A Dunedin welcome (C) GREENPEACE / Sharomov
So much can happen in a week! It’s about that long since I wrote my last blog. In the meantime, you’ll have noticed the privilege was passed on to our web editor Nick, who joined the ship during its time in Lyttelton.
Now we are on our way into Dunedin. As I type, we’re sidling into port, with the albatross colony to our left and Port Chalmers to the right. Dunedin is as still and beautiful as I remember. And welcoming! I’m looking out the bridge windows and can see people along the harbour edge waving and even a group of children holding a rainbow banner. So we’re not public enemy number one everywhere after all!!
Police trying to remove Greenpeace activists from the coal ship (C) GREENPEACE / Sharomov
This relaxed and sunny entry into Dunedin bares little resemblance to the last 48 hours. As you’ll know from previous blogs, on Wednesday we carried out a direct action against a coal shipment in the Port of Lyttelton. In other words, we attempted to stop the ship (carrying up to 60,000 tonnes of Solid Energy export coal) from leaving port. We did this to highlight the double standards inherent in government policy that bans new fossil fuel generation for 10 years in New Zealand, but allows the export of increasing quantities of coal to other countries. A government which publicly aspires to being “carbon neutral” but is overseeing a planned expansion of mining and burning of coal here in New Zealand. The figures are quite staggering. The amount of coal we’re pulling out of the ground, burning for industrial processes and exporting is enough to make your skin crawl.
It was my first Greenpeace action; infact it was the first action for several people onboard. Greenpeace has built its reputation on taking no prisoners when it comes to environmental issues, and it was amazing to finally be part of this sure and unapologetic stance.
The action played out over about four hours, and involved pilot boats, tug boats, charter boats, our boat, inflatable boats, far too many police, over 100 spectators on the Port Hills above the harbour, quick decision-making, lots of adrenalin and pretty much every main media outlet in the country.
My colleague, who was onshore, said a man came to the Port Hills viewing spot, carrying his son on his shoulders. As they stood looking at the action unfolding below with the Rainbow Warrior, police boat and coal ship, he said:
“see the green boat, they’re the goodies. See the blue boat, that’s the bad guys, and see the big black boat, those are the really really bad guys.”
Good to know that boy will grow up with the correct perceptions!
We did not end up blocking the shipment for long enough to stop it leaving on the high tide. But we did manage to draw attention to a major problem that we, as New Zealanders, are responsible for. At a time when climate change demands we all reduce emissions, there is no way more and more of these coal laden shipments should be leaving this port.
Media coverage of the activity was extensive, and ongoing. As soon as we arrived in Dunedin, we had the local paper, TV and radio stations at the gangplank and on the phone, wanting interviews.
Unfortunately, in some of the media coverage, police hyperbole got in the way of more extensive debate about where we’re going with climate change in New Zealand. Somewhat predictably, Christchurch police said we had “tied up” their resources, leaving them with insufficient staff to responds to other call outs. Our response to this is simple. We cannot be held responsible for police staffing decisions. It is their prerogative what they do with their resources. For 30 years now Greenpeace have been peacefully protesting, and causing no physical harm to anyone. Police know this. If they choose to put 30 men on a peaceful action against an environmental wrong, leaving them ill-equipped to deal with other things, then that’s their call. Why police would prioritise getting a bulk shipment of coal to market on time over central city crime is not for Greenpeace to answer.
The Climate Change Minister’s response to the action was equally as pitiful. He said his government has no plans to stop coal exports, and that even if they did, it wouldn’t help climate change, because the countries we export to would simply source their coal elsewhere. To justify doing something wrong by saying that if you don't, others will, is simply immoral. It could be used to justify anything from drug dealing to child slavery. Moreover, it is crucial New Zealand plays a leadership role in the fight against climate change. If a country like NZ announced that in response to the threat of climate change it was capping coal exports, it would send an extremely powerful signal to the rest of the world that developed countries were prepared to take real action. It would be a signal as powerful as that sent when NZ banned nuclear-powered warships in the 1980s and reinvigorated the peace movement.
We’re proud of what we did on Wednesday and (despite calls from the editorial pages of some major daily newspapers today!) we will never stop pushing the envelope if it means the planet survives.