-Dennis Small

“The best scientific evidence indicates that we need to reduce our C02 emissions by 70% by 2050. We have all the technology we need to change to a carbon-free economy. All we need is to apply our knowledge and develop our understanding. The main thing stopping us going forward is the pessimism and confusion created by people who want to go on polluting so that they can make money” (“We Are The Weather Makers: The Story Of Global Warming” by Dr Tim Flannery, Australian of the Year [2007], Text Publishing, 2006, pp7/8).

“The coal industry in New Zealand is growing, high value, good reasons for Eastern Corporation to have become established there as a coal producer . . . Coal is well accepted in NZ as a cost effective energy source . . . the barriers to entry into coal mining are low . . . and the growing demand for coal both in NZ and overseas provides the right conditions for ready expansion” Eastern Corporation, www.easterncorp.com, 2007.

Commenting on the Government’s renewable energy policy in connection with environmentalists’ criticisms of Solid Energy’s study of converting lignite into liquid fuel, John Dow, a director of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AIMM) and the Chairman of Pike River Coal, said “the public needed to engage in a debate on how NZ could best meet future fuel and energy needs. While the Government’s 90% target for power from renewable sources was admirable, people needed to understand this would mean more hydro stations and more wind power turbines. The lack of liquid hydrocarbon finds in NZ, aside from Taranaki oil and gas fields, meant NZ should make the most of other energy resources” (Press, 16/10/07).

“Grande Energy President, Bob Gaudin, said it was difficult to find a place as industry-friendly as NZ, with as favourable an economic and political climate” (Press, 26/10/07). The US-based oil company has been given a permit by Crown Minerals to search for petroleum in an extensive area off the West Coast of the South Island.

“The world we live in is finite, so there are potent physical and biological limits constraining economic growth, social progress, and other aspects of human living. However much the inventiveness of Homo sapiens or the power of Homo colossus (Homo sapiens in his most exuberantly dominating mode) may seem for a while to transcend carrying capacity limits (of the planet), Nature has the last word” (“Overshoot: The Ecological Basis Of Revolutionary Change” by Professor William Catton, Jr, sociologist/human ecologist, University of Illinois Press, 1980, p.238).

Momentum Stepping Up

Mining momentum on the West Coast and elsewhere in Aotearoa/NZ is stepping up. In my article in Watchdog 116 (December 2007, “The New West Coast Gold/Coal Rush? Globalisation And Commodity Resources”, which can be read online at http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/16/04.htm) I looked at the new wave of globalist mining on the Coast and illustrated this process by a case study of Pike River Coal, along with Cargill’s advent at Solid Energy’s Spring Creek coal mine. I highlighted the Government’s long term commitment to coal and fossil fuels in general, something quite contradictory to its supposed new energy strategy.

The implications of this mining momentum for Aotearoa/NZ are far-ranging indeed. They include: an increased and growing dedication to corporate industrialisation and consequent ecological damage, domestically and internationally; a continuing boost for greenhouse gases and pollution; and the tightening control by transnational corporations (TNCs) over our resources and environment, along with the resultant determination of income distribution and other dimensions of our society. Overall, the ties that bind are connecting us ever more closely to the dominant global trends of competition over resources, climate change, militarisation, ecosystem deterioration, and the deepening socio-economic marginalisation of the majority world both within and between countries. In other words, the impetus driven by mining on this scale is towards much more of the same destructive development pattern of the past and present, not towards the changes so desperately needed for sustainable development (see “Sustainable Security For The 21st Century” issue, Pacific Ecologist, number 13, Summer 2006/07, http://pacificecologist.org/archive/13/ for a review of the global crisis and alternative development paths; and “Plan B3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization” by Lester Brown, WW Norton & Co., 2008, accessible at Earth Policy Institute: www.earth-policy.org).

