I wish I could tell them that yes, it came close, but we did save the Denniston Plateau. I wish I could say to my grandkids that, looking back, by 2013 the tide was turning. Maybe it was the movement to divest from fossil fuels that clinched it, as Bill McKibben’s 350 campaign began to grow that year from a little ripple to a wave, linking with the climate movements sprouting like so many connected gas wells across the landscape, across the world, rolling together into a tsunami that even reached New Zealand’s West Coast – at about the same time as the beautiful Denniston Plateau was abandoned to its fate by the highest court in our land.
Maybe the tanking of the coal price helped clinch it, as Solid Energy’s 2013 financial report revealed the full extent of the brutal Hand of the Market on the lives of workers. And maybe, the unfortunate consequence of egotistical power fuelled by an ideologically blinded government, some people just got too greedy.
Or maybe we finally got mad enough.
There was a feeling, I’d tell my grandkids if I could, that we were on the edge of a turning, a wind change, of one of those moments where history is made. It was the end of coal, coming to pass in the nick of time to save the planet.
In my favourite dream I’d say to them, yes, I was there yelling my heart out at the 2013 Wellington Petroleum Summit, calling for climate justice, for them to leave some world for you. Back then, those men in their ill-fitting suits thought they had it all. They, in their striped shirts, spotted ties and corporate cabs. They, with their faces set to studious indifference towards the brightly painted truth, dancing before their eyes on placards and banners across the fence.
We were starting to get mad enough to act, I’d tell my grandkids. They were selling off our power companies from under us. They spied on us, arrested us, tried to silence us. They turned our own lawmakers and lawkeepers into enemies of the future. They auctioned off our oceans as if they were lifeless commodities. They drilled, mined and fracked even as record floods and droughts hit their precious GDP square in the guts.
Then they got ready to dig up the Denniston Plateau, with its precious sandstone pavements, giant snails and tiny trees, for coal – yes, even in 2013 – coal, the most polluting fossil fuel of them all. In those days workers still clung to the hollow promises of out-of-town benefactors and dispatchers of their fortunes. They needed jobs and couldn’t see beyond coal; that only beyond coal would they control their own destinies.
We hadn’t yet begun driving the corporate fat cats and their backers off our precious lands and oceans.
This is what I wish I could tell them next: that’s when we got mad enough, I’d say. We rose up. We “got free” as the Greenpeace campaign urged us back then. “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty” said Dr Ranginui Walker. We got organised and we resisted.
We went to Denniston. We went out onto the oceans. On the farms we locked our gates. In the cities we occupied their stuffy offices. We camped outside parliament and made a ruckus. We made them listen. We want future, we said, and we’ve had enough of you being in charge. There’s no more time to waste.
We should have moved much sooner. We wasted so much time, and that is unforgivable. But – in my favourite dream I’ll say to my grandkids: we saved Denniston for you.