Jeanette Fitzsimons trying (and failing) to get arrested at Fonterra’s Clandeboye dairy factory in Canterbury, 2017.

On Wednesday night 4 March we held our fortnightly Zoom call for an hour and a half, a standing CANA meeting for the last ten years. Jeanette was on the call, as usual, her sunburned farmer’s face beaming at us from Pakaraka farm.  24 hours later she was gone.

This blog has taken a while to post: her death took our collective breath away. It’s a long read, but we felt important to set out the important work Jeanette has done on coal.

We have been talking with each other in the days and hours since, and know that her death has motivated all of us with renewed conviction to continue her work, and her (and our) goal for the end of coal in Aotearoa, and no new coal mines.  Keeping the coal in the hole. We have huge shoulders to stand on, a legacy that we have to continue. Not just for Jeanette, of course, but for us and the future generations she cared so much about.

In this blog we attempt to summarise her extensive work with CANA. We will be posting again in the coming days with more personal takes from our team, because we all have our own memories, and stories to tell.  And because she was so dear not only to us but to the wider movement.

When she stepped down from her role as co-leader of the Green Party, the climate activist movement in Aotearoa was Jeanette’s lucky beneficiary: her stated “retirement” goal was to stop coal mines in New Zealand.  I put “retirement” in inverted commas because of course she was anything BUT retired.

When climate scientist Dr James Hansen visited in 2011, Jeanette toured the country with him, reaching out to all her contacts across Aotearoa, tapping into her extensive networks.  Hansen, the man who alerted the US Senate about climate change in 1978,  carried a strong message about the need to act on climate, and the need to stop burning coal as soon as possible.  At that point, with the support of the National government Solid Energy was planning to exploit the dirty lignite coal under fertile Southland farmland, and she was determined to stop it.

Jeanette with climate scientist Prof. James Hansen at the end of the 2011 NZ tour

By the end of the tour, hundreds had signed up to get involved with stopping coal. Being Jeanette, though, she didn’t want to set up a central group that coordinated all the others: she wanted each to have their own autonomy to act as they saw fit. SO typical of Jeanette’s philosophy of inspiring local activism.  [Extra:  Jeanette’s interview with Sustainable Lens during the tour]

It is also a testament to her that she refused to be the main spokesperson for CANA at the beginning: she didn’t want to take the limelight off CANA and onto herself: her image was still very much that of the Green Party and she didn’t want that to undermine CANA.  So she took a back seat, but was very much a driving force behind all our work, mentoring us all.

One of her aims in setting up our coal “action” group was to get arrested. Indeed she told me the only reason she had accepted her NZ Order of Merit was so that this would make an even bigger splash when she chained herself to a bulldozer.  We collectively failed her.

Jeanette was always a step ahead of all of us. Her research skills brought so much credibility to our work: her “can you make steel without coal” paper is still one of our most popular on the website (we are in the process of updating it).

Launching the Jobs Without Coal report.

She led our “Jobs without coal” report (and its update), and went to Blackball to launch it – the CANA call for a “just transition” was picked up far and wide, and her leadership in this area kick-started a national conversation.  She undertook some great research for that paper: going through the census figures and finding that indeed coal did not keep small communities alive: indeed, it was the opposite – she found the communities around coal mines are largely much poorer compared with the national average.

In 2013 Solid Energy was struggling, and as part of its divestment in order to keep itself afloat, it dumped its Southland lignite plans. It limped on, with major layoffs from its mines in the two years preceeding, and the following year Jeanette’s piece in the Dominion Post was prescient, calling for a Just Transition for Solid’s workers.

Our campaign against Bathurst Resources’ plans to mine on the Denniston plateau became our next big focus.  Forest and Bird’s fantastic legal challenges delayed Bathurst’s Denniston plans long enough for them to coincide with the coal price tanking, and while the company managed to clear the “overburden” at the mine, it couldn’t develop the resource, as we predicted, and was itself teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

Forest and Bird’s campaign was a national one, and we joined with all the other coal groups in urging the government to step in and stop the mine.

Wahine Toa: Jeanette, Catherine Delahunty and Debs Martin on the Denniston Plateau in 2014. Photo: Pete Lusk

We joined with and launched a campaign against their bankers: Westpac.  Jeanette was there at our launch outside Westpac’s main branch in Auckland.  (Not arrested). Jeanette also loved a good sticker, and we were very proud of our little Westpac logo-turned-coal-truck ones.

Jeanette at the Westpac campaign launch

Jeanette saw the writing on the wall and started to look at what was keeping the coal industry alive, and Fonterra was in her sights.  If we wanted to stop Bathurst, and the expansion of coal in Aotearoa, we would have to go after its clients, and by far the biggest was Fonterra.