The Capitalist Golden Rule: Own The Gold And Make The Rules

Besides coal, gold on the West Coast is proving another big attraction for TNC miners. “Instead of petering out, gold mining at the beginning of the 21st Century once again became of industrial importance, this time because of the demand for gold in the products of modern technology” (“It’s All For Sale: The Control Of Global Resources” by James Ridgeway, Duke University Press, 2004, p69). While most gold still ends up in jewellery, gold “performs critical functions in computers, communications equipment, spacecraft, jet aircraft engines, and a host of other products” (ibid.). In this regard, the major event on the Coast has been the re-establishment of the Globe Progress open cut mine in Reefton. This mine was officially opened in July 2007 with Melbourne-based OceanaGold in charge. Crown Minerals, which functions as part of the Ministry of Economic Development, proudly proclaimed that “hard rock gold mining operations on the Reefton goldfield are now back in business after 56 years” (www.crownminerals.govt.nz). Gold mining on the Coast is no longer just a small scale alluvial operation. OceanaGold is an offshoot or spinoff of Perth-based GRD Ltd It is listed on the Australian, Toronto, and NZ Stock Exchanges. The relevant history here is very enlightening in illustrating one way in which the processes of foreign control disempower us.

Investment analyst Brian Gaynor has described how Aotearoa/NZ lost ownership of the returns from goldmining on its own soil. In 1998, GRD Ltd took over Macraes, then an NZ-owned company. GRD Ltd had spotted a loophole in the Australian Stock Exchange’s rules and exploited this situation at the expense of NZ shareholders. In Gaynor’s words: “The insidious acquisition of Macraes resulted in a huge transfer of wealth from NZ to Australia and ended NZ ownership of the country’s premier goldmining company” and largest goldmine (New Zealand Herald, 28/8/01; www.context.co.nz:8080/stories/storyReader$1260). This was yet another instance of the locally disabling impact of globalisation courtesy of the regional Closer Economics Relations (CER) treaty with Big Brother Australia. OceanaGold Ltd was then later formed to take over GRD Macraes Ltd’s gold interests in NZ, being incorporated in December 2003. Parent company GRD Ltd had decided to sluice off this overseas branch.

Tellingly enough, Gaynor commented critically on the role of Labour Party MP and former Mike Moore protégé, Clayton Cosgrove. When Cosgrove was corporate affairs manager for the GRD group of companies in Perth, he “took a hardline approach towards Macraes’ shareholders who were looking for a better merger deal. At the time, he showed no sign of concern for NZ’s national interest” (ibid.). GRD Ltd was to dispose of its 50% interest in OceanaGold Ltd during 2006, leaving itself just a residual amount. GRD Ltd’s shares in OceanaGold were sold to institutional investors in Europe, Asia, the US and Australia. In one of those familiar ironies of life, GRD Ltd said that it wanted to scale down its mining work and move to producing gas from green waste. In another interesting irony here, it should again be noted that investment analyst Brian Gaynor is of course on the political Right and is certainly not against the “partial privatisation” of Aotearoa/NZ’s public assets if local capitalists truly benefit and “fickle politicians” are properly sidelined (see “Airport 07: Two Transnational Corporate Takeovers That Didn’t Take Off”, by Quentin Findlay, in Watchdog 116, December 2007, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/16/01.htm, on the recent TNC takeover attempts of Auckland Airport. There is an update by Quentin elsewhere in this issue). Interestingly, the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) sold off GRD stock because of the impact of the corporate’s mining operation (“How Should The Government Invest?” by Robert Howell, Viewpoint in Public Sector, volume 28, no4, 2005, p15).

Golden Prospects?

OceanaGold’s Globe Progress mine is widely seen as rejuvenating Reefton where it has been warmly welcomed and for which town it now provides considerable employment. A Government decision against the redevelopment of the mine in 2001 had angered many West Coasters and led to strong protest. Each year, OceanaGold is hauling about 80,000 tonnes of concentrate to the Macraes’ mine processing plant in Otago. Every tonne of concentrate yields only one or two ounces of gold but the company is looking very profitable with half a million ounces expected to be transported down from Globe Hill over seven years. “By the time OceanaGold has finished, it will have literally dug up Globe Hill and moved it a kilometre” (Marlborough Express, 12/12/06). While the Globe Progress mine has an estimated life of just a few years, OceanaGold has been exploring other sites in the local area too, especially Crushington (Press, 9/8/07). The TNC has also suggested that “part of its Reefton gold mine may be bigger than expected” (Press, 5/12/07).

