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May 31, 2010 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]


I’ve always wanted to be an eco-ninja. Not only do you gain a legitimate occasion to pair a Hepburn-esque turtleneck with a beret, you also get to act like a stealthy spy in real life. And for a positive purpose: I’m quite sure that bank robbers or embezzlers don’t get the same virtuous flush as an environmental activist in action. Unless they’re embezzling from Shell Oil, or robbing the rich to give to the poor, hopefully while looking as dissimilar to Russell Crowe as possible.

Back in the day, there were definitely quite a few seven-year-olds out there that excitedly checked out picture books detailing voyages of the Rainbow Warrior from their public library, presumably alongside copies of (the retrospectively racist) Tintin in the Congo. Some kids grow up wanting to be an astronaut, or the Blue Power Ranger, and some grow up wishing for the chance to chain themselves to trees, dolphins or diggers.

No matter what your childhood dreams entailed, it’s pretty cool when you get to actually act them out, even to the smallest smidgeon.

A couple of weeks ago, I was part of a Greenpeace action at the Fonterra’s Clandeboye factory in Cantebury. Although I wasn’t one of the four super-staunch activists who blocked coal deliveries to the plant for over nine hours, I was still there; talking to workers at the factory, and checking the activists were feeling alright at the beginning. I even got to wear the enviable smokin’-hot, fluoro-orange, full-body jumpsuit.

All the locked-on activists were arrested, but not before they’d emphasised how Fonterra’s use of coal is contributing to New Zealand’s carbon emissions, and therefore contributing to causing climate change. 

Fonterra and farming is often a difficult issue for New Zealand environmentalists to tackle because so much of our national income comes from agricultural exports. As Mr Key loves reminding us, our National government plans to “balance New Zealand’s economic opportunities with our environmental responsibilities”.

At Clandeboye the problem was far simpler. Instead of coal, Fonterra could run factories on cleaner fuels such as biomass. In fact, Fonterra had already tried using biomass, but decided against it ‘cause it cost a little more cash to help protect the climate. Greenpeace thoughtfully gifted Fonterra three tonnes of wood pellets. At the time of writing there has of yet been no thank you card delivered. 

Aotearoa has a reputation for being ‘100% Pure’. We use this line to sell our country and (directly or indirectly) to endorse our products overseas: eager Germans fly in because of our pristine waterfalls and glowingly film-referenced mountains; English mums buy our lamb because it’s considered more environmentally friendly (and it’s probably cheaper) than lamb grown closer to home. Protecting our pureness is not only a question of protecting the land we love, it’s also a case of protecting our international reputation and our export-heavy economy.

But, if I’m being honest, talking about “protecting the environment for the economy” depresses me. What would my seven-year-old self think: she’d be stoked about my orange jumpsuited adventure, but what about protecting the environment and minimising human-caused climate change just because we care?

She would not be impressed. John Key is no Captain Planet. There are heaps of ways Aotearoa could get it together, but if not, we’ll have to do it ourselves. The power is (y)ours.


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