Is democ­racy for sale?

Ac­tivism side­lined for cor­po­rate gain

Element - - Front Page - By So­phie Bar­clay.

When Bunny McDiarmid, CEO of Green­peace, was search­ing for sup­port­ers of the new ‘Get Free’ cam­paign, she didn’t have to look for long. The voices of high-pro­file, well-re­spected New Zealan­ders in­clud­ing the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Les Mills In­ter­na­tional, Phillip Mills, ac­tor Sam Neil and Lady Pippa Blake raised a call to ac­tion; ar­gu­ing that democ­racy, cli­mate change, pol­lu­tion, deep sea oil drilling and our in­tegrity as a na­tion are is­sues that ev­ery­one should feel strongly about.

Aca­demic and writer Dr Rang­inui Walker, DCNZM also supports the cam­paign. He wor­ries for his 13 great­grand­chil­dren when he thinks about the fu­ture. “I’m ab­so­lutely con­cerned about en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion. It re­ally is a huge prob­lem that the world faces. We’ve done noth­ing but dam­age the planet as our pop­u­la­tion in­creases – and it’s get­ting worse.”

The 82-year-old, who hails from Te Whaka­to­hea, also voices his con­cern for our coun­try’s leg­isla­tive pro­cesses. Two years ago, a flotilla of ships protested against the pres­ence of Brazil­ian oil gi­ant Petro­bras in the Rauku­mara basin. And yet, re­cent amend­ments to leg­is­la­tion now out­law protest in the deep sea, un­der­min­ing the rights of in­di­vid­u­als to ex­press their dis­sat­is­fac­tion. “This is an ex­am­ple of the Gov­ern­ment’s con­tin­ued re­sponse. It is com­pletely com­mit­ted to smooth­ing the path­way for cor­po­rates to make money.”

Maria Tyrrell, whose fa­ther Cap­tain Alan Tyrrell sailed against nu­clear test­ing in Mu­ruroa, says protest­ing at sea has been piv­otal in the for­ma­tion of our na­tional iden­tity. “There was a time when we sent naval frigates to protest French nu­clear test­ing in the Pa­cific. To­day we send our navy to pro­tect for­eign oil com­pa­nies from peace­ful pro­tes­tors in our own waters.”

Another pro­fes­sional chim­ing in on the cam­paign is on­col­o­gist and re­searcher Dr. Ge­orge Lak­ing, also of Whaka­to­hea de­scent. He said there are three key par­al­lels

“This is an ex­am­ple of the Gov­ern­ment’s con­tin­ued re­sponse. It is com­pletely com­mit­ted to smooth­ing the path­way for cor­po­rates to make money.” Dr Rang­inui Walker, aca­demic and writer

be­tween the anti-nu­clear cause and that of pre­vent­ing off­shore drilling; the for­mat (both at sea on small boats); the im­me­di­ate en­vi­ron­men­tal risk to the lo­cal sur­round­ings (ra­dioac­tive con­tam­i­na­tion for nu­clear, Deep­wa­ter Hori­zonesque blowouts and Rena-like oil spills for drilling) and the pos­si­bil­ity of an ex­is­ten­tial risk for civil­i­sa­tion (nu­clear of­fered the po­ten­tial for an Earth-oblit­er­at­ing ex­change be­tween the Cold War pow­ers, and now we are faced with a six de­gree tem­per­a­ture rise if we con­tinue to burn and ex­tract fos­sil fu­els).

Lak­ing says that cli­mate change will have a huge im­pact on hu­man health. He cites a 2009 re­port led by ac­claimed med­i­cal jour­nal, The Lancet, which showed that cli­mate change will af­fect wa­ter and food se­cu­rity and cause so­ci­etal break­downs, im­pact on vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions, cre­ate ex­treme cli­matic events and lead to the ex­pan­sion of vec­tor-borne dis­eases (spread by mos­qui­toes, for ex­am­ple). “It’s the big­gest global health threat of the 21st cen­tury.”