The largest gold miner in Aotearoa/NZ has however struck trouble - or rather caused trouble - in the Philippines. OceanaGold has taken over a Climax Mining project in the Philippines and has been developing it further. OceanaGold’s “multi-million dollar gold and copper mine venture” - its Didipio mine project - in the Kasibu village area of Nueva Vizcaya province, Cagayan Valley region, northern Luzon (the main island), has angered local residents and generated strong opposition as well from environmental groups, the local Catholic church, small scale miners, and others (Press, 22/8/07; 2/10/07 & 4/10/07; www.cathnews.com/news/708/39.php; see Oxfam Australia for monitoring reports on this project: www.oxfam.org.au). People there fear damage to the watershed forests irrigating vegetable and fruit gardens, especially citrus crops.

Ever since the Spanish conquistadors and some imperial predecessors, predatory Western capitalism has often been at its most brutally exploitive in mining - and so undermining - Third World countries while the surplus extracted has continued to be huge: in actual mineral resources produced, processed, and subsequently utilised; in profits made and monies multiplied; as well as pollution and environmental damage transferred; etc. Now we have entered an era of a wild new scramble for the world’s minerals (see Roger Moody’s book, “Rocks And Hard Places: The Globalisation Of Mining”, reviewed by Jeremy Agar in Watchdog, 115, August 2007, http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/15/09.htm). While today there can at times be a great difference in mining standards between richer and poorer countries, corporate globalisation means constant pressure to degrade environmental protection and conservation everywhere. This has been dramatically demonstrated in the US in recent years under the Bush Administration. And the bigger the mining clout, the greater pressures! Australian-connected mining treatment of indigenous peoples in the Third World reflects its obnoxious record with regard to the Aborigine people, so savagely dispossessed of their land rights in favour of the mining companies (“Hidden Agendas”, John Pilger, Vintage, 1998, p235).

“Gold, considered a safe haven in turbulent financial times, could push through the $US1000 [an ounce] barrier later this year, British precious metals consultancy GFMS predicts” (Press, 19/1/08). In the international capitalist system, rising gold and oil prices are two sides of the one coin. Factors driving the market include the weak US dollar, global political instability, and growing demand in China and India. NZ investors and speculators have joined the gold rush. Rising gold prices have boosted OceanaGold’s prospects because it can now mine even lower grade ores (Press, 5/1/08). Besides OceanaGold’s Reefton and Macraes operations, its new Frasers underground mine in Otago was commissioned in January 2008.The TNC has extensive ambitions. “’We are very keen to grow the company beyond NZ and the Philippines with a focus within Australasia, and we continue to assess a number of opportunities within that part of the world,’ OceanaGold Chief Executive Steve Orr said” (Press, 19/11/07). At the same time, the company is vigorously developing its Didipio project with the aim of full production by 2010 (Press, 5/12/07).

Going For Gold

Underworld Resources, a Canadian company with an NZ subsidiary registered in January 2006, has several gold projects in NZ, including exploration of the historic Aorere goldfields for gold, silver and base metals in an area lying just outside the boundary of the Kahurangi National Park (Press, 25/8/07). This corporate reported in August 2007 that it had made some drillings at its East Cape site in the North Island and at the historic Golden Progress mine site in Central Otago. This is an example of how various TNCs are scouring the country from top to toe in search of minerals.

Yet another Canadian TNC, Glass Earth Gold (formerly Glass Earth), is conducting a “multimillion-dollar aerial survey of Otago – targeting one million ounce-plus gold finds” (Press, 16/8/07). It is using the survey results for test drilling. “Crown Minerals NZ granted Glass Earth [Gold] an Otago prospecting permit covering up to 25,500 sq km – the largest prospecting permit in NZ” at the time (ibid.). Helicopters scan the ground using electromagnetic equipment. An accident north of Dunedin cost the firm a 320 kg survey boom flown from a Squirrel helicopter, just “24 hours before a ministerial visit” (ibid.).

