Busting the Top 3 Fossil Fuel Industry Myths

***This opinion piece was originally written for the Gisborne Herald, the newspaper for our region – which is currently debating the potential costs and benefits of allowing fossil fuel exploration off our coastline – at first I was asked for the references that informed my opinions, and upon supplying them, was told that I draw too long a bow. Rather than edit what I genuinely believe to be fair conclusions from the available science, I’ve opted to blog instead.
Self-censorship has never been my strongpoint.***

(image from Climate Justice Taranaki)

Although climate change has been discussed and debated for a number of decades, since 2009 the scientific community have managed to reach consensus around a range of climate change facts.

Like many other issues, it will often take a little bit of time for that consensus to reach a similar level of acknowledgement among the general populace, who are more susceptible to economic and political bias. Nonetheless, when faced with the economic ‘opportunities’ of fossil fuel extraction in our region, we must take full stock of the scientific findings, and actively dispel the myths. So let’s start the list:

MYTH ONE: The fossil fuel industry is well monitored and regulated to avoid environmental risk

The New Zealand Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment found in her 2014 report that our regulatory system is NOT adequate for managing the environmental risks of oil and gas drilling. This is exampled in Taranaki, where consistent, multiple consent breaches by the oil industry has resulted in considerable environmental damage.

Our inability to effectively respond to oil and gas crises was perfectly exampled by the highly criticized response to the Rena oil spill. Since then, we have experienced a further 363 spill related events, largely contributed to by offshore exploratory drilling, resulting in almost four tonnes of oil spilling into New Zealand harbours and oceans.

MYTH TWO: Investment in the fossil fuel industry is safe, and ethically permissible

The unavoidable obvious question being: “Is investing in the fossil fuel industry a reasonable, ethical move?” The scientific community is clear: NO.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), informed by thousands of scientists, are equally unambiguous: Nations must immediately begin the process of reducing carbon emissions to zero.

The current level of investment already poses too much risk, and further investment is suicide. Whatever carbon resources exist under the ground MUST stay there in order for us to keep our planet survivable.

If we consider the risk equation offered by the ESR crown research institute:

Well obviously the level of risk detailed above from our own Parliamentary Commissioner on the Environment, the multiple consent breaches, and the high level of oil spills, means that the likelihood = HIGH
Oil spills have long term devastating consequences for marine environments, killing off bird life, fish life, marine mammals, algae and plantlife, and aquatic microorganisms, In addition to killing many sea dwellers, oil spills can also impact the health of those that survive. Oil can modify invertebrate feeding habitats, disrupt their shell development, and cause slow suffocation. Oil polluted environments have high carcinogenic consequences for all animals that are connected to that environment including humans. So consequence = VERY high.

Of course those are the immediate short term risks, the long term risks (which may be beyond the moral scope or capacity of some) of contributing to climate change are not just likely, but definite – and the consequences are irreversibly disastrous.

It is quite obvious, therefore, that investing in this activity places our region at high risk, and is therefore unethical.

Is it financially risky? Well, would you want to invest your money in the industry that is experiencing historically unequalled divestment, has an increasingly poor financial profile, and that the Governer of the Bank of England himself labels a huge risk? Which brings us to….

MYTH THREE: The fossil fuel industry will provide beneficial economic outcomes for our region.

Science has again spoken on the matter and it is clear: We cannot continue to invest in the fossil fuel economy, whilst entertaining the idea of a future. It is one, or the other, and the two are very much mutually exclusive.

The further risks involved in this investment include increased intensity and regularity of drought/flood events that will devastate our farming economy, extreme loss of species upon which the broader ecology (and economy) depends, loss of seafood and fish stocks, and the loss of water recreation sites upon which our tourism depends.

We cannot be guaranteed that these risks will be outweighed economic gains – and of course the long term damage can never be accounted for by short term economic gains. To take the economic example of Taranaki, according to the NZ deprivation index, the Taranaki region continues to experience extreme levels of deprivation. The rise in regional GDP and median income levels, when placed next to the rising levels of unemployment in Taranaki, indicates a concentration of wealth for a very small number. The increase in poverty for Taranaki corresponds with the general effect that fossil fuel investment has on other economies.

Fossil fuel investment is not the answer to our region’s economic deprivation. Next month the world’s leaders are gathering in Paris for crucial talks on climate change – NOT to consider the reality of the climate crisis, for that much is already agreed upon. Rather they are meeting to consider HOW to improve our responses to the crisis, at all levels.

To permit the growth of the fossil fuel industry in our region flies in the face of not only scientific opinion, but global, and local need – the only ethical response of our council can be to stand against it.

***To sign the petition asking GDC to OPPOSE oil and gas mining in the East Coast and Pegasus Basins, click HERE***

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