As I sit here in a cafe in Seoul reading about the disaster unfolding off New Zealand’s east coast I can’t help but feel a set of mixed emotions. I love the Bay of Plenty. I spent many a summer there frolicking along its magnificent beaches. Some of my happiest memories as a school kid were spent with my cousins playing along the coast. It is a world away from Auckland with friendly locals, quiet streets and of course the amazing beaches.
So when the news of Rena’s original grounding hit, I kept a close eye on the situation. My Aunt and her family still live in Papamoa. And my cousin was quick to point out on facebook that the potential effect that the oil spill would have on the BOP would be turning the Bays majestic beaches into a muck that resembled Auckland’s somewhat unfortunate ones. (relative to the bay that is)
I cited feeling mixed emotions at the beginning of the post for a variety of reasons, one reaction of course was of anger. I was angry like the rest of the Bay population who vented their anger at the Department of Conservation at a meeting at Tauranga Boys High School last night. How is it possible in this day and age for a ship to make such an elementary error? I found it really extraordinary that a route so well travelled into Tauranga Harbour could be so dreadfully misread by a sea captain. Especially considering the amount of oil the ship was carrying.
And then I thought ok well no time to be angry, time to be supportive and see what comes of it. I thought I wasn’t angry anymore, but actually I just shifted my anger and I’m still angry at a lot of people. But no one more than the Government of New Zealand.
There has been talk of extensive oil exploration around New Zealand’s maritime borders, there was even talk of mining our national parks. This catastrophe I hope will at least serve as a reminder to the government why the former is too dangerous. The effects of this oil spill will have a lasting impact on the environment and the well being of wildlife in the area for many years to come. The costs will likely go into the millions, and how much more money will the New Zealand taxpayer have to cough up? The past twelve months have been the most taxing on the public purse strings I can ever recall since the end of the second world war.
Rena should provide New Zealanders with an impetus to be forcibly reminded of some of the core fundamentals that New Zealanders have always held as our national values. One being the preservation of our environment. We have never taken our environment for granted. Being green in New Zealand doesn’t mean being a radical. It means we are more attuned than the rest of the world to the fact that we don’t own the environment. We are guardians of Mother Nature. We are custodians of our environment and are only meant to guard it and protect it for further use by our future generations.
Another key value Kiwi’s hold dear is that of innovation. The number 8 fencing wire philosophy is what has set the kiwi entrepreneurial spirit apart from the rest of the world. While everyone is busy innovating to make money, we have been innovating for generations so we can make life easier for everyone and for the environment too.
Just look at Kiwi company LanzaTech who have developed a unique bio fuel using waste products from steel mills. They have just signed an agreement with Virgin Atlantic who will start using the new bio-fuel reducing the company’s dependence on oil based fuel. All of the research and development was conducted in New Zealand. The company is trying desperately to keep its operations out of their office in Parnell. The funding however has come from outside sources. And inevitably for market size will shift financial operations offshore but the company have pledged to keep its R&D in New Zealand.
This is the direction the Government should be looking toward. The New Zealand Government needs to increase the level of research funding available for companies and researchers like LanzaTech. Because of the nature of our country and its environment we have been innovators in many fields over the spans of time. Lord Rutherford, the man who split the atom was undoubtedly one of the most notable inventors and scientists our nation produced. A technology that flowed from his invention is now being used all over the world besides in little old New Zealand itself which is kind of ironic.
But the point is this. As a country we have forgotten our roots, our connection to the environment because we have been following the rest of the world. We have been trying to copy Australia, America, Asia to a certain extent and are desperately seeking resources that the Middle East have in abundance, all in the name of economic development. But we have been neglecting a large part of what makes us different from the rest of the world, and that’s our unique take on our place in the world and our ability to innovate. What will make New Zealand competitive on the world stage is not a sudden discovery of oil. But the sudden realisation that we were never good at copying anyone else, but were always good at making discoveries the rest of the world hadn’t made yet. Once they get their hands on it of course, they transform it and make it a world wide sensation. Anyone remember True Bliss?
I really wish the Government would stop talking nonsense about mining our limited natural resources and focus that energy in encouraging our researchers, our developers, our scientists, our inventors find more ways in which we can differentiate ourselves from the rest of the generic world. As we have been so tragically shown this week, what happens when people exploit mother nature.
So this disaster should remind all Kiwi’s what is important to us. Our environment, our whenua, our identity as a people is closely linked to what is happening in the middle of the Bay of Plenty. I hope that it reminds us why looking for non-renwable resources is not what New Zealand has ever been about.
Long may we innovate, and I pray that we will get a government sometime soon that realizes this is the key to our future, not the rape and pillage of our stunningly beautiful environment.
*My heart and prayers go out to all the volunteers and people of the Bay of Plenty that have been affected by this horrible disaster.