Heritage Gold, a dual-listed company on the Australian and NZ Exchanges, announced in January 2008 that it “now had the funds to explore its key NZ gold tenements and for the preliminary exploration of its recently acquired Australian base metal and uranium sites” (Press, 22/1/08). Heritage has been for 20 years unsuccessfully trying to find gold in NZ. However, this TNC is very persistent. On its Website it has stated that “the development of our southern Coromandel goldfield tenements is of key focus for management as we aggressively drill the many exciting targets that we have mapped in the region” (www.heritagegold.co.nz, February 2008). The TNC has directed its exploration to the west of Waihi in the region of Mt Karangahake, drilling over the historic workings of the Talisman Mine area. In January 2008, Heritage Gold announced that it had also made a loan “to Broken Hill Cobalt NZ (BHC) to support BHC’s proposed Australian Stock Exchange listing. Heritage has a 33% stake in BHC which holds exploration and mining licences over the Thackaringa cobalt resource near Broken Hill, New South Wales” (Press, 25/1/08). Cobalt is a critically important strategic material. It is used in the manufacture of some high strength superalloys and in certain petroleum refining processes, among other applications.

Heritage Gold “backed a new mineral study of Northland which revealed the potential for $33 billion (my emphasis) in mineral deposits in the region. The Council-supported study conducted by Geological and Nuclear Science and the NZ Institute of Economic Research found there was potential for $28 billion of non-metallic and $5.2 billion of metallic deposits in Northland” (New Zealand Herald, 2/7/07). This study (“Northland’s Mineral Resources: Potential Economic Impacts”, May 2007, commissioned by Crown Minerals, Far North and Whangarei District Councils, backed by the Northland Regional Council) was the first of its type in Aotearoa/NZ. A newly formed TNC, Tasman Goldfields Ltd, is an Australian and NZ focused gold exploration company with interests reaching out round the Pacific Rim. It is exploring in the Longwood range in Southland, and, like Glass Earth Gold, examining prospects associated with the geologic structure connected with Macraes. Tasman Goldfields was initiated in NZ

The Mineral Boom

Other Australian-based TNCs have joined the search for gold, coal and other minerals on the West Coast, as well as throughout Aotearoa/NZ. Compared with coal and gold, tungsten is a very unusual mineral currently under scrutiny on the Coast. Australia’s Auzex Resources is looking for and assessing tungsten prospects on Department of Conservation (DOC) land in the Victoria Forest Park (Press, 21/3/07). This particular project involves the first drilling for tungsten. “Tungsten is a hard metal used as an alloy in things like electric light elements and stainless steel, in high-grade machinery, and in military uses, to replace lead core bullets” (ibid.). Auzex is a “relatively new listing”, registered in 2005 with about 380 NZ shareholders, who together constitute a fifth of the company. It has a molybdenum project in northern New South Wales and also a gold prospect in the same region. Like cobalt, molybdenum and tungsten are both classed as critical militarily strategic ferro-alloys (“Global Technopolitics: The International Politics Of Technology And Resources” by Dennis Pirages, Brooks/Cole, 1989, p121). Molybdenum is a mineral, which is highly resistant to heat, a good conductor of electricity, and used regularly in alloys, often to harden steels.

“Auzex has entered a joint venture agreement with NZ Minerals Ltd (NZML) [which has a 50% interest] over tenements held by wholly-owned subsidiary Auzex Resources NZ, on the West Coast, including the Kirwans tungsten prospect, about 15km from Reefton” (Press, 21/3/07). Auzex retains the management of these tenements. The NZ Auzex subsidiary reported in September 2007 that the prospect has “the potential to host a high tonnage, low grade tungsten resource” and that evaluation was continuing (www.crownminerals.govt.nz). Auzex’s marketing and investment relations manager Brett O’Donovan has remarked that the drilling programme is proceeding slowly owing to DOC requirements for “very little environmental impact . . . Mr. O’Donovan has acknowledged that although this initial stage has low environmental impact, resource management issues could arise if the company decided to establish a mine. However, he pointed to OceanaGold’s Globe Progress mine, in the same area, as proof it was possible to obtain approval to mine on a conservation estate” (The News, 15/5/07). Similarly, Pike River Coal has demonstrated how easy it is to intrude into a national park.

