by Zella Downing.
Good on Jacinda Ardern and the current New Zealand government for their courage in announcing an end to offshore oil exploration, and issuing no new onshore permits outside of Taranaki. This vital first step re-directs our focus away from fossil fuels toward an industry sustained by renewable energy. Transitions do have to start somewhere, and at the least, this is a start. James Shaw is correct when he states that there is an “enormous opportunity for the creation of new jobs and new technologies that our dependence on fossil fuels has held back for too long.”
And shame on the National Party for responding to this announcement with disdainful terms like ‘economic vandalism’. Economic vandalism is the refusal—inability—to see the dire economic repercussions of full blown climate chaos. Regional and national governments are regularly confronted by billions of dollars in cost with every drought, flood and cyclone that devastates a community. Ignoring the increasing frequency and intensity of these storms is a form of negligence that future generations will be loath to forgive.
Vandalism is deliberate, mischievous or malicious. Ardern’s announcement is deliberate, cautious and commensurate. She is setting a course. Many in the climate movement have responded that the course hasn’t been adjusted enough to make an impact, while the fossil fuel industry warns that driving production overseas will harm the environment; they clearly see the greenhouse gas over New Zealand as somehow more green and less harmful that the greenhouse gases over the rest of the planet.
Discussions, thoughts, about climate chaos can either lure despondency or arouse fury. It is an issue of such importance that the life of the planet is literally balanced in the outcome. It’s like we’re in a Bruce Willis movie where all the explosions are played by extreme weather events, and the ultimate good-guy hero that saves the day is you and me – so CANA would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Oil Free Wellington for their successful, inspired and indeed heroic hosting of the Rally for Climate Justice.
This was Rosemary’s fifth Oil Summit blockade, and she felt it was the most hopeful because of the diverse cross section of society who gathered and stood together against continuing a fossil fuel addiction that will literally cost us the earth. The presence of the Supergrans gave depth and wisdom to the action, but the mix of high school kids, iwi, cyclists, professionals, church groups and activists from all over Aotearoa established this blockade as a unified movement. It wasn’t just a protest.
“Five years ago, outside the Westpac Stadium, I felt powerless alongside the other protestors, watching the delegates enter the conference, pomposity intact. This year I saw worried-looking delegates hustled through fire exit doors and underground car park entrances guarded by angry police. The diversity affected them too.” —Rosemary
Oil Free Wellington ensured that those involved in the Rally understood what is at stake, so they opened and freely shared a vault of wisdom on the Sunday prior to the Blockade. Scientists spoke factually. Lawyers spoke of the law. Tangata whenua spoke of tradition and history. And the people of Taranaki spoke of their lost taonga, the loss of their food basket and their poisoned land.
“I got a heart-felt connection to the Taranaki people who’ve been fighting oil & fracking for years. I gained a stronger sense of connection with the many people around Aotearoa.”
Oil Free Wellington is one part of the consistent pressure a determined climate movement has been put on the Petroleum Conference since it started convening in New Zealand. This year, this pressure forced conference organizers into secrecy about the venue and the start date; the conference was delayed a full day.
The annual attendance by climate groups at these oil and gas conferences also forced a huge police presence. Delegates got up 2 hours early to try to get inside the venue before the blockade was formed, but those working to stave off full-blown climate disruption got up even earlier and were in place when those delegates arrived, so the start of the conference was delayed further. The determination and conviction of those forming the blockade led to the police escorting and protecting the food being delivered for lunch, which was a bizarre thing to watch.
“I was proud to be one of a group of over 70s who held the line in front of the main doors which were never breached. I was proud that we established a conversation with the police who stepped back from their aggression and shared the odd joke. I was very disappointed to hear later of the violence they showed our people on the other side of the building.” —Jeanette
Petroleum Conference proceedings were disrupted even further with deafening noise. The TSB Arena is not much more than a long metal shed, and we all know what a racket can be made by pounding on sheets of aluminium.
“The ‘music’ from the ‘band’ was ingenious! Rubbish bin lids slamming. Umbrellas carrying the rhythm of a drum beat. An orchestra of improvised noise makers. The oil and gas companies must have got the message that they are not welcome here.” —Jenny
Jacinda Ardern had intimated that she would lead a government that says “No” to new oil and gas exploration, but her announcement does little to address the possible decades of production if oil were to be found on an existing permit or the continued issuance of on-shore permits. When the government says, “It’s okay to explore and extract,” the voices of those who know better must be heard loud and clear. That’s why blockades and actions like the one hosted by Oil Free Wellington are so important.
“There was one point in the blockade where I just stepped outside myself and watched. The police were standing in a line with their arms outstretched. All of them were wearing black gloves. I could hear bagpipes and bicycle bells. A bunch of yellow-caped grannies and grampies came round the corner carrying placards with photos of their grandchildren. It was raining, and a guy gave me a piece of chalk so that I could write a message about why I was there.” —Zella
This government has drawn a line in the sand and set our country on the path to a clean energy, low carbon future. It clearly hasn’t gone far enough to address the oncoming destruction of full-scale climate disruption, but it is a start.
“This is what change looks like. It’s messy, and it’s never as complete or as urgent as it needs to be, and vested interests who’ve spent centuries colonising and destroying the planet for profit don’t give up easily or quickly. But it’s a step in the right direction, made possible by relentless pressure. Now we have to step up the pressure even further on all fossil fuels.” — Tim