If we con­tinue to do noth­ing, warns Lak­ing, the con­se­quences will be dire. “Busi­ness as usual means that we are par­tic­i­pat­ing in the slow sui­cide of in­dus­trial civil­i­sa­tion.”

Lak­ing says the ar­gu­ment that New Zealand should not take a lead role against cli­mate change due to our low carbon emis­sions does noth­ing but breed ap­a­thy. “All I can do is ap­peal to peo­ple to un­der­stand that, his­tor­i­cally, see­ing peo­ple do the right thing is a very strong im­pe­tus for change. That’s how we take on board moral lessons; we ob­serve what other peo­ple do, in­ter­nalise that and re­alise it’s the cor­rect thing to do.”

He ac­knowl­edges that be­cause peo­ple’s lives are now busier than ever, we need to sup­port ac­tivists and cam­paign­ers. “What’s hap­pen­ing off shore is out of sight, out of mind… but that’s why it’s very im­por­tant to have a protest move­ment that draws peo­ple’s at­ten­tion to what’s go­ing on in the world right now.”

It’s not just our health at stake, it’s our econ­omy, says clean en­ergy ad­vo­cate and busi­ness leader Phillip Mills. He in­sists that the gov­ern­ment is tak­ing us on a path to­wards eco­nomic de­struc­tion. “They’re com­pro­mis­ing our good rep­u­ta­tion that is at the heart of our eco­nomic suc­cess and our way of life.” He em­pha­sises that the cor­rect path for New Zealand is one that em­braces clean en­ergy, “not the blind pur­suit of peak oil.”

Wise Re­sponse, a group launched in March 2013 in Otago, is another group voic­ing their con­cerns about “the links be­tween global cli­mate change, fos­sil fuel ex­trac­tion and com­bus­tion and the econ­omy.”

The first 100 sig­na­to­ries to the ap­peal rep­re­sent, again, a com­pre­hen­sive sec­tor of so­ci­ety; engi­neers, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, econ­o­mists, writ­ers, po­ets and teach­ers as well as no­table New Zealan­ders like for­mer All Blacks coach Wayne Smith, me­dia per­son­al­ity Te Radar, Dame Anne Sal­mond, Oxfam’s CEO Barry Coates and artist Grahame Syd­ney.

The group is­sued an ap­peal to gov­ern­ment to as­sess risk lev­els across five keys ar­eas; those of eco­nomic se­cu­rity, en­ergy and cli­mate se­cu­rity, busi­ness con­ti­nu­ity, eco­log­i­cal se­cu­rity and gen­uine well­be­ing.

Ap­peal­ing “in the name of all our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren” they have called for uni­fied, cross-party poli­cies to ad­dress com­plex, con­tem­po­rary is­sues such as how to move on from carbon-based en­ergy sources, and how to ad­dress child poverty.

Mem­bers of the Labour party, the Greens and New Zealand First, at­tended the launch with apolo­gies from the Maori Party and United Fu­ture. The Gov­ern­ment has yet to en­gage with the group.

Emer­i­tus Pro­fes­sor at Otago Univer­sity, Sir Alan Mark, is one of the spokes­peo­ple for the group. He has been lead­ing pub­lic meet­ings around the coun­try, elab­o­rat­ing on the con­cerns of the group.

Fel­low sig­na­tory to the ap­peal, dis­tin­guished pro­fes­sor Dame Anne Sal­mond, has also added the ero­sion of democ­racy to her list of con­cerns. She main­tains that by ig­nor­ing the con­cerns of the pub­lic and rush­ing through con­tro­ver­sial bills un­der ur­gency, the Gov­ern­ment is be­hav­ing like a “play­ground bully.

“It’s ob­vi­ous that demo­cratic pro­cesses in this coun­try are in trou­ble,” she says.