NZML is a private company, owned by the major shareholder of IMF NZ Ltd, a property development company. NZML is also prospecting in northern Southland and western Otago. Key metals targeted by Auzex Resources are “molybdenum, gold, bismuth, silver, tin and tungsten” (www.auzex.com). On its Website, the TNC shows it is in fact exploring three areas on the West Coast: the Buller which includes the Kirwans tungsten prospect; the Lyell; and Ross. With regard to the Buller, a lot of the land concerned covers the northern extension of the Reefton goldfield. As well as tungsten, the exploration programme there is searching for any significant Kirwans or Buckland gold mineralisation, along with scrutiny of the Mt Radiant molybdenum prospect. Auzex’s tenements lie to the north, east and west of OceanaGold’s Globe Progress mine. In the Lyell project area located just north of the company’s Buller tenement, Auzex is checking out gold prospects in an area of former workings. It is investigating too round about Ross and in the old Mt Rangitoto mine area with an interest in silver and gold. As this extensive TNC exploration suggests, along with all the rest indicated in this article, much of the nation’s conservation estate could soon be up for grabs!

Facilitating Foreign Control

Queensland-based Eastern Corporation has eagerly embraced the opportunity for coal mining in NZ. “Big aspirations for coal producer” was how a newspaper heading put it (Press, 13/4/07). The corporation said that “it plans to become a significant coal producer after acquiring mines at Ohai, in Southland”, and getting the routine Overseas Investment Office approval for this (ibid.). The ramifications of foreign control are ever increasing and multiplying in their tentacles. “Eastern has won the contract to supply Fonterra’s Clandeboye milk processing plant with coal. That leaves the future of Solid Energy’s Ohai mine uncertain because it previously supplied the Clandeboye plant” (ibid.). Eastern Corporation will supply the Clandeboye plant from the Takitimu mine (formerly Nightcaps). So here we have the bizarre situation of an Australian firm muscling out an NZ State-owned Enterprise (SOE) from supplying another vitally important NZ company when the SOE is obviously quite capable of doing so if given appropriate governmental support.

Fearing loss of jobs, the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) was highly critical of Fonterra’s decision. EPMU National Secretary Andrew Little said that: “Profits from the mine will now go to Australia . . . we’d expect better than this from Fonterra considering it’s a Kiwi-owned company that has done very well out of Southland (ibid.).” But Fonterra is increasingly a globally-oriented enterprise and globalisation means essentially benefiting an international elite at the expense of the majority of the planet’s people (“Silent Takeover: Global Capitalism And The Death Of Democracy” by Noreena Hertz, 2001, Arrow Books). From September 2008 “Eastern would supply about 130,000 tonnes of coal each year to Clandeboye from Takitimu” (Press, 19/9/07). On its Website, Eastern Corporation has been boastful of its success in beating Solid Energy and looking forward to doing more of the same!

On the West Coast, Eastern Corporation owns the Cascade coal mine near Denniston. As well, the TNC has identified an initial resource of coking and thermal coal near Westport. As highlighted in its Website quotes at the start of this article, Eastern Corporation is enthusiastic about the prospects for coal mining in NZ, pointing out that: “NZ’s coal production increased by 60% from 1998 to 2005 to meet the country’s growing energy requirements” (www.easterncorp.com). In this early stage, the company has been concentrating on providing coal to the domestic market where there are “considerable market opportunities” (e.g. Westport News, 14/09/06). Yet it is also assessing possible options for export.

With Asian demand for coal rising steeply – in India, China, Japan and other countries – along with the commitment to coal in Australia, the US, much of Europe, and elsewhere, we are all embarked on a perilous path, just like the Titanic. Capitalist growth and sustainability certainly constitute an absolute contradiction whatever the public relations spin and purported positive action. Hype about the new carbon markets is all so much smoke and mirrors greenwashing and sleight of hand, creating yet another speculative financial instrument in the age of global “casino capitalism”. Currently the compounding sub-prime mortgage meltdown and international “credit crunch” are further unravelling the globalised monetary markets about which Professor Susan Strange warned us so brilliantly back in 1986 (“Casino Capitalism”, Basil Blackwell). Failing to fully confront the relations between climate change and corporate globalisation, between the democratic control of resources and foreign control, and between economic growth and energy use will foreclose any possibility of truly positive change. We are being hooked ever more deeply into the process of planetary industrialisation and ultimate self-destruction. Meanwhile, most politicians either give lip-service to sustainability or indulge in “double-think”.

