Primary Production, Free Trade, Resource Conflict & Corporate Plunder: Part 1
- Dennis Small
Due to sheer size – both of this article and this issue - Dennis’ article will be published over two issues. Part 2 will be in Watchdog 129, April 2012. Ed.
“Instead of heavy treasures, there are
paper symbols of value;
(from “Fugal-Chorus” in “For the Time Being” by WH Auden)
“It’s the end of an era in which the West and Western ideas of how to create prosperity succeeded. The crisis in Europe and the challenges yet to come on either side of the Atlantic take us into a whole new era” (from “The End of Europe [and maybe the West]”) by Rana Foroohar, Time, 22/8/11, p21).
“The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilisation of capital, which leads to increasingly severe depressions . . . [and] leads to a crippling of the social consciousness of individuals” (Albert Einstein arguing for socialism, quoted in “Einstein for Beginners” by J Schwartz & M McGuinness, Icon Books, 1979/96, p169).
“As biologist Edward O Wilson has observed: ‘We are letting nature slip through our fingers, and taking ourselves along’” (Sylvia Earle in National Geographic: “Special Report: The Spill”, October 2010, p77: Earle is author of the book “The World is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s are One”).
Gathering crises round the world indicate the desperate urgency for alternative directions in charting development paths for the future. In Watchdog 127 (August, 2011, “Food, Crisis, And The Global Economy: Countering NZ’s Corporate Bonding” http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/27/08.htm) I took up the issue again of food security and free trade, examining some interconnections between NZ agribusiness and overseas operations, as well as certain common or interrelated problems. This scrutiny was placed in the context of planetary and, more specifically, NZ environmental conditions, particularly in relation to the processes of global warming and climate change. International market turmoil and uncertainty were reviewed with reference to some obvious political implications.
Some of these implications have got further illustration in 2011, including the loss of America’s triple A financial rating, Europe’s compounding debt problems, and the August British riots. In this context, the need to forge a more genuinely cooperative and sustainable future is irrefutable. National Geographic’s “Population 7 Billion” edition poses the big question for humankind in these terms: “Is a train wreck in the offing, or will people then be able to live humanely in a way that doesn’t destroy their environment?” (January 2011, p49). As the global economic mess deepens, mounting political unrest in the “developed” countries, as well as the “developing” countries, is calling everything in question. Infometrics has commented that banking markets have become “like a slow train wreck you can’t take your eyes off” (Press, 24/9/11).
Calling Capital To Account
Political divisions are deepening. Occupy Wall Street, the movement behind the unprecedented and long overdue protests in New York and elsewhere in the US against Wall Street and manipulative capitalist interests, strikes at the heart of globalisation and corporate greed. There are now louder calls for Wall Street white collar criminals to be brought to justice, as internationally the focus goes on that 1% of the population who virtually control the rest. This movement, furthermore, has gathered strength despite mainstream media ridicule and hostility, in complete contrast to the same media’s support for the virulent Rightwing Tea Party movement.
Avaaz, the online global activist organisation, is helping coordinate what it identifies as a worldwide movement for social justice (www.avaaz.org/en). Grossly cynical and hypocritical American foreign policy propaganda on democracy has rebounded to bite the ruling class there on its bum. The 1% in the US which controls 33% of the country’s wealth and run the society, along with their confreres around the world, including Aotearoa/NZ, is finally getting some of the kind of attention they so richly deserve. To a degree, mainstream media public relations (PR) crap is being blown away and self-serving interests exposed.
Somehow, this new international progressive movement needs to keep up pressure on ruling classes/elites, and yet move the societal process in an overall more cooperative and sustainable direction, rather than everyone sinking into internecine conflict with no prospect of a positive outcome. The complexity of the issues we face is enormous. Commitment to non-violent action, as stressed by Avaaz, is essential in the struggles ahead. At the same time, we must continuously counter the reactionary impulse to more violence and war, and the capitalist media’s cultivation of this syndrome (see my two part article on media warmongering in Peace Researchers 41 and 42, July and November 2011, which are online at http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr/41/pr41-006.htm and http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr/42/pr42-008.htm respectively).
Within this global setting, the current article expands on the huge threat to our environment and social fabric now unleashed upon us by the National government with its ramping up of primary production. My focus is on fossil fuel extraction, including marine aspects, with some reference as well to agriculture and inland water usage. I examine certain major NZ trends, taking into account various environmental and resource management issues. In addition, I take an in-depth look at one of our favourite trading partners, namely Mexico, considered the “poster boy of the free trade camp”.
Back To The Future And New Frontiers
Primary production is still undergoing a worldwide resurgence as resource scarcity takes hold round the globe, despite the likely prospects ahead of slow, even faltering, economic growth. Even amid the current economic, debt, and financial volatility and uncertainty, the search for vital primary resources goes on, especially for food-producing resources, given concerns about imminent constraints - and, as ever, for fossil fuels. Significantly enough, a publication like the American Establishment/propaganda magazine Time can acknowledge certain environmental realities (“A Future of Price Spikes” [for food], 25/7/11, pp39-42). As usual, however, Time protects the corporate contribution to world hunger and malnutrition from any proper public scrutiny (ibid.). Indeed, in typical fashion, it instead promotes corporate “free trade” as a major solution, especially pushing for a new version of so-called “Green Revolution” technology devised by giant transnational corporations (TNCs) like Syngenta and Monsanto (ibid.). In a warming world, we shall certainly need new plant varieties adapted to the changing conditions. The great ongoing problem is how to ensure the widest benefits and democratic control from any such innovations (ideally derived from traditionally proven breeding techniques). Controlling the risks of corporate biotechnology, with all its potential socio-economic and environmental downsides, is central to this.
Aotearoa/NZ is now a country very much subject to the global resource grab process, with both food and minerals at issue. In the latest wave of exploitation, mineral extraction in the form of deep seabed drilling, particularly of course for oil and gas, is being touted as a prosperous, new “frontier” for all New Zealanders. Some GNS scientists are even keen for us to help further destroy oceanic life and accelerate climate change through embracing this sort of development (e.g. TV1, 6pm News, 10/6/11; see Pacific Ecologist 20, Winter 2011, “Save the Oceans: Cradle of Life”, on the planetary marine crisis and its implications for Aotearoa/NZ).
Becoming Another North Sea?!
The GNS Science boys have actually been boasting that NZ’s territorial oceanic waters could provide another North Sea fossil fuel bonanza, blithely ignoring the fact that the North Sea is one of the world’s most polluted (TV1, ibid.). GNS Science geophysicist Chris Uruski is most enthusiastic about the prospects, saying that NZ’s offshore exclusive economic zone (EEZ) should be considered the “North Sea of the Southern Hemisphere” Press, 8/10/11). The demise of the bluefin tuna fishery in the North Sea, along with other prime fish stocks, indicates the dramatic extent of ecological damage already inflicted there. Pollution of this particular sea covers the whole gamut: from agricultural run-off (nitrates and phosphates); industrial discharge and sewage sludge; to oil leaks, with yet another recent major discharge.