Indeed it was Jeanette’s work that led us to the conclusion that Fonterra burned more coal than Huntly power station – it was our second-largest coal user in the country.  This is now an accepted fact and quoted by many.  (She was wearing her Fonterra Quit Coal T-shirt on the day she died.)

In 2015 Fonterra announced it was planning to develop its own coal mine at Mangatangi – or Mangatawhiri in the Waikato, and Jeanette was out at the weekends with Auckland Coal Action – and meeting with Fonterra to discuss the madness of this scheme.  The protests drove Fonterra to dump the idea as it managed to persuade Solid Energy to re-open the old Rotowaro mine.  We found out about this in March, and Jeanette’s blog announcing it drew ire from Fonterra and Solid Energy who denied such a thing. By September, the company confirmed what we’d announced for them in March.

She took part in a day of action with pamphlets and little bags of woodchips at the big Waikato Fieldays event just outside Hamilton. Again, she wasn’t arrested.

Jeanette at the Fieldays With Auckland coal action. Photo: Mark Taylor, Fairfax.

Of course Jeanette wasn’t just going to focus only on the coal use – she dove in deep, seeking out agricultural economists and other experts and looked at the bigger picture, advocating a reduction in cow numbers, with the solid argument that it would have little economic impact, but a big impact on reducing emissions.

In 2016 Fonterra applied for a consent to build two more coal-fired boilers at its dairy factory at Studholme, in North Otago just outside Waimate.  Jeanette led CANA’s very strong opposition, rallying experts on both the size of dairy herds, and on biomass, and giving our main submission.  We were partially successful” halfway through the hearing, Fonterra reduced its application from two to one boilers – quite a big victory for us.

Our leaflet on the Fonterra coal boiler plans at Waimate, written by Jeanette.

Jeanette was scathing of Fonterra’s statements to the Studholme hearing that it only had enough wood waste to co-fire only 20 percent biomass in each boiler. Her ire was only exacerbated when they reduced their application to one boiler – yet still maintained that number of 20 percent – one would think that would be increased to 40% with only one boiler, right?

At the end of the day: today, we forced Fonterra to first announce it would stop building coal-fired power plants by 2035, then to up that to state it would not build ANY new coal plants from now on.  It has a special page on its website about coal (see my rebuttal of that here), and is now tinkering around the edges of its climate policy to give the impression it is taking a lot of action.  It even managed to get EECA to pay for some of its coal conversion, which outraged Jeanette, EECA’s founder.  She died without having written her promised next letter to Fonterra, but it’s ok, we’ve got this Jeanette.

There is so much else to say about her work with CANA, and so much we have missed out,  such as the campaign against Christchurch Hospital’s planned coal-fired boiler (it’s now building a biomass boiler), the action at Clandeboye dairy factory in 2017, our CANA Summerfests, and the special times we as CANA spent on the farm with her and Harry at our regular hui.

But the Zero Carbon Act does deserve a mention, along with the policies she was advocating around climate change.  We submitted as CANA but Jeanette made her own carefully thought-out submission. She was totally right when she argued that the ZCA would not prevent a single emission: it is merely a framework into which policies must be inserted. She hated the ETS (instead favouring a coal price), and in her last days and weeks was absolutely furious at the government’s latest infrastructure spending announcement that had such a huge focus on roads.  None of us could understand how this had gotten past the new “climate lens” through which all big decisions made by the Government would be viewed, announced by James Shaw during the latest climate talks.

Jeanette always had other projects on the go – all of us were very busy at CANA and with our lives, yet we were only one part of her busy life.  We’d get a little glimpse into it on our fortnightly calls as we did our “round” at the beginning of each call.

She was heavily involved in the Supreme Court case challenging the RMA’s ridiculous clause that ruled out anybody considering a project’s impact on the climate during the consenting process: unfortunately the West Coast Environment Network lost the case, but she never let up on that front.

The demand on her time from across the country was huge. She diligently responded to every single email she received: one thing she is now relieved of is her ongoing battle with her inbox.  She loved hosting the Young Greens at the farm every year and, before she died, had just finished a youtube series for the Greens on the history of the party.

The CANA team at our hui on Pakaraka farm, 2013.

And during all of this she was doing what she loved best – her day-to-day work on the farm with her beloved Harry:  milking the cow every morning, picking chestnuts, making chestnut flour, selling their wares at the Thames market every Saturday morning,  picking olives and making that delicious olive oil, swimming in the gorgeous Kauaeranga River, practising the violin and spending as much time with her grandchildren in Wellington as she could.

This blog barely touches on who she was: her nurturing of others, especially the young, her wisdom, her ideals and ability to think outside the box, her gentle but forceful self.  Suffice to say we at CANA are heartbroken that we have lost our taonga, our wahine toa, our friend.  We will carry on the fight for you, Jeanette.


Haere ki te po, e te wahine whakaaro nui.

Go into the night, wise woman.