After a whirlwind trip around the country to raise awareness about the dangers of oil and gas exploration, a 17 metre blue whale called Janet has made a special appearance at the annual oil industry conference in Wellington.
This morning, Janet and a group of marine animal friends including sharks, polar bears, and fish, paraded around the conference at Wellington’s TSB Arena to the sound of Richard Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, before attempting to get into the arena’s main entrance.
The past three days have seen various protest tactics used at the conference by groups concerned about the impacts oil and gas exploration and extraction have on the climate, environment, and marine life.
On Monday, a 350 Aotearoa organised climate rally brought together a diverse range of voices, from faith leaders and health professionals, to scientists and grandparents. On Tuesday local group Oil Free Wellington organised a blockade of the arena doors, preventing many delegates from getting in.
Today’s activities by Greenpeace provide a theatrical reminder of the impacts oil and gas exploration have on the environment. Over the past few months, Greenpeace has been travelling with Janet the Whale to meet with New Zealand communities affected by oil and gas exploration.
Greenpeace campaigner, Kate Simcock, says today Janet was at the oil conference to directly and peacefully confront the oil and gas industry about their activities.
“Most recently, the world’s largest oil exploration ship, the Amazon Warrior, has been blasting for oil off the Taranaki coast, right in the middle of a blue whale habitat and the whale’s only known feeding ground in New Zealand,” she says.
“Not only are these seismic blasts highly distressing for marine life in the area, but the purpose of them is to search for the oil and gas we can’t afford to burn if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change. Science tells us we can’t burn most of the fossil fuel reserves we know about, let alone search for more.”
In the last fortnight, an open letter signed by dozens of respected New Zealanders, and the personal acceptance by Prime Minister Ardern of a 45,000 strong Greenpeace petition, has signalled that the Government is seriously considering the future of oil and gas.
At day two of the conference yesterday, Minister of Energy and Resources, Megan Woods, spoke about the need to make a just transition to a renewable economy. The people-powered movement against oil and gas exploration has been growing steadily over the past seven years.
Hundreds of thousands of people have marched, protested, petitioned and successfully lobbied their local representatives to oppose oil exploration. This has led to the biggest councils in New Zealand formally opposing the annual oil and gas exploration permit process, called the Block Offer.
And last December, a national gathering of Māori leaders came to an historic agreement to oppose all seismic testing and oil exploration in the waters of New Zealand. Simcock says New Zealand could be a world leader on climate action and transitioning to 100% clean energy.
“Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says climate change is her generation’s nuclear free moment. In 1985, going nuclear free meant stopping the nuclear ships and standing up to the powerful US military. This year, taking action on climate change means standing up to the oil and gas industry by stopping the exploration ships,” she says.