Most ironically, in August 2011, at the very time when Shell was announcing a new exploration project in NZ’s Great South Basin, an awful oil leak was gushing from one of Shell’s drilling platforms in the North Sea. Indeed, this leak proved to be the worst spill in a decade (www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/8703156/North-Sea-oil-spill-is-worst-in-a-decade.html). Moreover, Shell’s Gannet Alpha platform, culprit of the leak, “is 180km east of Aberdeen in Scotland”, and so relatively near to land (Sunday Star-Times, 14/8/11). With regard to its new venture in the Great South Basin, Shell NZ has claimed, “In the unlikely event [of a pollution threat] we have . . . things we can call on”, and such provisions are confirmed by the Government Press, 18/8/11). Yeah right!
In the North Sea, another critical environmental problem relates to what can be called plankton “mismatch” – a problem unfortunately now “advanced” in its ramifications (“Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis” by Alanna Mitchell, Pier 9, 2nd ed, 2010, p99). Warming waters mean that the natural cycles of plankton growth are changing out of sync, drifting into mismatch, and so disrupting patterns of feeding and breeding of sea life. Mismatch is probably inducing seriously negative consequences for the plankton-driven cycles of oxygen, carbon, nitrogen and silica, which in turn will rebound further on the regional fishery. In short, the whole ecological system of the North Sea - its structure and functioning - is being adversely affected. This is what GNS Science and the rest of the Government, driven by TNC power, want to inflict on our EEZ and regional environment.
Black Gold Rush – Getting Really Down And Dirty!
In Aotearoa/NZ, plundering the land, whether in the form of intensive dairy farming, or the increasing extraction of coal, gold, and other minerals, is already in full swing; or ominously looming in scale and scope further down the track. Despite strong public protests, the Government and Big Business are still intent on pushing the limits as hard as they can, or indeed well beyond. Australian TNC Bathurst Resources Ltd has been given the green light to mine coal on the Denniston Plateau near Westport on the South Island’s West Coast. It now has permission “to mine 200 hectares in the Mt Rochfort Conservation Area”, yet another massive opencast venture in this particular region Press, 27/8/11). Bathurst is backed by some “high-roller”, foreign-based financial funding. For instance, two Australian financial firms “Velocity Fund, run by boutique firm Mathews Capital Partners”, and “Cadence Capital”; both have “a highly lucrative interest” in Bathurst Resources and its operations (Sunday Star-Times, 24/4/11).
Bathurst Resources already has the Cascade opencast mine in operation and has been increasing output there. As well, it has bought up the Brookdale mining assets in South Buller adjacent to both this existing mine and the proposed new one. Besides Bathurst’s existing assets of the Cascade and Brookdale mines, the TNC is lining up a number of prospective new mines on the Denniston Plateau – evidently eight of them altogether, amounting to “ten times NZ’s annual CO² emissions from all sources”! (“Mobilise to Save the Planet: the groundswell of climate change protest grows” by Jeanette Fitzsimons, Sunday Star-Times, 11/9/11). At present, Bathurst has a permit to truck up to 250,000 tonnes a year of coal off the Buller Plateau. But its plans are much bigger. The Australian TNC is trying to consolidate an enormous fossil fuel enterprise in this part of the South Island’s West Coast.
Bathurst’s proposed new big mine, the “Escarpment Mine would become NZ’s second largest opencast coal mine, neighbouring the country’s biggest - State-owned [SOE] enterprise Solid Energy’s Stockton mine” Press, 27/8/11). Solid Energy, of course, is lined up in the Government’s sights for partial privatisation, i.e. creeping total privatisation, to foreign interests. So, in all, a very extensive tract of fine conservation land already containing two large, contiguous, opencast mines, plus other proposed or working mines, is now officially assigned to coal extraction – and coming under effective total foreign control.
Capitalist Concentration Goes On
Bathurst Resources itself illustrates the capitalist concentration of mining capital under way worldwide. Set up in 2007 on the Australian Stock Exchange (and also now listed on the NZX), it acquired its proprietary rights “on the Denniston Plateau, and in the wider Buller area including Deep Creek”, when it “bought most of the shares in L&M Coal from the Australian L&M Group for $US35m” in November 2010 Press, 27/7/11 & 30/8/11). L&M Coal has been just one of the companies operating within the Australian L&M Group. “Soon after, Bathurst bought the mining company Eastern Resources for [another] $35m from Australian owners Galilee Energy”, getting the Cascade mine, “the adjacent Whareata West coal lease, as well as the Takitimu coal mine at Nightcaps in Southland” Press, 30/8/11).
Currently, Bathurst is planning to develop its huge West Coast mining “project around several resource areas, including north Buller, Millerton, Blackburn, Deep Creek, Banbury and Burnetts Face, Brookdale, Escarpment, Whareata West and Western Plateau” (ibid.). It is looking at mining one million tonnes from the new Escarpment mine, and later another million from a new mine at Deep Creek, while eventually aiming to increase the total Buller project to four million tonnes a year by 2015 (ibid.). “Bathurst’s subsidiary, Buller Coal,” has commissioned a local firm to build “a coal processing plant and associated facilities . . . in the south of the Denniston Plateau about 14km from Westport” Press, 23/4/11). In a de facto public private partnership (PPP): “Solid Energy is partnering with Bathurst Resources in developing coal exports from the Denniston Plateau” Press, 23/6/11).
Bathurst Resources is a potential TNC monster on the loose. Yet it is worth noting that this TNC could over-reach itself, especially now it is facing lengthy litigation. Bathurst is a startup company, which has grown very quickly in an uncertain economic climate, reporting “a wider full-year loss as it pushed forward its development plans on the West Coast”, while clearly hoping for substantial early production and earnings Press, 16/9/11). Its plans could prove to be over-ambitious and come unstuck. Some opportunistic financial companies like Velocity Fund and Cadence Capital clearly look to make quick profits, and could easily get nervous at delays (Sunday Star-Times, 24/4/11). At present, however, Bathurst is bent on pushing its plans. It is conducting “an intense drilling programme to sort out which areas to mine”, enlarging both “reserves and resources at its Buller coal project” Press, 27/10/11).
Think Global, Act Local?
Internationally, the accumulating product of such fossil fuel extraction amounts to disaster capitalism on the planetary scale (“Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil”, Peter Maass, Penguin, 2009; “Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe & Our Last Chance to Save Humanity”, James Hansen, Bloomsbury, 2009/11. (This latter book was reviewed by Jeremy Agar in Watchdog 124, August 2010, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/24/10.htm. Ed.). This tragedy of the destruction of the global commons is tolling the bell for everyone. Instead of marshalling societies to seek renewable sources of energy, engage in energy efficiency and conservation, and similar sustainable initiatives, global capitalism is predominantly in the throes of last ditch fossil fuel exploitation.
This further potentially massive inroad into our country’s Department of Conservation (DOC) estate by Bathurst & co. comes in the face of strong and rising protests – both on account of the local environmental values at risk, and the absurdity of adding to the rapidly worsening anthropogenic climate problem. Let’s “Keep the Coal in the Hole”, as proclaimed by the Coal Action Network Aotearoa campaign. But think global, act local for the National Party government means dedicated and assiduous commitment to planetary meltdown. As the Network’s Frances Mountier says: “To be opening a new coal mine in this day and age is unbelievable” (Sunday Star-Times, 28/8/11). Unfortunately, while in one obvious sense it certainly is, in another sense, given the operating premises of PM John Key, Gerry Brownlee, Tim Groser, and the rest of the National Party government, it is all so very predictable. As well, the Labour Party is of pretty much the same mould, although to be fair, it claims that its policies would be much more environmentally rigorous. However, in practice, the environmental regulation of mining - on both land and in the sea – is coming under effective corporate control.
