#BlocktheOffer Dunedin City Council

Experpts from Siana Fitzjohn’s blog, Fossil Fools:

Yesterday I travelled back in time. When we entered the Dunedin City Council chambers to make a deputation on the 2016 oil and gas block offer I felt the clock tick back 150 years. […]

The council members (11 men, 3 women), Mayor, members of the public and reporters filed in and took their seats. We were all asked to stand, I assumed it was for a formal opening or karakia, but what followed was a full on Christian prayer, with all the ‘amens’ to go with it. […]

Rosemary and I […] implored the council to oppose the government’s oil and gas block offers. These are the huge chunks of ocean that are made available for companies to explore oil and gas. We had a mere ten minutes to unpack the issue.

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 8.49.41 pm
Original photo: Graham Warman

Now, ten minutes is not a lot of time when you need to cover

  • the deconstruction of democracy
  • the huge risks posed by deep sea drilling to marine life
  • our laughably inadequate ‘oil spill response plan’
  • the emotional and psychological impacts of an oil spill
  • the importance of our oceans for our cultural identity
  • AND the climate justice implications of oil and gas exploration

Needless to say we were a little out of breath by the time we were done. Throughout the talk I could not help feeling like we were medieval peasants bringing our grievances to the lords of the land. Councillor Hilary Calvert slouched […] and made little attempt to conceal her disdain. When the questions began […], I realised that the attitudes of certain councillors […] out-dated.

Councillor Andrew Whiley, […] spokesperson for ProGas Otago, […] reminded us that this meeting was about the oil and gas block offers, not about climate change. Congratulations Sir, on your belligerent refusal to connect the dots. […] Climate change science states that if we burn more than 20 or so percent of known fuel reserves, we’re toast. If councils compartmentalise issues they evade the moral implications of their decisions.

The next question was from Hilary Calvert, who asked me if I had made a written submission, and if so what did we think we were gaining by “having another bite at the cherry…”

[…] we were making the deputation on behalf of Oil Free Otago and the 400+ people that had signed our petition. I did not know how to reply, so I merely shot back, “I’m not sure I understand the relevance of your question.”

I should have said, “We are pursuing every democratic avenue available to us to ensure that this issue receives due attention. We’d gladly spend all day explaining to the council the infringement of climate justice proposed by this block offer. Frankly if you think that a written submission and a ten minute deputation is going overboard then I don’t think you comprehend the seriousness of this issue.” […] she had no alternative ammunition. […]

Another councillor […] asked why we wouldn’t compare Dunedin to other cities like New Plymouth and Aberdeen, who had profited from oil exploitation? Because, […] we’re about 50 years too late. The link between our fossil fuel use and the hazardous effects of climate change is now indisputably established. We no longer have the excuse of ignorance. We can’t afford to burn the majority of the fossil fuels that we know about. Any decision to explore for more fossil fuels now directly endangers the wellbeing of future generations and ecosystems.

It is clear that some of these councillors are still living in a fantasy land […] their opinions are relics of the ancient past. These select few would see Dunedin turned into the last outpost of a dying oil industry, with abandoned drilling platforms rusting away offshore as an ode to their idiocy.

[…] Every attempt was made by a few councillors to derail, distract and discredit the conversation. There is only so much time you can spend stating the bleeding obvious to people before you sound like a broken record. Take heart though, progress is being made, if at the pace of a sleeping snail. The council will rework their submission, despite not taking an opposing stance like we’d hoped. Councils around the rest of the country are looking more positive. Christchurch lead the charge to oppose the block offers, with Kaikoura following suit. This shows that local governments can demonstrate good leadership and respond to the needs of their communities. Congratulations to both of those regions!

ODT article on the Dunedin City Council’s public forum here.

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