Article 25

Oil-Free Wellington

In Uncategorized on 04/14/2016 at 9:42 am

Oil-free Wellington

Environmental activists in Wellington Harbor. Photo by Steven Paul Lansky.

‘Change Everything’ gathering and day of action

By Steven Paul Lansky

Wellington, New Zealand, was in the news again. Americans there were the first to vote in the Super Tuesday Democratic Primary. (This was because of the time difference.) On Dec. 12-13, 2015, Wellington was the site of a response to the Paris Climate Conference.

Seventy brightly colored kayaks, paddled by men and women in life vests and wet suits, gathered at the breakwater and raised their paddles with a cheer. Greenpeace members manned an inflatable. A man talked into a megaphone and his amplified voice crackled in the sun-splashed afternoon on Wellington Harbor between a playground and the Te Papa Museum as 300 people gathered onshore. They held banners and shouted responses to the call of the man with the megaphone. A drone flew overhead, humming back and forth over the scene.

New Zealanders gathered Saturday, Dec. 12, at St. John’s in the City to listen to presenters and plan for the action.

Green capitalism

Inside the arches of an inner-city church with wooden doorways and big open rooms, about 200 people met. Many of the workshops included presenters who opened with a Maori greeting. One began with the leader speaking for a time in the indigenous language.

Emily Bailey of Climate Justice Taranaki spoke about Maori history, told of a seafaring people who traveled on sailing canoes (wakas) from New Zealand in the South Pacific to and from Tahiti, taking as little as two weeks to do so. They made these journeys for years before the Europeans arrived with their large sailing ships. Bailey honored the people who lived without fossil fuels. Her efforts were in community building. A small settlement that she participated in sought support in other forms than money. She described plowing with horses, gardening with organic fertilizer with four or five others. This effort was the essence of small-scale sustainability.

James Barber also spoke. Green Capitalism, and the problem that everything has a monetary value, seemed to be his focus. He claimed that buying the right product is not a holistic solution. There was mention of eggs from caged chickens and a roundtable for sustainable palm oil. Take the WWF’s “Help Save the Lipstick” advertising campaign, for example. It draws attention to the use of palm oil that comes from rainforests and at the expense of natural habitat for flora and fauna. This, as palm oil is touted as a very environmentally friendly commodity, according to critics who cite its high yield-to-hectare farmed ratio.

Barber further questioned the burying of gasses in old mines and called it an impractical solution to the storage of polluting waste material. Efforts to plant trees were criticized as monocultures. And the idea of privatized forests was held up to scrutiny. He argued that while carbon credits for developing countries looked like a compromise, the actual gain for the environment did not make sense. A real solution, he said, meant radical change and oil drilling must stop.

Frances Mountier of Oil-Free Wellington opened her talk in Maori. She spoke about the economics of climate change and called for a moratorium on coal mining. She challenged the growth narrative of capitalism. Rebecca Solnit’s book A Paradise Built in Hell was mentioned. There was an explanation of Marxist economics and how to facilitate a transition to workers having control of the means of production.

The soda problem

During a Q and A period one participant rose from her seat to excoriate SodaStream. It’s a product that makes soft drinks and soda water at home with a rechargeable CO2 cartridge. The woman claimed the company did not save energy or reduce pollution, and she further stated it was an Israeli company. The product reduces the reliance on disposable bottles and cans, bottling or canning, and the problem of carrying full bottles or cans from the store to the home. Some in the audience applauded her. On returning to the United States, a little research turned up some websites that describe SodaStream as exploiting Palestinian labor and operating a facility that employed 500 people on the West Bank. More research yielded the fact that the West Bank facility has closed, and some sources attributed this to a boycott. Even the SodaStream spokesman acknowledged that efforts by the “Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) movement against Israel had at least hastened the closing.

The company is still targeted for protests by BDS regarding its labor practices. BDS seems to align with anti-oil New Zealanders and reflects anti-Israeli sentiment that targets any businesses in its sphere. A well-written rebuttal of BDS’s position described a company and CEO whose morality, and business model, was caught in a much larger struggle. Clearly, SodaStream is a commodity that swims with sharks. Why is a business model such as theirs reliant on the Middle East? It seems obvious that the product is a threat to big industry and that it has become a target in the Middle East. It is not clear whether BDS has legitimate human-rights claims against SodaStream or if the protest group is operating based on other motives. Here is an example of a product that seems to be environmentally productive; and as an alternative to corporate soft drinks, it may be an improvement. But, it still operates in a growth economy, and its workers, as happy as they seemed to be, even in the West Bank, before Israel restricted their daily travel, do not own the means of production.

During one of the sessions attention was drawn to the economic success of New Zealand. A Universal Basic Income (UBI) was proposed as a right of all citizens. By providing for the basic needs of individuals – such as food, clothing, shelter and transportation, with no questions asked – it would radically change the profit motive for individuals. This has been proposed in Finland, the Netherlands and the Basic Income Canada Network (BICN) in Ontario, Canada, is also considering it. It was not discussed at length or in detail at the gathering.

Naomi Klein’s work This Changes Everything was mentioned to a chorus of support and applause.

On Sunday, there were many other groups enjoying the fair weather and light breeze on Wellington Harbor. While the action began, a brass band played Tequila on a portable bandstand adjacent to the men, women and children gathered with signs, megaphones, and a PA system. The drone that photographed the action had been engaged by Oil-Free Wellington to document their work. Photos and video can be found on their website.



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