As the global warming/warning film says, it’s “The Age of Stupid!” Appropriately enough, Bathurst Resources has appointed Rightwing “greenie” Guy Salmon of Ecologic to supposedly act as an environmental monitor of its operations, yet another smiley face, posturing fig leaf to try and cover a horrible sore Press, 2/9/11). The John Key syndrome (the smiling crocodile) is certainly a common ploy by the Right these days; all aided and abetted by the foreign-owned mainstream media for the most part, as usual!
Commercial Corruption And Legal Liabilities
Jeanette Fitzsimons points out that the Denniston decision of the Commissioners for the West Coast Regional Council is being contested in court and will test “the application of the Resource Management Act (RMA) to climate change issues” (Sunday Star-Times, 11/9/11). A challenge in the Environment Court has been lodged by the West Coast Environment Network Press, 15/9/11). As well “Forest & Bird is [now] one of three organisations to appeal against resource consents issued to” Bathurst Resources, the third being the Fairdown-Whareata Residents’ Association Press, 20/9/11). Forest & Bird have had to fill the gap left by DOC’s dereliction in failing to contest Bathurst’s venture. As well, the Green Party drew attention to “a potential conflict of interest after a DOC employee with a senior role in the application of the Department’s strategy on the Denniston Plateau” was found to be working for Bathurst Resources (West Coast Messenger, 5/10/11).
As TNCs intrude even further into the political decision-making process within Aotearoa/NZ, this sort of syndrome will become par for the course. CAFCA cut its teeth on protests against the TNC aluminium smelter at Bluff very soon after it started, nearly 40 years ago. At the time, the incentives for governmental/politico-corporate collaboration were brazenly and openly flaunted, with NZ obviously being seen as some sort of banana republic. In 2011, the corporate corruption of our democracy and Government is potentially poised to run rampant. The neo-liberal Treasury, for example, is quite blatantly unashamed in its dismissal of criticism about the propriety of staff acceptance of corporate perks and gifts.
With specific regard to the decision on Bathurst’s project on the Denniston Plateau, the West Coast Regional Council and the Buller District Council have confessed that “the economic benefits were crucial to the decision” Press, 20/9/11), even though the Escarpment mine is estimated to only have a five-year life – yet another example of how short-term economic thinking around the planet is driving the ultimate globalist implosion. Most of this coal is destined for Asian steel production, industrialisation and associated militarisation. In practice, the globalist aim is to build up to the peak tipping point for catastrophe.
Meantime, the National Party government is overhauling the “way exploration licences are offered to oil and gas companies” in order “to raise the amount of activity in the sector by half over the next decade” Press, 31/8/11). The Government’s open door policy was boosted by a report by Wellington investment bank Woodward Partners, which has claimed that NZ could earn over $12 billion more by this impetus to mining (ibid.). Warmly welcomed by the mining industry, the whole process is clearly driven by TNC manipulation of the Government. The Petroleum Exploration and Production Association of NZ (PEPANZ) was quick to congratulate the Government for its decision. Mining industry pressure to open up the lands, waters, and seas of Aotearoa/NZ for mineral plunder has been blazingly evident in recent years.
Running Down Regulatory Controls
Dismantling environmental controls will be a coming industry priority as has so often been signalled to date. The Resource Management Act (RMA) is a legislative regime constantly under attack from mining, farming, and other industry sectors, and is being watered down instead of improved. At the same time, the mining industry has become more image conscious and so indulges these days in plenty of greenwashing. Tellingly enough, the Pike River mine in the Paparoa Range, before the tragedy of its terrible explosion, was once the poster boy for the National government of how safe and environmentally friendly modern mining can be. Mining safety has been run down significantly in recent years as part of the free market programme. The official Pike River Inquiry has clearly demonstrated the extent of this dereliction.
As more predatory TNCs take over the primary resources of Aotearoa/NZ, hand in hand with comprador capital fractions, any proper environmental safeguards will also be bulldozed aside. In April 2011, it was reported that more than a dozen groups, including Australian, American and Indian companies, were interested in buying the Pike River coalfield and its hard coking coal Press, 2/4/11). “Solid Energy appears to be in the box seat to buy Pike River Coal, in a deal understood to involve a Chinese State-owned coal mining company” Press, 21 & 31/10/11).
The Paparoas And The Last Planetary Wildernesses
On a personal note, the Paparoas - my favourite tramping area - are increasingly menaced by further mining intrusions. The actual National Park there is only a small part of the total Range as can be appreciated if you stand on one of the Range’s highest peaks and survey up and down the coast. At the same time, standing for instance on the top of Mt. Faraday as I have done, it is very easy to get a sense of how even such a rugged Range as a whole can be so potentially vulnerable. Long and narrow, the Paparoas are very accessible to industrial incursions throughout their length.
During the visit to Mt Faraday, Mike Parkin, my long-time tramping mate and veteran solo tramper, found some prime specimens of the recently discovered rare mole weta. We certainly treated these remarkable creatures with great care and respect. Mt Faraday, however, is not even in the National Park! And, of course, any protection offered by the Park itself is now questionable. Here is yet another example of our country’s wonderful biodiversity possibly coming under siege from fossil fuel and other mineral exploitation, just like the rare Powelliphanta snails so threatened by Solid Energy’s operations further up the coast.
On land “70% of Aotearoa/NZ’s most valuable minerals are locked up in the conservation estate, and there’s little doubt that [Energy & Resources Minister] Brownlee is keen to get his hands on them” Press, 7/9/09). Global capitalism acknowledges no limits on its activities. Everything is up for grabs or eventual ruin. Any pretence at sustainability is just a myth and corporate-engendered spin. Green capitalism is a contradiction in terms, however well intentioned might be some of its adherents with talk about “natural capitalism”, or whatever. The last wilderness areas on the planet with all their vital ecological functions are now under mounting assault.
An example in the very heartland of capitalism itself is the warming up of the wonderful Yellowstone National Park, with scientific studies showing how climate change is “imperilling the wildlife and landscapes” in this region of the Americas (Greymouth Star, 11/10/11). I remember, way back when still very young, asking myself about what was really happening on Earth with so much of the planet’s marvellous wildlife in more and more danger. The bad trends have only got much worse – can we wake up in time? DOC has highlighted the many endangered species in Aotearoa/NZ as the extinction process accelerates across the planet (e.g., Good Living [Press], 27/10/11). More generally, the really unsettling uncertainties about anthropogenic climate change relate to questions about how and when crucial tipping points might kick in (New Scientist: “Climate Change – What We Know . . . and What We Don’t“, 22/10/11; see also in this issue a mathematical study confirming the dangerous concentration of global capitalism).
There can yet be some humorous aspects to such a dark subject, i.e. some very black humour. Palaeontologist James Crampton of GNS Science was interviewed in Sunday magazine (10/7/11). Crampton is leading “a team researching climate change” (ibid.). As he explains: “We’re looking at how it changed in the long-ago past, trying to understand how it works, and how it might change in the future. One hopes that our research will end up contributing to a bigger picture, that it will clarify how humanity should react to climate change” (ibid.)