Dame Anne has as­serted that we all have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to hold Gov­ern­ment to ac­count. “Cit­i­zens who don’t stand up and speak out when that hap­pens are cul­pa­ble, along with their lead­ers. As a small coun­try with an in­for­mal con­sti­tu­tion, we have too few checks and bal­ances in our po­lit­i­cal sys­tem as it is. Ev­ery at­tack on those we do have makes a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence to demo­cratic free­dom in New Zealand.”

And, said Dr. Lak­ing, there’s never been a bet­ter time to add your voice to the throng. “I think out Gov­ern­ment has com­pletely un­der­es­ti­mated our moral weight. That’s in the his­tory books; the stance we took on nu­clear weapons and

the con­certed ef­fort, by a small group of peo­ple, to lead the way. We can do it again.”

Church chal­lenges fos­sil fu­els

This month, the Auck­land Dio­cese of the Angli­can Church voted over­whelm­ingly in favour of di­vest­ing away from fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies, be­com­ing the first in­sti­tu­tional body in New Zealand to join the global divest­ment move­ment.

This fol­lows moves by ma­jor in­sur­ers and banks in­clud­ing Nor­way’s 60 bil­lion in­surer and pen­sion fund Store­brand, which re­cently di­vested from 13 coal and six oil com­pa­nies due to its long term fo­cus and the level of risk in­her­ent in fos­sil fuel in­vest­ment, and Dutch bank Rabobank, which ex­cluded shale gas, oil sands and other “un­con­ven­tional en­ergy ex­trac­tion projects” from its loans port­fo­lio for so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal rea­sons.

“Busi­ness as usual means that we are par­tic­i­pat­ing in the slow sui­cide of in­dus­trial civil­i­sa­tion.”

Dr Ge­orge Lak­ing, on­col­o­gist



• Re­cent bills rushed through un­der ur­gency in­clude: the con­tro­ver­sial GCSB Bill, which the NZ Law So­ci­ety called “flawed”, stat­ing that the leg­is­la­tion “should not pro­ceed”, and the Car­ers’ Bill, which caps pay­ments for fam­ily car­ers at 40 hours a week, pre­vents car­ers from tak­ing their cases to court, and was pushed through in one day. • Changes are be­ing made to leg­is­la­tion through Sup­ple­men­tary Or­der Pa­pers (SOPs). SOPs can be in­tro­duced fol­low­ing a read­ing of the bill by the Se­lect Com­mit­tee. Changes made through an SOP do not legally re­quire con­sul­ta­tion or sub­mis­sions. The Law So­ci­ety has said they are “con­cerned about the use of the SOP pro­ce­dure to in­tro­duce sig­nif­i­cant amend­ments to bills af­ter com­ple­tion of the se­lect com­mit­tee process.” • The ‘Anadarko Amend­ment’ was changed via an SOP and will see in­di­vid­u­als fined up to $50,000 or face jail time for protest­ing at sea or en­ter­ing a new 500 me­tre ‘ex­clu­sion zone’ around drilling rigs and seis­mic ves­sels. The Amend­ment breaches in­ter­na­tional law in­clud­ing the right to free as­so­ci­a­tion, free­dom of ex­pres­sion and peace­ful as­sem­bly. Peter Wil­liams, QC, said: “[this is] fas­cist leg­is­la­tion, this is shock­ing leg­is­la­tion, this is dra­co­nian leg­is­la­tion, and the peo­ple of New Zealand have got to be aware of it.” • The Gov­ern­ment also has changes planned for the Re­source Man­age­ment Act. The Par­lia­men­tary Com­mis­sioner for the En­vi­ron­ment has crit­i­cised the changes say­ing that the RMA “is not, and should not be­come, an eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment act.” • The Keep Our As­sets coali­tion re­cently de­liv­ered enough

sig­na­tures to Par­lia­ment to ini­ti­ate a ref­er­en­dum on as­set sales. De­spite the nearly 400,000 sig­na­tures, as­set sales are set to con­tinue with 49% of Merid­ian En­ergy to go on sale Oc­to­ber 29.

