We are all culpable for fossil fuel dependence

23:22, Jan 19 2014

Over the years Maori have had to listen a broken record of repeated accusations about how unjust they are for wanting compensation as a result of Treaty grievances or how there are no full-blooded Maoris left.

There is one particularly ludicrous argument made that suggests if Maori want to benefit from a Treaty settlement they have no right to benefit from all developments associated with Western World modernity. They should be running around in flax skirts, living in raupo huts and eating hangi food while their Pakeha neighbours relax in the armchair watching television and eating takeaway pizza.

This argument fails in so many ways. The greatest flaw to the logic is that western progress and technology all emerged from western developments, whereas the truth is much more complex.

Vast amounts of development over the millennia has been as a result of interaction between the countries of Europe and other advanced nations such as China and those of the Middle East.

There are also contributions from places considered to be far more primitive than the recognised classic civilisations. In fact, tracing the evolution of every significant contribution to global progress is impossible as the multitude of influences required for an ever-evolving outcome are so many and varied that single points of origin rarely exist.

So the argument that Maori have no right to benefit from any progress from outside of Aotearoa or Polynesia is farcical.


That said, I have been harbouring similar thoughts myself in recent times as I watched a flotilla of kayaks on the Otago Harbour backed up by some placard-waving cheerleaders protesting the idea of oil and gas exploration off the Otago coast.

It appears there were two basic arguments against it. One is that the practice of drilling for oil in general is immoral and the other is that the unacceptable environmental risk does not outweigh the benefits derived from such an activity.

In terms of the first argument there may well be a point where, in certain countries, exploitative work conditions may lead to grossly inflated profits, or the power of the corporate dollar can inappropriately influence key politicians and where struggles to control oil fields have led to company funded military action.

There are certainly other industries where such accusations could be made and it is unfair to suggest that these things are set to occur locally.

The second argument is about environmental impact, and this tends to be the one that is easily over-inflated and the perception deliberately manipulated (by both sides).

It is difficult to know what to believe but the more moderate commentators suggest that there is no chance something as disastrous as the Gulf of Mexico spill could occur in the Great Southern Basin.

In fact the chances of actually finding any oil are practically zero. They are looking for natural gas.

There is genuine concern about our readiness to cope with even minor incidents as the safety and recovery infrastructure is basic and inadequate at this stage, so surely this is one very important pressure point for lobbyists.

If this is going to go ahead we need guarantees about the quality of the operation and the capacity to respond effectively to incidents that could significantly affect the environment.

Instead it is the same old uninformed objections from a section of the population that pretends their current lifestyle does not make them as culpable as the man on the drill.

It doesn't take much to realise there is hardly a manufactured product on the planet that does not rely on fossil fuels for some part of its production.

Trace the DNA of most things in your closet and derivatives are either in the shoes or the materials, petrol or kerosene or diesel has been used to transport it from point A to point B.

Electric cars, despite the perception of environmental friendliness, are utterly dependent on fossil fuels for their production and in many western countries they only way they are going to get electricity to charge their batteries is through fuel-fired power stations.

I have not seen any viable alternatives proposed that allow us to step back from the exploitation of oil and gas and still maintain the levels of advanced healthcare, access to nutrition, quality of housing and transport we currently enjoy.

It is simply not an option to turn the clock back and create some steampunk fantasy world.

I notice even the water hippies on TV the other night were floating about on plastic kayaks, but this irony seems utterly lost on them.

They must realise that they are benefiting like the rest of us and their protests are distastefully nimby-like.

I just feel like saying get a grip.

And then I remember that most handle grips or specialist grip tapes are made from petroleum products so that is clearly out of the question as well.

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