So far, so good. But then, James Crampton goes on to say: “Right now, I’m also doing this big consultancy for the hydrocarbon industry” (ibid.). He does not “find that [ethically] tricky” because what matters is how “any sort of mining or extractive industry” is carried out, and “the way we use and then reuse, or recycle or conserve, or manage those resources, that’s the important issue” (ibid.). He goes on to describe how this job can change one’s perspective, “in both a good and a bad way” (ibid.). One could get quite fatalistic about the extinction of life. But, Crampton adds that: “we know from the geological record that given ten million years or so, life recovers. So one can look at the big picture and think, ‘Well, the planet will recover from what humans are doing to it right now’” (ibid.).
This would be hilarious, if it were not so sad and scary. The obvious question that James Crampton should ask himself is whether humans will recover, let alone other existing species! Some technocratic scientists are clearly very disconnected from what so many “big picture” oriented scientists are saying about the human predicament. One can well imagine aliens landing on Earth at some date in the future, and their palaeontologists studying the fossil evidence as to how exactly humans managed to extinguish themselves.
Green Wave Versus Big Oil
As indicated above, in the latest major wave signalled of mining development, more invasive TNC intrusions threaten our vulnerable and already very pressurised coastline and regional waters. For sure, these intrusions could soon shape up on a quite unprecedented scale, with a tsunami of ecological damage in the offing. Thankfully, Greenpeace and Maori iwi are taking a staunch stand against mining the deep seabed, rallying support, and spearheading a programme of protection. But PEPANZ is boastfully confident of its power to over-ride any protests against its activities, and most enthusiastic about deep seabed drilling Press, 7/9/11). Obviously, PEPANZ feels that it has the Government in tow, and that vested money interests will prevail.
In May 2011 a newspaper report put the positive spin on another southern fossil fuel venture in these terms: “Dunedin is a stride closer to a black gold rush as US petroleum giant Anadarko” is soon going “to start test drilling off the Otago Coast” Press, 25/5/11). Indeed, “University of Otago marketing lecturer and oil industry expert James Henry said Dunedin should grasp the opportunity to become an oil service centre” (ibid.). TNC Anadarko was involved as a partner in BP’s notorious oil pollution of the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 from the Deepwater Horizon platform, the worst marine pollution accident in petroleum history. This accident “caused a spill of almost five million barrels of oil last year”, with extensive and still unfolding environmental damage Press, 9/6/11; National Geographic: “Special Report: The Spill”, Oct, 2010, op. cit; Pacific Ecologist: “Why the World Needs an Economics Revolution”, no. 19, Winter/Spring 2010, pp19/20).
Digging An Ever Deeper Hole For Ourselves
Yet “Dunedin City Council economic development adviser Des Adamson said Anadarko’s activity in the region augured well for a future oil industry” Press, 25/5/11). Texan oil giant Anadarko itself contends that it was only a “passive” partner in the Deepwater Horizon well disaster and that it “has a clean track record on its own deep-sea wells” (ibid.). Such contentions need to be put in proper perspective. “Two centuries of efforts to tame the Mississippi River with levees, pumps, and channels have left its vast wetlands ecosystem dwindling and on the verge of collapse” (National Geographic, October 2010, op. cit, p57). The whole Mexican Gulf ecosystem is now under siege, especially thanks to the BP-Anadarko joint enterprise there (ibid, see “The Gulf of Oil”, etc; Pacific Ecologist: “Why the World Needs an Economics Revolution”, op. cit, pp19/20).
Most ominously, the Mexican Gulf “dead zone” - a region drastically deprived of oxygen and so of marine life - points to an intensifying oceanic problem across our planet (ibid; “Sea Sick”, op. cit, pp45-9). The Mexican Gulf dead zone is principally caused by nitrogenous and phosphate fertiliser use by American farmers. As well, “nitrogen compounds from burning fossil fuels, particularly from power plants and cars”, are contributing to the problem Press, 16/8/08). The Deepwater Horizon spill sent out plumes of dissolved gas and oil “more than 30 miles from the (Macondo) well, most below 3,000 feet. Naturally occurring microbes digest gas, but in the process deplete oxygen, potentially creating ‘dead zones’” (National Geographic, October 2010, op. cit.). Scientists have been warning that these dead zones “are spreading worldwide at an alarming pace” Press, 16/8/08). Climate change is aggravating this dead zone phenomenon. Besides the Mexican Gulf dead zone, there are very large zones in the Baltic Sea and “at the mouth of China’s Yangtze River in the East China Sea” (ibid.). The spread of such zones is damaging marine food chains, especially at the seafloor base, and so the wider web of life.
Ebbing Flow Of Life
In the broader view then, Anadarko’s claim of “clean hands” to date in drilling for deep sea oil means absolutely nothing. Only a relatively few massive spills in sensitive areas around the planet can have a very deleterious, accumulating impact in the long run. Already, pollution is proving enormously harmful to sea life. And if seabed mining goes ahead on the scale that is shaping up worldwide, further harmful spills are inevitable some time or another. Another very disturbing case of oil pollution this year has been “a huge spill off China’s coast”, with the leak stemming from “the oil field operated by China’s State-run CNOOC and US firm ConocoPhilips” Press, 21/7/11). This particular spill “has polluted a sea area about six times the size of Singapore”, and was for a while even the subject of a secret cover-up, standard practice in such PPPs (ibid.). Around Aotearoa/NZ, the difficulties and risks are high. Even Exxon Mobil, a corporation with a shocking record on the environment, has given up on the Great South Basin, “saying the area had high technical risks” Press, 15/2/11). It should be noted in this connection that, whatever its environmental record, this particular TNC has a reputation for high technical expertise (see “The Squeeze: Oil, Money & Greed in the 21st Century”, Tom Bower, Harper Press, 2009).
Aotearoa/NZ, of course, received another big wake-up call regarding oil pollution when the container cargo ship Rena ran aground on Astrolabe Reef off Tauranga’s coast in early October 2011, emitting a very bad leak and causing widespread, harmful contamination of the regional environment, and subsequent public outcry on drilling for oil as well (e.g., “This Should be a Wake-up Call”, Sunday Star-Times, 16/10/11). Indeed, this incident turned into Aotearoa/NZ’s worst environmental disaster, let alone maritime environmental disaster. The Government and its authorities came in for plenty of criticism for what was widely viewed as a tardy, bumbling response to the Rena crisis. Earlier in 2011, the Environmental Defence Society had condemned the inadequacy of existing legislation to regulate offshore oil operations (Press, 15/2/11).The Rena accident and the awful pollution of Bay of Plenty beaches, estuaries, wetlands, and wildlife have certainly demonstrated in real life the wanton inadequacy of the official capacity to cope with such an accident, whether from a ship or a drilling rig. In truth, the Government and PEPANZ are planning further big oil spills for us. Furthermore, as the Deepwater Horizon disaster so clearly demonstrated, some of the methods to try and disperse the pollution are just as harmful for the marine food web and ecology in general. Yet, in the case of the Rena calamity, NZ Environment Minister Nick Smith “defended the solvent Corexit being used as a dispersant for breaking up oil slicks, saying it was no more toxic than dishwashing liquid, and had been approved by the [US] Environmental Protection Agency” Press, 12/10/11). In fact, expert opinion has expressed deep concern about the extensive use of this particular dispersant by BP in the case of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and its possibly very damaging impact on marine life in the longer term (National Geographic, October 2010, op. cit, p52).