“Coal was the key source of energy for 19th Century industrialisation, and it will doubtless be of vital importance in the 21st Century”. This prediction made in the latter 1980s can apparently stand (“The Collins Atlas Of World History”, ed. P Vidal-Naquet, Collins, 1987, p316). Ironically, around that time, the greenhouse effect was just starting to emerge as an issue of some public concern (see e.g., “Green Facts: The Greenhouse Effect And Other Key Issues” by Michael Allaby, Hamlyn, 1986). Pike River Coal is buoyed by even higher coal prices forecast for 2008, with Chairman John Dow calling one indicative price “amazing” (Press, 29/1/08). The new “black gold” is on track to destroy any prospects of sustainability.

Fool’s Gold, Coal, Gas, Hot Air, And The Good Oil

Besides the emphasis on coal exports, Government commitment to a fossil fuel future has been further signalled by opening up parts of our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to TNC capital for more oil and gas exploitation. The Tui oilfield is already in production with NZ Oil and Gas (NZOG), the parent company of Pike River Coal, one of the participants (see Watchdog 116, December 2007, “The New West Coast Gold/Coal Rush? Globalisation And Commodity Resources”, by Dennis Small, which can be read online at http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/16/04.htm). The consortium involved here is exporting the oil to Caltex refineries in Australia (Press, 17/8/07). Otago University Physics Professor Gerry Carrington has warned that Aotearoa/NZ is facing an energy crisis and must prepare for intermittent petroleum supply and significantly more expensive power. The Tui oilfield has a projected life of only ten years. Any realistic transition to a sustainable energy economy will surely demand some use of oil in the interim so why are we exporting such a valuable resource?! Once again, the relinquishing of democratic control to global capital is costing us dear. Worldwide, privatisation is usurping natural resources from the public commons. The intensifying contest over water in Canterbury is just one more instance of this (“Whose Common Future? Reclaiming The Commons”, The Ecologist, Earthscan, 1993).

Caltex, owned by Chevron, is currently the subject of an international boycott due to its support for the repressive regime in Myanmar (Burma) where Chevron still operates (see www.avaaz.org/en). Recently, the NZ Government has been accused in another capacity of support for the Burmese junta, viz. the Kordia cellphone connection. But then it is already compromised by big business in so many ways, including very significant NZ Superannuation Fund, ACC, etc. investments in TNCs like ExxonMobil. As Howell has noted, all the Crown Financial Institutions invest in companies with unacceptable or questionable human rights behaviour or environmental impacts such as Nike, Walmart and ExxonMobil (Public Sector, op. cit.).

On the basis of a 2003 NZ National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (NIWA) study, Friends of the Earth (FOE) pointed out in January 2004 how ExxonMobil, the world’s biggest oil company, has caused some 5% of global man-made, climate changing emissions over the last 120 years” (www.foe.co.uk/resource/press_releases/exxonmobils_contribution_t_28012004.html).This was the first time that the historic contribution of one company to global climate change had been calculated. FOE chose ExxonMobil because this giant TNC has repeatedly attempted to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change and has actively resisted attempts to limit CO2 emissions through law. ExxonMobil has a grim record of exploitation in the Third World too - from Aceh in Indonesia to Nigeria, and in recent years has enjoyed wanton war profiteering from the Bush Administration’s murderous war on Iraq (e.g. see www.consumersforpeace.org & www.afterdowningstreet.org/?q=node/30449). Among other disputes, it is locked in a legal battle with the Chavez Government for control of Venezuela’s oil reserves. Venezuela is just one of the many countries which the Anglo-American empire has ripped off. The West has built its prosperity and human rights on the backs of the people of the Third World. Over the last couple of decades or so, ExxonMobil has been a major driver of the American free trade agenda in the General Agreement on Tariffs & Trade (GATT)/World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations.