Cli­mate change

• Sev­eral re­ports have stressed that we need to keep 80 per cent of all re­main­ing fos­sil fu­els in the ground to keep global warm­ing be­low 2°C. • Last year, New Zealand dropped out of the sec­ond com­mit­ment pe­riod of the Ky­oto Pro­to­col much to the dis­may of our Pa­cific neigh­bours. Aus­tralia, and 36 other coun­tries, signed up. • Our cur­rent green­house gas emis­sions tar­get is for a 5% re­duc­tion be­low 1990 lev­els by 2020 - out of step with UK and EU com­mit­ments to re­duc­tions of 30% and 20% re­spec­tively.

Fos­sil fu­els:

• Sources of con­ven­tional oil and gas are be­com­ing harder to find, prompt­ing a turn to ‘un­con­ven­tional sources’ such as oil sands and frack­ing. An Amer­i­can study showed that the en­ergy re­turn on en­ergy in­vest­ment for oil and gas (de­scrib­ing the ef­fi­ciency of the en­ergy pro­duc­tion process) “de­creased ex­po­nen­tially from 1200:1 in 1919 to 5:1 in 2007”. • Re­cently En­ergy and Re­sources Min­is­ter Si­mon Bridges an­nounced the start of the process for next year’s of­fer of blocks to­talling 434,000 sq km for ex­plo­ration. • This sum­mer, Anadarko will drill an ex­ploratory well off the coast of Otago at a min­i­mum depth of 1,100 me­tres. Drilling will also take place at Taranaki, in depths of up to 1500 me­tres. • The Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon oil spill re­sulted from an ex­ploratory well drilled at 1500 me­tres, and leaked 4.9 bil­lion bar­rels into the Gulf of Mex­ico. By Fe­bru­ary 2013, BP had picked up an es­ti­mated US $42.2 bil­lion tab for the dam­age. • Ex­ploratory wells do not re­quire an En­vi­ron­men­tal Im­pact

As­sess­ment. • Re­cently, plans were an­nounced to open up 8000 of the Cen­tral Vol­canic Zone for prospect­ing for petroleum and min­er­als. In­cluded in this is Pure­ora For­est Park, which was saved by ‘tree-sit­ting’ con­ser­va­tion­ists in the 1970s, and is home to the rare North Is­land kokako and the last re­minders of orig­i­nal podocarp for­est. Be­fore any drilling or ex­trac­tion can take place more per­mits to ex­plore and mine must be ob­tained. • Min­ing is also ramp­ing up in North­land. An ex­ploratory drilling per­mit has been is­sued to De Grey Min­ing Ltd for gold and sil­ver at Puhipuhi, a for­mer mer­cury mine. Pre­vi­ously, the mine cre­ated con­sid­er­able wa­ter qual­ity is­sues and pol­lu­tion from its nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring lead,

“It’s ob­vi­ous that demo­cratic pro­cesses in this coun­try are in trou­ble.”

Dame Anne Sal­mond, his­to­rian and an­thro­pol­o­gist

mer­cury and ar­senic de­posits. The Puhipuhi Min­ing Ac­tion Group said they do not want the min­ing as it may cause con­tam­i­nants to leach into wa­ter­ways where it would af­fect farm­ing and the har­vest­ing of food.

Clean and green?

• Ac­cord­ing to WWF NZ’s re­cent pub­li­ca­tion ‘Be­yond Rio’ wa­ter qual­ity has con­sis­tently de­clined over the last two decades. 96 per cent of wa­ter­ways are too pol­luted for us to swim in and two thirds of our na­tive fresh­wa­ter fish are in ma­jor de­cline. • Our clean and green im­age is in­te­gral to our $20 bil­lion a year tourism in­dus­try and is re­spon­si­ble for around 70% of our ex­port rev­enue.

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