Liberalising Legal Controls On The Corporates
Rena is a Liberian registered cargo ship. “The modern practice of flagging ships in foreign countries began in the 1920s in the US when shipowners, frustrated by increased regulations and rising labour costs, began to register their ships to Panama” (www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_convenience). As of 2009, more than half of the world’s merchant ships were registered under flags of convenience, with 13 countries involved. Flag of convenience registration is hugely indicative of globalisation, and how social and environmental costs are offloaded by private enterprise onto the public arena, being treated simply as “externalities”. The “flag” practice has become notorious for its flagrant abuses.
The mobile Deepwater Horizon rig used by BP in the Mexican Gulf was actually Marshallese-flagged (ibid.). Flag states are strongly criticised for maintaining sub-standard regulations, with ship owners often being able to avoid, or at least minimise, proper prosecution in civil and criminal cases. Flag ships “frequently offer sub-standard working conditions and negatively impact the environment” (ibid.). While such “flag of convenience ships have been involved in some of the highest profile oil spills in history”, their primary environmental dereliction to date has been through “illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing” (ibid.). This has also been a continuing big problem in NZ waters and fishing operations, with the Maritime Union of NZ and others, including CAFCA, calling for far better controls.
Yet global liberalisation and NZ’s eager participation go on. The Government is deeply implicated in the dirty business of flags of convenience and poor standards. To quote Ann Currie (a former long serving CAFCA Committee member) in a Letter to the Editor: “It is astounding . . . in the 1990s [that National Party] Cabinet Minister Maurice Williamson determinedly adopted this system as the norm for our coastal shipping despite warnings from maritime unions. The chickens have come home to roost. We can expect more such disasters. We must return to a NZ-controlled shipping system with clear accountability and strong legal enforcement” Press, 15/10/11). Flag of convenience ships can quite literally dump “externalities” and their social and environmental costs on other peoples around the world.
But the Seafood Industry Council is calling for more cheap Asian labour on Foreign Charter Vessels (FCVs), a parallel and overlapping syndrome with flags of convenience shipping Press, 20/10/11). FCVs have sent our local fishing fleet into decline (Sunday Star-Times, 23/10/11). In addition “17, 600 tonnes of light fuel oil aboard 26 ageing foreign-flagged fishing vessels” are potentially at risk of spillage (ibid.). In fact, there is even the potential for leaks from wrecks dating back to World War II (ibid.). See the articles “The Grounding Of The Rena – And The Deregulated Global Shipping Industry”, by Joe Fleetwood, General Secretary, Maritime Union of New Zealand; and “Net Closes On Fishing Industry Shame”, by Victor Billot, Editor of The Maritimes, the magazine of the Maritime Union, elsewhere in this issue. Ed
Contempt For Our Maritime Environment
One of the most insidious aspects of the corporate-driven free market and its maritime applications relates to how the international convention on insurance for such accidents enforces a cap of only a paltry $14 million. Joanna Mossop, a Victoria University expert on the Law of the Sea, was interviewed on these matters, especially about who pays for pollution from the Rena calamity (The Court Report, TVNZ7, 13/10/11). The owner of the ship is liable but prosecution would need to prove a high level of culpability for the insurance cap to be lifted. The NZ government may initiate legal action but it is obvious that the process could be very torturous, lengthy and difficult. The 1989 Exxon Valdez oil disaster is a notorious precedent for this.
While Mossop considers that NZ already had a lot of preparation in place to deal with an oil spill like the Rena incident, she acknowledges that with the increased level of oil exploration envisaged, a large oil spill way out in very deep waters would be beyond NZ’s capability to deal with on its own. To be sure, “our national oil recovery equipment budget, one that must also cover huge waters”, only amounts to a ludicrously paltry few million dollars Press, 20/10/11). Lamentably, successive governments in Aotearoa/NZ have “placed little priority on the maritime environment”, as Auckland University maritime law expert, Associate Professor Paul Myburgh, has said (Press, 22/10/11).
Most damningly, this Oil Pollution Fund was reduced from a paltry $12m to a mere $4m “after a decision was made by the then Transport Minister to draw the account down” (ibid.). PEPANZ’s Executive Director, John Pfahlert, “said the revenue collected by the fund had been cut about ten years ago because of the few oil spills in NZ” (ibid.). This decision clearly demonstrates the disturbingly close collaboration between PEPANZ and Government. Again, and most graphically, it exemplifies the outstanding joint stupidity of governments in league with predatory globalist big business. Professor Myburgh has well remarked that it had been “a foolish and shortsighted decision” to reduce the levy (ibid.). In sum then, the whole saga amounts to another glaring and outrageous example of how the NZ public and our vulnerable environment subsidize TNC depredations.
Rooting For Big Oil
True to its form as a Big Oil advocate and TNC exponent, the Press editorials have however spouted typical PR crap in denying any comparison between the Rena fiasco, and “a properly run deep sea drilling operation, far offshore and subject to rigorous environmental safeguards” Press, 10 & 22/10/11). Besides loyally echoing PM John Key, the Press - comically and cynically enough - was criticising the Green Party for supposed “political opportunism” in making such a comparison. In light of accumulating deep sea drilling disasters, the Press takes stupidity to new depths. But then the oily Press is greasing up to its fellow foreign corporate interests and trying to feed its readers more gunk. In Australia, home to the Fairfax Media, owner of the Press, a combination of TNC mining and media power has worked very hard to try and subvert the democratic process, and so counter good legislation to control carbon emissions.
Like the Press too, PEPANZ’s John Pfahlert denies any connection between the risks of coastal shipping and deep sea drilling Press, 20/10/11). In fact, what unites these two types of oil pollution risk is the plundering global market and its predatory TNCs, subverting democracy everywhere. Besides playing down the risks of deep sea drilling, PEPANZ’s mantra - effectively echoed by the Government - is that changing to a more sustainable energy future is just too hard (ibid.). If so, and since Pfahlert at least indirectly acknowledges the validity of peak oil, his operative assumptions clearly imply that our civilisation must be in its terminal phase (ibid.).
A Press editorial similarly rejects changing to a more sustainable lifestyle because the effort is just too challenging (22/10/11). So its focus is entirely and blindly short-term, and immediately self-interested to safeguard “our lifestyles”, no matter how ultimately self-destructive (ibid.). All this in turn makes a mockery of the “Fairfax Media and PwC Sustainable60” awards (e.g. Press, 25/10/11). But then the contradictions that riddle the mainstream media today – from greenwashing to oil addiction and resource war propaganda – reflect the contradictions of global capitalism. Sheer basic commonsense ought to persuade us to change now, not when such change becomes even far more difficult to accomplish – “some way in the future” as the Press puts it (22/10/11). As ever, suicidal stupidity reigns in the corporate rush to compounding global collapse.
