Local Body election posters plaster the papers, hoardings speckle the roadside, candidate meetings populate our calendars. Each candidate professes to have answers to our biggest issues, in similar but vague terms, as long as we give them our vote Number One.
But will the next batch of Dunedin City Councillors work to safeguard our future, or sabotage it?
One thing’s for sure; the government doesn’t seem bothered about the future; Energy Minister Simon Bridges’ annual lolly scramble for the oil and gas industry, Block Offer 2017, includes putting 210,884 square kilometres of the Canterbury and Great South Basins up for grabs. Iwi are being consulted as we speak, and local body consultations begin on 17 October.
As in previous years ordinary citizens have been shut out of the consultation, so we depend on our elected councillors to represent our views.
This year, the need to oppose new fossil fuel exploration is even more urgent. A report just published by the group Oil Change International calculates that to meet the Paris Climate Agreement to keep the world below two degrees of global warming we cannot afford any new oil and gas drilling. None.
What’s needed now is a swift, managed decline in the production of all current oil, gas and coal production.
What’s new is this: even the coal, oil and gas in currently producing wells and mines will take us beyond two degrees of global warming. As for new exploration? Ever once dreamed of Dunedin as a Taranaki-of-the-South, or a southern hemisphere Aberdeen? Forget it. You’re fifty years too late.
While the government ignores reality, local councils have got to take the lead.
Last year, as well as formally opposing the Block Offer, the DCC voted to divest from fossil fuel extraction, becoming the second New Zealand Council in the country to divest, joining the worldwide movement to stop investing and profiting from the fossil fuel industry.
Just two weeks ago the University of Otago joined the DCC in committing to be ‘fossil free’.
This is but a small contribution to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but the real issue here is a moral one; we can no longer invest, profit from and run our establishments on an industry that is destroying the world, and thanks to these commitments Dunedin can proudly uphold the moral high ground.
Dunedin voters urgently need to know if our next councillors are going to maintain our own growing reputation as a climate leader.
Who to vote for? Oil Free Otago emailed 41 councillor hopefuls last week (two had no email addresses) and received 13 responses, asking:
- “Where do you stand in relation to oil and gas exploration off the Otago Coast?”
- “Will you commit to submitting in opposition to the Block Offer if you are elected to the Dunedin City Council?”
Two candidates, Andrew Whiley, spokesman for the industry front group Pro Gas Otago, and Richard O’Mahoney, both support oil and gas exploration and will not support a written submission from the DCC opposing this year’s Block Offer 2017.
Neil Johnstone does not “particularly like marine-based oil operations for environmental reasons” but “cannot commit to or against any proposal that I haven’t had any opportunity to appraise”.
Nine others (Aaron Hawkins, Scout Barbour-Evans, Dave Cull, Marie Laufoso, Islay McLeod, Steve Walker, Abe Gray, David Benson-Pope, Damian Newell and Jim O’Malley) oppose deep sea drilling. Eight of these will support a DCC submission opposing the Block Offer while current Mayor Dave Cull will “commit to expressing the views of the Dunedin community as best we can ascertain them. On the last occasion DCC submitted, the overwhelming preponderance of views expressed by the community was opposed to further exploration and extraction.”
We did not receive replies from the other council hopefuls, but do know the views of current councillors. Here’s how those who are standing this time round voted when the DCC moved to divest its shares in fossil fuel extraction companies last year:
- In favour of fossil fuel divestment: Chris Staynes, David Benson-Pope, Aaron Hawkins, Kate Wilson and Dave Cull
- Opposed to fossil fuel divestment: Andrew Whiley, Mike Lord, Doug Hall and Lee Vandervis
The government has chosen April Fools’ Day 2017 for the new exploration and drilling permits to begin, but no oil companies have even bothered to bid for permits amid the roaring forties and furious fifties of our treacherous southern ocean since 2013.
Last month two oil prospecting companies, ION Geophysical and Houston based TGS, withdrew their prospecting permit applications before they were even approved. Anadarko, which drilled unsuccessfully off Taiaroa Head in early 2014, cut over 1,000 jobs this year, cut their capital spending by half, and asked the government for a permit extension. Shell is showing signs of leaving New Zealand altogether, after delaying its planned exploratory drill in the Great South Basin last summer.
Dunedin voters: let us vote wisely. This is no time for Fools.