Obviously appreciative then of ExxonMobil’s outstanding role as an international corporate citizen, the NZ Government has awarded it rights to the Great South Basin in our EEZ. In 2006, ExxonMobil successfully fought a court battle to keep secret seismic data from a part of the Great South Basin that Crown Minerals wanted to make public to all bidders for the licences Press, 10/7/07 & 13/7/07). The Great South Basin - 100,000 square kilometres of frontier waters - lies to the south and east of Invercargill and “is believed to hold huge reserves of oil and gas” but has atrocious weather and demands “huge costs of drilling in deep water” (ibid., 10/7/07). Having the secret data obviously advantaged ExxonMobil’s bidding. In Aotearoa/NZ, Mobil’s recourse to legal manoeuvres to undermine our economic independence goes back a long way, e.g. the Watford affair (“The ‘Dinkum’ Oil about NZ And The International Oil Companies”, Bill Andersen, Northern Drivers’ Union, 1977, p11). Meantime, Alaskan fishermen and other people affected by the notorious 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster when ExxonMobil spilt oil all over the Gulf of Alaska have a continuing legal suit against the TNC. Compared with Americans, however, people in Aotearoa/NZ have an extremely limited capacity to use class action lawsuits against any such corporate abuses. ExxonMobil is still resisting adequate compensation for the accident. Instead, ExxonMobil has played the courts, had the award halved, and has appealed to the US Supreme Court to cap damages at a mere $US25 million(Press, 12/7/07).

Two big consortiums have largely carved up the Great South Basin prospects – the ExxonMobil-led one and the Austrian OMV-led consortium. Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt relishes their advent, saying servicing the oil companies could involve anything from “pies to pipes” (Press, 12/7/07). In June 2004 the Government substantially reduced gas and oil royalties and instituted carry-over tax deductions, while Crown Minerals has even directly subsidised the exploration with the provision of research data (New Zealand Herald, “Dangling Carrots for Black Gold”, 12/7/07). A report by consultancy firm Infometrics, “hired by the Business Roundtable and NZ’s oil producers” (my emphasis), has attacked the Government’s “goal of making NZ carbon-neutral” (Press, 6/2/08). TNCs constantly undermine our future.

Collision Course

So the export growth model steams on relentlessly, whatever the crap about “green trade” (e.g., Minister of Trade Phil Goff’s “Recipe For Green Trade”, Press, 12/2/08). “Pike River Coal and Solid Energy want to supply coal to fire steel production in China and other growth economies” (Press, 14/6/07). As we have seen in some detail, both national and local governments are eagerly giving the green light to a multitude of mineral ventures on the West Coast and across the whole country, including widespread seafloor mining in our maritime EEZ.

There are two key closely related points to reiterate here: the threat of even more foreign control and the mounting risk of environmental damage coupled with constraints on creating a sustainable society. In the periodical Mainland Monitor (e.g. 23/1/08), published by the Press, consultancy economist Robin Clements employs the image of a car to portray the economy. Certainly the car as an image of the modern economy is most fitting. Not only has it long been symbolic of human environmental impact but it raises a host of wider questions. Transport is the fastest growing contributor to climate change and now with the move to biofuels, cars are starting to compete directly with growing food for people.

In an editorial in Pacific Ecologist 14, Winter 2007, on “Bringing the Global Economy Down To Earth”, Editor Kay Weir employed a somewhat similar and yet graphically contrasting image of modern industrial society as an “express train to destruction”. As she said, we have “to learn to live sustainably with the biological realities of planet Earth” (ibid.). Everywhere across the planet people are focused on short-term economic gains. Creating the capacity for a transition beyond these is going to be vital for human survival. The former Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Morgan Williams, says that “a new language is needed for the 21st Century – the language of sustainability” in order for us to learn to live within the limits of “our dependency on natural capital, local and global”, and to create a sustainable and equitable society (Press, 1/9/07). Can Homo sapiens outgrow Homo colossus!? (see Catton, op. cit.).

Towards Transition?

In 21st Century Aotearoa/NZ, as expressed in this overview of mining on the West Coast and elsewhere, the problems of development and the need for social change go deep into the contradictions entailed by economic growth, community traditions, and a host of associated cultural values, attitudes, perceptions and practices. We are all caught up with them every day of our lives. We need to try and resolve the most important conundrums as soon and as best we can. Unless we can achieve some sort of consensus in Aotearoa/NZ on the basis for a co-operative transition to some genuinely meaningful measure of sustainability and constructive change, whatever our other political differences, we are surely going to eventually experience unprecedented and disruptive stress in our society.

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