Continuing with its eminently self-serving PR for the Government and Big Business, the Press claims that “a bill extending NZ’s environmental protection laws beyond the 12 mile territorial sea to cover all the waters of our EEZ and the extended continental shelf” will suffice (ibid.). The Press quotes Environment Minister Nick Smith to the effect that the Government is putting “in place the best possible system of environmental protection” (ibid.). More corporate crap of course! Susanne Vincent, a correspondent to the Sunday Star-Times, aptly rubbishes this claim by the Government and the Press (30/10/11). After pointing to the failures of the Mexican Gulf and other “marine oil spills”, Vincent points up the glaring deficiencies of the bill with its “inadequate focus on risks and the response to accidents”; and the fact that “the maximum penalties for damages are set at a paltry $600,000 with no prison term” (ibid.). She appeals for us to wake up to the reality that: “Our marine territories are in great danger” (ibid.).
BP’s Deepwater Horizon huge oil leak sounds all sorts of warning-bells about the realities of TNC fossil fuel operations. John Browne, the Chief Executive Officer of BP until 2007, was emblematic (as was his successor, Tony Hayward) of global corporate power in action. A close mate of British PM Tony Blair, he worked with Peter Sutherland, who was BP’s Chairman of the Board, Chairman of Goldman Sachs International, and the former head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) (see chapter 10, “The Squeeze”, op. cit.). But Browne’s special forte was cost-cutting and getting quick profitable returns. So he ramped up the safety and environmental risks taken by BP. His motto was “more from less” and the Gulf of Mexico and its inhabitants, among others, are still paying the cost. BP’s strategy was carried out too under a cover of exuberant greenwashing, scorned by ExxonMobil and other companies (see “The Squeeze”, ibid, for plenty of relevant analysis and detail throughout).
“The Deepwater Horizon incident is a direct consequence of our global addiction to oil”, University of Georgia biogeochemist Mandy Joye has declared (National Geographic, October 2011, op. cit, 53). She “has spent years studying hydrocarbon vents and brine seeps in the deep Gulf [of Mexico]” (ibid.). Joye well warns that: “Incidents like this are inevitable as we drill in deeper and deeper waters. We’re playing a very dangerous game here. If this isn’t a call to green power, I don’t know what is” (ibid.). Tell that to Press editorial staff, PEPANZ, GNS, NZ Petroleum & Minerals, and all the other self-serving and/or short-sighted corporate, governmental and political interests on the NZ scene!
Boom And Bust
The Dunedin City Council and co. would do well then to reflect on their Scottish connection, the city of Aberdeen, Shell’s Gannet Alpha platform, the Rena accident, the BP-Anadarko blow-out in the Mexican Gulf, the ConocoPhilips/CNOOC leak, the Timor Sea disaster, etc.; and the rising risk of such oil spills. But, at present, it’s all boom and bust for Dunedin; and the same for humanity’s place on the planet, and all cheered on by PEPANZ, some academics, the Government, and most of the media! Indeed, the Government has been so accommodating for Anadarko that: “Seismic testing for oil and gas in the Canterbury Basin was approved by the Ministry of Economic Development (MED) just over four hours after the February 22 earthquake” Press, 1/10/11). Anadarko went ahead with the seismic survey on February 23rd. “Anadarko is a 50-50 partner in the exploration venture with Origin Energy” (ibid.).
As in various regions around the coasts of Aotearoa/NZ, the Canterbury Basin is being touted as a potential gas “bonanza” Press, 8/10/11). Other companies exploring the Basin include AWE NZ Pty Ltd, and Rawson Taranaki Ltd. (ibid.). More generally, among the TNCs lurking around Aotearoa/NZ with likely intent are Chevron (owner of Caltex); Conoco-Philips; ENI from Italy; “Murphy Oil Corporation; China’s National Offshore Oil Corp; Korea Gas (KoGas); and the Norwegian State oil company Statol” (ibid.). Currently, as noted, NZ’s legislative system for deep seabed mining is in flux, “with virtually no Government oversight of offshore exploration activity” until probably the end of 2012 Press, 8/10/11). Whatever the exact regime that will eventuate, effective policing of it will inevitably be tantamount to a pretentious farce as has been demonstrated time and again over our planet. We certainly need to get passionate and determined about this issue in battling the corporate pirates and their comprador associates.
In Canterbury in recent years the waters of the Hurunui River have been the centre of a struggle for competing interests. For us, thankfully, the parameters of this particular struggle are non-violent verbal debate and political action. Industrial dairying and the Chinese economic boom have been the impetus for the intensifying exploitation of Canterbury’s waters, including the Hurunui. In Canterbury and the rest of Aotearoa/NZ, water is now a primary renewable resource in peril, a critical natural resource under siege.
So much of the reason behind the Government’s takeover of water management in Canterbury has stemmed from uncertainty about the utilisation of the Hurunui River. The struggle goes on to save the Hurunui and its wonderful bounty for posterity. In August 2011 it was reported that: “DairyNZ and an Environment Canterbury (ECan) Commissioner have apologised over suggested changes to a contentious water management report that environmental groups feared was being ‘hijacked’” Press, 1/8/11). This dispute directly applied to the conduct of the “governance group for the influential land use and water quality project in the Hurunui district” (ibid.). The governance group concerned here is the Hurunui-Waiau Zone Committee. Drawing on a range of interested bodies, it is supposed to be formulating “a draft preferred approach for managing the cumulative effects of land use on Canterbury’s declining [my emphasis] water quality” (ibid.).
Forest & Bird’s Kevin Hackwell was highly critical of how ECan’s Deputy Chairman, Commissioner David “Caygill encouraged DairyNZ to put up suggested changes” (ibid.). Both DairyNZ and Caygill had considered that they did not need to refer these particular changes to the rest of the governance group. Hackwell specifically accused DairyNZ and Caygill of trying to bypass it, alleging that “the process was hijacked” (ibid.). This hijacking process had been initiated considerably earlier down the track. As journalist John McCrone commented: “But then DairyNZ . . . pulled a fast one. It went behind the Committee’s back to talk privately with ECan’s Deputy Chairman, Commissioner David Caygill . . . and in mid-June, it came back with more than 60 proposed amendments” Press, 10/9/11).
Liberalising Licence For Pollution
At stake here was the amount of pollution - the allowable levels of nutrient run-off - that would be permitted. The changes that DairyNZ and Caygill had tried to get in their altered wording of the draft document would have weakened environmental controls, and even “changed its intent” Press, 1/8/11). Caygill’s role on the governance group has always been highly suspect and his actions come as no surprise to those who have followed his corporate-oriented career (e.g. see “The Cost of Free Trade: Aotearoa/NZ at Risk”, by Dennis Small, CAFCA, 1996, pp28/9 for Caygill’s role in relation to Kelloggs’ lobbying for changes to NZ food standards; "Snap, Crackle & Power: How a Multinational Food Manufacturer Used its Clout to Get NZ's Food Regulations Changed to Suit its Own Commercial Wishes - David Caygill: 'anxious to be as helpful as possible' " by Murray McLaughlin, NZ Listener, Oct 24, 1987, pp16-18).
Indeed, from the original setting up of the governance group, both the group and its purview have been deliberately biased in various ways. Among the relevant factors, it has been highly significant that: “DairyNZ employee David Johns, who is on the governance group, was handed a contract to write a ten-year Government water strategy in 2009” Press, 1/8/11). FRST handed out “the uncontested contract” despite what the then Green Party Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons labelled “such an obvious conflict of interest” Press, 6/7/09). “DairyNZ, which has several members on the [governance] group”, has in fact been closely lobbying Caygill for quite some time - at least since April 2011 according to media reportage Press, 1/8/11).
