Oil and gas versus climate change

Last week's announcement major oil and gas exploration is planned for the Great Southern Basin would have been received very differently by different people.

For many, including those who participated in or encouraged last month's climate change strike by school pupils, the news of Austrian oil giant OMV unveiling one of the most ambitious gas and oil drilling programmes proposed in New Zealand would have seemed like a late April Fool's Day joke.

They may have asked how, if climate change is rapidly contributing to the end of the world, such a thing could still be considered appropriate. To others, news of a major international company investing significant sums to find whether true riches lie beneath the waters off the Dunedin coastline would have been enthusiastically received.

It isn't fair to say the first group wants no economic development. Nor is it fair to say the second group doesn't care about climate change. It does seem fair to suggest many New Zealanders are interpreting the climate change conversation in very different ways.

As much as many believe otherwise, the issue is still confusing.

Another hot summer has ended while significant weather events appear to be landing more frequently than before. Sea levels are being measured and are rising, though not at a level yet discernible to most people's own eyes.

Most agree something is happening and our polluting ways, coupled with the overwhelming advice from the experts in this field, make a convincing case that we are to be the cause of an upcoming catastrophe.

The Government certainly believes the evidence is conclusive and has ensured its policies reflect that - including the cancelling of future oil and gas exploration at a cost of, according to detractors, tens of billions of dollars.

Electric cars are grabbing an ever larger slice of market share but they are still cars, made of steel, plastic, rubber and more. They are still made offshore and shipped here on polluting cargo vessels.

The rush to build wind farms appears to have subsided while the base-load provisions offered by fossil fuel power plants remain essential and, as yet, irreplaceable. Gas still heats the hot water of hundreds of thousands of Kiwi homes.

Our dairy sector continues to be maligned by many appalled by cows' methane emissions, and by other environmental impacts caused, at least in part, by the farming sector. Meanwhile, the country's biggest industry, tourism, continues with far less critique as millions of visitors are transported to our shores on oil-burning aircraft and ships, before exploring our nation in oil-burning vehicles.

The plastic bag campaign has terminated the use of many plastic bags in our supermarkets, though copious amounts of plastic are still being used, seemingly without a suitable alternative on the horizon.

Bike lanes are funded and promoted but car sales keep climbing while Green Party co-leader James Shaw flies around the world - at an extent which outstrips most of his colleagues - because, he says, the travel is essential for his job.

Confusion, contradictions and complications abound on this topic and the divide between those who are ''all in'' on climate change, and those who are yet to be convinced, is still broad.

It isn't that there is a simple answer to any of this. The problem is that there are too many potential answers, and many seem unsure who to believe, who to follow. And, while they consider, they want reassurance the economy will remain buoyant.

Protests against oil and gas exploration are natural and healthy. But if the time has really come to move to a war-footing against climate change, we first need to be very clear about what the enemy is. For many New Zealanders, this country's meagre fossil fuel consumption is unlikely to be considered the priority.

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