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Dear Jacinda: We Haven’t Got Any More Time

Dear Jacinda: We Haven’t Got Any More Time

On Monday, the Prime Minister accepted a petition calling for the end to oil and gas exploration signed by 45,000 people. In response to this, the Prime Minister asked for “a bit more time” to make a decision about the future of oil and gas. Later she clarified her position and did so again in a Facebook Live post last night: the government was considering what to do about the “block offer” process which would take some time. This is a decision about future oil and gas exploration.

She was unequivocal, however, that any existing permits would continue for their contractual lifespan. The Prime Minister estimated that there were roughly 21 of these permits, and they cover an area in excess of 40,000 square kilometres both on-shore and off.

Yet her position is somewhat confused; oil exploration permits are just that - permits for exploration, not subsequent drilling. The block offer is really about the oil industry’s need to have “proven reserves” to keep their shareholders happy. Existing permits for exploration are not the same as existing permits for actual extraction.

The PM was at pains to reassure the industry that her government didn’t want to do anything “jarring,” because there were lots of people who counted on the industry. Yet the much of the equipment for offshore exploration (specifically seismic surveying) is not local gear: these are highly specialised vessels, such as the “Amazon Warrior” that sail around the world conducting this work. So exploration isn’t really an employment issue.

But more to the point, the call for New Zealanders to wait on urgent climate decisions against the needs of the oil industry to avoid “jarring” is seriously misplaced. This year, we have already had the hottest summer on record. We have had disastrous cyclones hit the West Coast and repeated flooding across the Coromandel and Bay of Plenty. We have massive slips and communities cut off. This is the “jarring” we are already experiencing; and they climate effects we are already paying for. People’s homes, livelihoods and even lives have already been lost.

The government is definitely between a rock and a hard place: the serious and dramatic action needed on climate change means taking on the world’s biggest and most powerful industry. It is an attack on the engine of capitalism. Yet that is precisely what is necessary in order for us as a civilisation to survive. We can’t change without change. Yet those who continue to profit from climate change, the oil producers, are not going to allow any change that affects their bottom line, and in doing so, they are only following the best practice rules of our existing economic system.

There are dire economic predictions that accompany any discussion of serious cuts to carbon emissions. Yet the economic situation we face by continuing business-as-usual is even more bleak: insecurity, precarity and inequality. This is quite aside from the environmental and social breakdown we are staring down by pursuing the status quo.

The best hopes we have at this stage are to build an uncompromising climate justice movement, and to build local community resilience. Next week, there will be a non-violent blockade of the annual petroleum summit by climate activists from around the country. Irrespective of what Jacinda decides, we need to work to dismantle the oil and gas industry directly. And in the process, we need to give this government the courage to take the steps that are urgently required.

We’ve haven’t got more any time to lose Jacinda.

Valerie Morse


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