Wrangling And Wangling
The wrangling and wangling have carried on over the future of the Hurunui’s waterways. Most dramatically, the draft regional plan ECan released for community feedback “allows for a 20% increase in the river’s nitrate levels” Press, 29/9/11). This specific change smuggled in by ECan Commissioners and planners angered “some Committee members” with Fish & Game and Forest & Bird roundly condemning the move as “outside the Committee’s process” (ibid.). Forest & Bird Canterbury/West Coast Field Officer Jen Miller said: “The process is being subverted by a few people, and who are the Commissioners representing in this instance? All the people with an interest in the Hurunui, or those who have immediate development plans?” (ibid.).
ECan Commissioner David Bedford, a member of the Hurunui-Waiau Committee, made it plain that the strongly contested change in the draft regional plan is to accommodate more investment in irrigation (ibid.). “A Hurunui irrigation scheme has applied for resource consent” on the Waitohi River” Press, 21/10/11). But the original “proposed storage scheme on Lake Sumner” [at the outlet feeding the North Branch] and the south branch of the Hurunui River” still lurks ominously in the background, “as a fallback” option (ibid.).
More Rogernomics-Type Manipulations?
So in the course of this long-running dispute, the word games of Caygill & co. have gone on, getting a crucial change included in the water plan. Fish & Game and Forest & Bird have again deplored this obviously suspect move, charging that Caygill & co. have violated the consensual understanding previously reached Press, 6/10/11). In contemptible fashion, Caygill claimed power for the Commissioners at variance with the collaborative, democratic process meant to be followed, standing by the Council’s increased pollution level (ibid.). The earlier contentious discussions had already clearly demonstrated environmentalist concerns, and so the need for extra care and proper consultation on this vital issue. Corporate hijacking seemed to have prevailed again.
As an old hand at political manipulation and Rogernomics-style “democracy”, Caygill’s role on the governance body should be opened up to the widest public scrutiny. So should that of the other Commissioners. The future of Canterbury’s water is at the centre of the manipulative power-gaming by ECan’s Government-appointed agents. Given that Caygill himself is a true believer in Don Brash free market politico-economics, he exemplifies typical ruling class blindness in exacting overkill of the ecosphere, joining the rest of the Government, Press, a multitude of corporate interests, etc. (for Caygill’s views see “The Hollow Men: A Study in the Politics of Deception”, by Nicky Hager, 2006, pp55/6, reviewed by Jeremy Agar in Watchdog 114, May 2007, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/14/03.htm; and “A Short History of Progress”, Ronald Wright, Text Pub. 2004; has lots of historical examples of overkill). For Caygill’s part, he contends that he and “his colleagues have acted with complete integrity” on the pollution limit issue, and that “time pressure” has been the determining factor Press, 6 & 27/10/11).
A Letter to the Editor by the Chairman of the Water Rights Trust, Roger Young, indicated how “the collaborative process to find a better water management system for Canterbury is on the precipice” Press, 8/10/11). Young went on to make the point that: “Back room machinations on the Hurunui-Waiau Zone Implementation Plan (ZIP)” demonstrate the failure of the “Government-appointed ECan Commissioners” to carry out the collaborative process, and that “farming intensification can only occur in Canterbury if we accept further degradation of our freshwater resource” (ibid.). He referred to the Auditor-General’s recent report warning about deteriorating freshwater quality and the inadequacy of regional councils to deal with this problem. Peter Robinson, a North Canterbury Fish & Game councillor, was similarly critical of ECan and its “extra condition that will allow a 20% increase in dairy pollution entering the Hurunui River” (ibid.). At the time of writing finalisation of the permissible pollution level still remains in question with the highly controversial issue “back with the Zone Committee for further consideration” Press, 27/10/11). Environmentalist protest has so far succeeded in keeping the discussion alive on this most critical matter.
The Battle For The Future Of Otautahi/Christchurch
Canterbury’s water wars are deeply implicated in the struggle for the reconstruction of Christchurch following its horrible earthquakes in 2010/11. The future of my former hometown has become a forum for the contest of two competing visions of the future – (a) a green, sustainable, people-oriented one as democratically chosen by the residents, and formulated in the current draft city plan after participatory feedback from the public; or, (b) a TNC globalist Big Business formulated one, driven by narrowly self-interested commercial and foreign control goals.
When we look “at the rocky relations between the Christchurch City Council and the business community over the city’s rebuild”, we can see how the future is dividing us and ratcheting up conflict within the capitalist politico-economy (Press, 15/10/11). Big Business strongly opposes the people’s vision of “green spaces, cycleways and low-rise buildings” for the central city (ibid.). Indeed, there are now several Big Business lobby groups strenuously challenging the people’s choice in Otautahi/Christchurch and the vision of a green future. One is the Future Canterbury Network, led by businessman and former National Party Cabinet Minister Philip Burdon (ibid.). Burdon has long been a keen agent of corporate bonding with Asian capitalism. His outfit intends to closely critique the performance of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA). Burdon’s group includes key figures from Foodstuffs NZ and Ernst & Young. At the moment, the Earthquake Recovery Minister, Gerry Brownlee, is seemingly at odds with this group. But watch this space . . .
Another antagonistic, critical Big Business grouping, the Canterbury Business Leaders Group (CBLG), is chaired by Solid Energy chief Don Elder (ibid.). Its members include the University of Canterbury, “large accountancy firms such as Deloitte, legal firms, Solid Energy”, Fulton Hogan, “the Chamber of Commerce, and Press” (ibid.). Don Elder is well known for his highly technocratic and commercialised view of the future. He is indeed brazenly undemocratic, arguing that businesses “should have greater say than the general public in the rebuild strategy” (ibid.). The relatively tiny minority who control and dictate the market economy want to prevail everywhere if they can.
Hilariously, the CBLG claims to have “a longer term view” than the people of Otautahi/ChCh. “The group sees the production of food and related products for export to Asia as a big part of the growth story. The controversial Central Plains Water Management Scheme and the Hurunui River irrigation scheme have strong support from CBLG members” (ibid.). Yet in the meantime, ironically enough, the Christchurch City Council has had to impose summer outdoor water restrictions, for the first time in 13 years, because quake damage has caused water shortages. Furthermore, there is a very ominous prospect of Christchurch’s waterways being contaminated for many years ahead unless remedial action is taken. “Christchurch’s rivers and streams are dying, choked with tens of thousands of tonnes of earthquake silt that is killing wildlife”, according to Canterbury University freshwater biologist Jon Harding Press, 25/10/11).
The Smiling Mask Of Capitalism
Symptomatic of the style and tone of the Big Business approach is that expressed by yet another business group leader, Mike Dormer, Director of large fish processor, Independent Fisheries. Dormer’s group is calling on the Government “to appoint commissioners to the [Christchurch City] Council” to improve its’ performance Press, 15/10/11). Note that a major manipulative technique by Government now is to appoint so-called Commissioners, exemplified by the likes of Caygill & co, who have apparently been prepared to cavalierly subvert the democratic, consensus process. Dormer, indeed, was very open and frank about this. “‘What we need is a Churchill combined with a Lee Kuan Yew. You need definitive leadership, autocratic leadership in the town to get things moving’, Dormer says” (ibid.). More and more, as time goes on, the mask of democracy is slipping from the face of capitalism, whether locally or overseas.
