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Making a Stand

31 Jul

Making a Stand for a Renewable Energy Future

Speech given by Katerina Seligman
at the Ride for Renewables (and Against Mining)
30th July 2011
Motueka, New Zealand

Katerina's speech

This information was put together by a group of local people in Motueka who are very concerned about what is happening here in NZ in regard to mining. This is our third public event and we plan to have an event of some kind on the last Saturday of every month at noon. Our goals are to protect our beaches from potential oil spills, and to highlight the importance of moving away from fossil fuels and towards a renewable energy future. If you want to be on an e-mail list to get information about future events, e-mail: no.oily.beaches@gmail.com

NZ is on the brink of a massive fossil-fuel-extraction binge. The government has laid down a welcome mat to international mining companies…. “please come and mine at our place”. And the mining companies have responded to the call. Companies are lining up to drill for deep sea oil, prospect for minerals and dig up coal all around NZ. New Zealand is pockmarked with new new exploration sites on land and sea. About 70 petroleum exploration permits are current with about 23 more pending. Many permits have also been granted for coal and mineral exploration.

In regards to oil, the government is encouraging prospecting in very deep waters. To put that into perspective: The deepest offshore oil well off Taranaki is 300 metres deep. The Deep Water Horizon Well in the Gulf of Mexico which went terribly wrong with a massive oil spill, was 5 times as deep …one and a half km. Humans can’t go that deep. All repairs were attempted by robots. 6500 ships responded to the spill disaster. It took almost three months to plug the well-head. The proposed drilling off our coastlines is twice that depth, 3 km deep! That is sheer madness for a country that simply doesn’t have the infrastructure to deal with even a very small oil spill.

It was reported in the very reputable newspaper the UK Guardian ( 5th July 2011) that serious spills of oil and gas from North Sea platforms are occurring at the rate of one a week, even though the companies claim to be doing everything possible to improve the safety of rigs.

We currently have Anadarko test drilling off the Otago and Canterbury Coasts and Petrobras have just finished exploratory drilling off the East Cape. Greywolf was refused its permits here in our region because the company turned out to be too unreliable, but the government is very willing for a more reliable company to come in and do the job.

What about coal? There are companies bing granted permits all over the country, some mines already in operation and some rearing to go. I’ll just focus on just one of these: the proposed lignite projects in Southland, on 4000 hectares of farmland that has been purchased by the Government. Lignite is very dirty coal. It’s half water, high in ash, and takes a lot of energy to turn it into anything useful. If all the lignite at the proposed mine site in Southland were burned, anywhere in the world, and export is certainly on the government’s agenda, it would put over 8 Billion Tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. That’s over one hundred times NZ’s annual emissions from all sources!

Solid Energy has applied for a pilot briquetting plant, and is planing a second plant ten times bigger than that . They also want to make urea and diesel from the the lignite. Collectively Solid Energy’s projects, if they go ahead, would raise NZ’s annual greenhouse gas emissions by 20%. This at a time when we should be trying to reduce our emissions. This is an State Owned Enterprise that you and I own! But it gets worse: The government is going to use our taxes to meet its Kyoto obligations. Solid Energy tells us it will “meet its climate change obligations in full”. But that’s easy because by current laws it has almost no obligations.
The reason the government is willing to subsidize this kind of development is because it is central to its economic growth strategy. This is a much bigger and harder issue to deal with than the Mining- in- the- National- Parks issue that we saw recently.

Where will the capital come from for this Southland development. It’s going to cost billions!
Neither Solid Energy nor the government has the money. The plan is to sell about half of Solid Energy to an overseas company, almost certainly a Chinese one. We already have a free trade agreement with China. If a Chinese company were to run the show, and some subsequent government brought in new environmentally responsible laws, the Chinese could sue us in a secret tribunal for loss of investor profits!

John Key is currently doing his very best to negotiate a similar agreement, The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, with the USA who would be even more likely and able to sue us than the Chinese for making responsible laws in our own country .

With rising Green House Gases, we are heading for an environment that will no longer support the lives and livelihoods of communities. The poorest communities of the world are already suffering the most with increased droughts famines and floods. But even here in New Zealand we are experiencing more extreme weather events. You might think this latest cold spell is reassurance that global warming is not actually happening. But unfortunately climate change is not about short term changes in the weather. Changes in the Climate which are a result of global warming, are happening. Unfortunately climate change is now very evident in many parts of the world and is undeniable. James Hansen, one of the world’s most highly respected climate scientists who visited NZ recently, claims that we still have time to turn things around. He says that coal, world wide, is the biggest cause of climate change. He thinks that we could still burn the remaining easily accessible oil and gas, as long as we don’t start any new extractions from tar sands and deep-sea drilling, and as long as we phase out all burning of coal to zero by 2030. To do that we would need to put all of our ingenuity, resources and will towards creating a renewable energy future.

