Oily People

The pictures coming from the Gulf of Mexico are horrible; birds covered in oil, enormous plumes of crude lying just below the surface; thousands of barrels worth of oil gushing into the sea each day. And beaches covered in the stuff.

It’s painful to watch. And, on an academic level, an oil spill of the same size off the New Zealand coast would be no worse. But then imagine your favourite beach covered in crude ... not just immediately after a spill, but years later – because it’s a myth that you can properly clean up spilt oil.

It would be like the difference between reading the death notices, and actually having a loved one die.

That’s why Greenpeace NZ is highlighting the fact that Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee is busy ushering in a new era of oil, tendering off the rights to drill in this country’s economic zone. Tenders on 150,000 square kilometres of territory will close in August alone; in places within these areas the water is twice as deep as the ocean at the site of the Deepwater Horizon accident.

To that end, a group of ordinary Greenpeace volunteers and staff showed just how much they care by getting into their togs, getting covered in fake oil (mainly molasses), and allowing themselves to be photographed by the national media.

The results were striking, though of course were just a pointer to what would happen if – or when – the Government’s ‘boom and bust,’ 19th century-style approach to economic development went wrong.

It’s a bleak scenario, but the reality is – as demonstrated in the Gulf of Mexico – that there’s no proven way to seal a deepwater well that’s leaking.

What’s more, even if there were no accidents during the rig’s operating lifetime, the fact is that oil is a fossil fuel, and as such will only make the climate crisis that much worse.

The answer to our dependency on fossil fuels is obvious, but New Zealand is at risk of not realising that until it’s all too late. Our competitors are collectively pouring billions of dollars a year into clean technologies and renewable energy sources. In 2008, the global investment in green energy eclipsed that of fossil fuels, attracting US$140bn compared with US$110bn for gas, coal and electricity.

Were the Government here to start leading the way on clean tech, we wouldn’t be risking our coastlines, we would be doing something about climate change, and there would be no need to get covered in a cold syrup on a mid-winter’s day. Now wouldn’t that be a good thing.

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