Elder & co. have a “vision of growth” that they want to promote, and they fear that the people are getting in the way (ibid.). “The question is how can the region expand agriculture and protect the environment”, Elder says (ibid.). This is where the role of ECan’s Commissioners obviously fit into the overall cunning plan of the Government and Big Business. Revealingly, Elder’s conception of the environmental loop is that: “The wealth from agriculture can be used to mitigate environmental impacts” (ibid.). Time and again, Elder has demonstrated his abysmal lack of environmental understanding. In the free trade, cargo cult, fantasy world that Elder and so many other corporate and political leaders live in, informed by Goldman Sachs’ projections and suchlike, China’s growth will supposedly drive our economy “for the next 50 years” (ibid.). Poor Don is so out of touch with reality that he doesn’t realise that globalisation is imploding. Get real, Don, wake up and smell the flowers!
Flowing Fount Of Life
There are a number of us in Canterbury and the rest of Aotearoa/NZ who have a special reverence for the Hurunui River and its waters. “An abyss of fresh water” lying beneath the earth was once prophetically seen as the “source of wisdom” (“A Dictionary of Symbols”, Tom Chetwynd, Paladin, 1982/87, p3). Profoundly enough: “It was associated with the God of Wisdom (e.g. Ea in Mesopotamia)” (ibid.). The mythology and symbolism of water with its deep environmental meaning and message is yet something quite foreign and alien to so much of urban, industrial living, and purblind, office-bound politicians like David Caygill, Don Elder, & co. Historically, its principles have been violated again and again.
The world’s first urban civilisation of Sumer in southern Mesopotamia (i.e. southern Iraq) eventually wore out its waterways. A lot of its land turned into the desert areas, which still dominate today where several millennia ago there used to be “a rich, marshy delta” (“A Short History of Progress”, op. cit, p67). Most tellingly, “the Sumerians failed to reform their society to reduce its environmental impact. On the contrary, they instead tried to intensify production”, with dire results (ibid, p78). “Today, fully half of Iraq’s irrigated land is saline – the highest proportion in the world, followed by the other two centres of floodplain civilisation, Egypt and Pakistan” (ibid, p76). Significantly too, Sumerian city-states - like those of the later Mayan civilisation - fought among themselves, and so also drew opportunistic outside raiders. In the 21st Century, of course, Iraq has suffered another barbarian influx in the form of the grossly self-serving American invasion from 2003 on.
Avoiding The Pits Of Progress
How to wring more out of our water resources is a major preoccupation for the Government. But a new report commissioned by Fish & Game from Nelson’s Cawthron Institute has well warned that: “Already polluted lakes and rivers will only get worse under a flawed freshwater policy” (Press, 1/8/11). Amazingly, under the present derelict policy direction of the National government: “Regional councils have been given [far] too long – up to 30 years – to set pollution limits”! (ibid.). The Government’s water policy is just a ridiculous farce, stupidly and outrageously ruining our country’s vital water resources. Federated Farmers, Fonterra, and other vested interests are conspicuously failing to control the deleterious impact of “dirty dairying”.
With specific reference to the Hurunui River, Sam Mahon has pictured the scene and issues involved powerfully and evocatively in his book “The Water Thieves”( Longacre Press, 2006). As one conservationist campaigner, Neville Ellis, has asserted: “Today, we have the spectre of signs on almost every lowland river, warning the public that our water is unfit for both consumption and contact” (ibid, p229). While the more destructive, large-scale scheming to take water from the Hurunui is in abeyance at present, this river’s waters are still menaced in a number of ways. On and off, over many years, I have been a visitor to the Hurunui’s fabled high country North Branch flowing into Lake Sumner, with its hallowed brown trout reaches. However, the last time I visited this stretch of river it was badly contaminated with the didymo pest “weed” (strictly speaking, a form of diatom alga), a very sad sight indeed. Parallel to this freshwater invasion has been that of the marine pest weed, undaria, among others off our coasts (Press, 29/10/11). Undaria was probably “an undetected stowaway in ballast tank water on an Asian cargo vessel sometime in 1987”, and is even a threat now to Fiordland’s pristine marine ecosystem (ibid.).
Pests, Diseases And Monocultures
Hopefully, in the future sometime, we shall have got rid as much as possible of such invasive and harmful pest weeds from our country’s waterways. But capitalist globalisation and free trade mean the inevitable spread of such invasive pests and diseases, symptomatic of the general degradation and simplification of ecosystems on the “Human Planet”. From the honeybee varroa mite to the kiwifruit Psa disease, diseases and pests are continuing to breach our biosecurity; and, as well, the costs of these accumulating intrusions continue to grow greatly in all sorts of ways.
Worrying new invaders are “bacteria previously unseen in NZ, [which] have killed kanakana eels in Southland and could spread to trout and salmon” (Sunday Star-Times, 9/10/11). These “aeromonas salmonicida bacteria cause ulcers on fish skin and internal bleeding” (ibid). Common in fish worldwide, these bacteria have apparently now arrived here. This newly invasive disease on the NZ scene “could potentially spread to other waterways around the country” (Sunday Star-Times, 23/10/11). The phenomenon mirrors what is happening elsewhere. For instance: “A deadly virus that has severely damaged salmon stocks in Scotland and Norway has been detected for the first time in fish living off the west coast of North America, raising fears that the region’s ecosystem faces a cataclysmic threat” (Press, 22/10/11).
Our waterways need to be kept as natural and pristine as possible. Renowned biologist Edward Wilson has indicated for instance how conserving the natural watershed functions of the Catskill Mountains can guarantee clean water for the New York City (“The Future of Life”, Abacus, 2002, pp107/8). Such ecosystem services will be absolutely crucial to human survival. Yet the Catskill waterways are now under threat from fracking for gas. In Aotearoa/NZ, just as free trade erodes away our country’s biosecurity, we go on undermining nature’s essential ecosystem services to try and export more.
As Massey University freshwater ecologist Mike Joy points out, given that there are six times as many cows in the South Island as there were six years ago: “No natural system can support that number of cows” (ibid.). And the number is still increasing with Canterbury the prime region of growth. Moreover, so much of the water usage in Canterbury is inefficient anyway, with the dry north-westerly winds evaporating at times a lot of the output from irrigation systems. Joy despairs about the future, and “has lost faith in the whole process” of water management (Press, 10/9/11). For him (and many of the rest of us!) the Government’s National Policy Statement (NPS) on the matter is just a bad joke (ibid.). Like the giant real estate bubble in China, the dairy monoculture in Aotearoa/NZ is on track for a classic boom and bust cycle.
The Big Picture And Getting Our Primary Focus Right
Globalist forces are driving our Government in its cargo cult focus on the primary production of what are widely seen as the current forms of white and black gold. But in so many ways this is fool’s gold, a function of ultimately unsustainable growth. We need to make a transition to a much more balanced way of life. Our relationship with the natural world is central to the global contest taking shape over the future of development. Just how cooperative and sustainable is this development going to be? At present, overwhelmingly, it is business as usual worldwide - as in Aotearoa/NZ - even if that business is already in decline in certain regions across the world. There are yet many organisations, groups, and movements working hard to save humankind from itself. In the years to come, they will need a lot more traction. We have to redouble our efforts.