that "represents the whole of the British cement sector, 90 per cent of aggregates production and 95 per cent of both asphalt and ready-mixed concrete", has developed an interactive Virtual Quarry for use in schools, and teaching material for key stages 1-4 of the national curriculum for science, geography and citizenship. Understandably the material does not dwell on the disadvantages of quarrying:
You're in charge of restoring this quarry to a place for people and wildlife to enjoy. You can create a lake for people to sail on, plant some trees and reeds that will attract birds and build some hides to watch them from. Just click on the item you'd like and then on the place you want it to go. Water will only go into the bottom of the quarry and you can't grow trees in water! Keep an eye on the budget at the bottom of the screen as everything you choose costs money!
Not "Choose from landfill, industrial, or incinerator bottom ash reprocessing plant."

Who would have thought that a trade body, that counts amongst its successes:

MPA successfully lobbied the Government to freeze the rate of the aggregates levy for two years, saving the industry some £7 million in 2010/11,
MPA protected tens of millions of tonnes of potential site allocations in local development frameworks as a result of revised national guidelines for regional apportionment potentially worth hundreds of £ millions,
is influencing young minds in our schools, as well as the older ones in government?

Meanwhile, BBC Bitesize for GCSE geography takes a more balanced view, listing the pros:
Quarrying creates jobs in areas where there are limited opportunities.
There is a huge demand for the products of quarrying, such as building stone and cement. This is linked to the demand for new homes in the UK.
Quarrying provides income to local councils through taxation.
Good communications are needed for transporting the products of quarrying. As a result many remote rural areas benefit from improved access.
It is an important part of the UK economy. Over 30,000 people are employed in quarrying itself and related industries.
and the cons:
Wildlife habitats are destroyed.
Valuable agricultural land is taken away.
Quarrying creates pollution from noise and dust.
Heavy traffic causes pollution and congestion on narrow country roads. The vibrations from heavy traffic can cause damage to buildings.
Quarries create visual pollution and tourists may be deterred by the scars on the landscape.
Landfill sites and waste tips need to be monitored to check for a build up of gases, such as methane.
Limestone is a non-renewable resource -
 so it can be argued that quarrying is unsustainable.
If Straitgate was quarried, no new jobs would be created and the children of Ottery St Mary and West Hill would not enjoy any advantages. They would be the ones to suffer the disadvantages, and potentially the dangers too. Quarries are not only dangerous places for workers, the HSE identifying a "fatality rate over 20 times the all-industry average" and "potential for long-latency disease from exposure to respirable crystalline silica", but also for local youngsters, for whom a quarry presents a different set of dangers. The MPA has a "Stay Safe...Stay Out" campaign, and on Facebook it hopes that "by illustrating the tragic consequences of young people entering a quarry uninvited, this page hopes to raise public awareness of the potential hazards they expose themselves to. Every year young people are killed or seriously injured in quarries". It warns of a "sharp escalation" of break-ins and metal thefts, and that "trespassers often leave broken fences – and an open invitation for children in search of adventure". Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service recently issued their own warning.

Quarrying - an important part of the UK economy maybe, but - at a price.