Eastward Ho: heading for home

By Gareth Renowden 28/11/2013


Heeling over hard as we scud up the west coast of Northland. First sight of land in nearly 2 weeks this morning as we recognised the north head of the Hokianga — a magic place I visited some years ago with giant wind sculptures and streams that welled up as springs and disappeared again into the sands.

Five knots feels faster than it is, but air and car travel totally distort one’s perception of space and time. Two days so far to cover a distance one would drive in three hours. But this is travel at a human scale — the unrealistic thing is traveling Auckland — Wellington in an hour. Perhaps life will be better when we slow down and have more time for reflection.

All the people in the flotilla I’ve spent time with have been excellent company. A great sense of solidarity in a common cause. Heard fascinating stories this morning out on deck from Andy, our skipper, who has worked in Chile, Yemen, Cyprus, Rwanda and sailed in the Southern ocean and across the Pacific. It’s reassuring, when the boat starts bucking like crazy.

Woke yesterday to find us totally becalmed and the crew organising a tow from Friendship. Quite a tricky business rigging up a towing harness at sea and trying to get the length right so we crested the swells at the same time, but we couldn’t afford to wait for the wind as we need to be round the cape before the weather turns against us.

So, as we leave the Bob Douglas behind, why did I walk away from the work I’ve been doing for the last 3 years, totally focussed on coal, and leap into a protest against deep sea oil drilling? I think because they are all part of the same picture. For some years now fossil fuels have been harder to find and extract and consumption has been growing. The industry turns to more and more extreme places – remote and difficult environments, with more and more damage to ecosystems. The energy return on energy invested gets less every year. All the signs that it is time to transition to renewable fuels and more restrained consumption have instead led to more and more frantic attempts to get more of the same – mountain top removal for coal, deep ocean drilling for oil, shale fracking for gas. The Arctic, the Great Southern basin, the Amazon, eventually the Antarctic.

I’ve been working on coal because it has the highest climate damaging potential and because there is so much more of it left than the other fuels. But it is the same mindset we are challenging and every opportunity to leap in and make a difference is worth taking.

I’m asking myself (as the media keep asking us too), what have we achieved by being here? We haven’t stopped them drilling. Bearing in mind that the real battle is for hearts and minds, for the social licence to operate of these companies, I think there are four things:

  • we have made deep sea oil drilling a national issue, dominating the media for more than a week and changing many hearts and minds. The flotilla now numbers many thousands in spirit.
  • we have irritated Anadarko, as their attempt to squash us between their boats shows, and may even have changed some minds among her crew who heard our various broadcasts about why we were there. Anything that makes their experience of trying to drill in NZ harder, is good.
  • we have shown other oil companies that doing business in NZ is not straightforward, they are not wanted by the public, and the Government will take a hands-off stance and not move to support them when they run into opposition, despite begging them to come here in the first place.
  • our presence has led to the legal challenge to the EPA and their process for consenting activities offshore. We have also made the Government’s legislation look stupid and unenforceable.

I reckon that’s worth a couple of weeks.

ETA is Sunday lunchtime in Auckland. I hope you see some of you there. Please excuse us not being as impeccably turned out as usual.