Some ask: why should we be the first in world to stop mining and using coal?
The good news is that if we took that courageous step, we would not be the first. Resistance to coal and extreme fossil fuels extraction like deep sea oil has been growing worldwide for quite a few years.

In June 2007, Florida refused to license a huge coal plant because it was looking like it would be more expensive than investing in renewable energy generation. This led to the withdrawal of four other coal plant proposals in the state.

This is just one example of thousands worldwide where governing bodies have responded to the people’s demand for common sense to prevail. Leading investment banks in some parts of the US have stopped funding new coal mines. Existing coal plants are being closed in New York State because of that state’s very sensible energy efficiency standards. The phasing our of coal plants is making some progress in Denmark, Hungary, Canada, Scotland.

If we keep pumping green house gases into the atmosphere, it is the young people and future generations who will suffer most. And young people world wide are making their voices heard.

A courageous group in the USA, fronted by 15 teenagers, is suing the US government under the Constitution for failing to protect the rights of future generations. (Google: Hansen, The Case for young people and nature.) Young people here in NZ and world wide are getting active to try to secure their own future: groups such as the NZ Youth Delegation, Generation Zero, The 2050 Alliance, Regeneration, 350.org, and CANA, (Coal Action Network Aotearoa) and a number of others. But we don’t want our youth to be the only ones fighting for their future. It’s time for all people to inform themselves, to get active and to stop letting corporate power make the most important decisions our planet faces.

Of course, jobs and money are vitally important for the wellbeing and of individuals and communities. No one is denying that. But a community that depends on jobs and income from unsustainable activity has no resilience and will eventually lose everything. Communities who are dependent on renewable resources that will never run out for their jobs and incomes are the ones that will survive in the longer term.

So what are the alternatives to fossil fuel extraction?
A report from The Political Economy Research Institute in the US estimated that 100 billion dollars spent on clean energy over a 10-year period could create two million new jobs, compared to just half a million jobs if the money were invested in oil and gas-related industries. That’s four times as many jobs. The Center for American Progress, has estimated that renewable energy and efficiency improvements create twice as many jobs (per unit of energy and per dollar invested) than traditional fossil fuel-based technologies. In other words, money invested in clean energy can create two to four times as many jobs as money invested in fossil fuel industries…

Policy-makers have the opportunity to create viable new markets, boost private investment and innovation in renewables, and stimulate the economy. Governments around the world are redesigning their economies to embrace a cleaner way of doing business. Governments like China, Brazil, the United Kingdom and Germany, who are offering incentives for renewable energy initiatives, are establishing stronger competitive positions in the global clean energy economy. According Investment New Zealand, approximately 250 companies and organisations are researching, developing and commercialising clean technologies in New Zealand and least 60 of these companies are potentially world class. An economic crisis is the breeding ground for innovation and entrepreneurship. Many very successful companies (Microsoft, Nokia), were born during during an economic downturn.

We need to demand from our government that they abandon their fossil fuel agenda, and put all of their efforts into creating a renewable energy future. It’s just the right thing to do.

What can you do?

  • Inform yourself. Let everyone know what is happening and build networks of people willing to take action. Check out the government’s New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals website
  • Keep informed by signing up to the CANA e-mail list (coalactionnetwork@gmail.com)
  • Talk about it to family and friends,
  • Write letters to editors
  • Write submissions on consent applications. CANA will send information to help with this .
  • Write to Fonterra letting them know that they should shift to wood fuels rather than burning coal. (to make their milk powder etc)
  • Write to oil companies..let them know that you will only buy diesel from those who do not make it from lignite
  • Write to fertiliser companies letting them know you don’t want urea made from lignite.
  • Make this an election issue. Ask candidates where they stand on coal mining and oil rigs.
  • Be ready to turn up in person at events like this ( at noon on the last Saturday of every month) and be ready to turn up at the mine site in Southland one day if necessary. It may come to that!
  • Google the following inspiring groups: awakeningthedreamer, pureadvantage, commondreams, generationzero (www.generationzero.org.nz), happyzine