BY LAURA SOMERSET

 

According to the comments sections on news articles across the internet, the New Zealand Government’s recent step towards action on climate change is going to single-handedly destroy our economy.

This month, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the government is banning new oil and gas exploration permits for offshore New Zealand. Companies that already hold exploration permits will be allowed to continue until their permits run out, but can’t get them reissued.

Amidst cries of “but the economy”, allow me to retaliate with a “but no” and an, “also no”.

Firstly, the most important thing to know when discussing oil and gas exploration is that if humans burn more than 30% of the fossil fuel reserves we’ve already uncovered, the climate will reach catastrophic levels of warming. Once this is burned, Earth will have surpassed the two degrees of warming that puts us in the extreme danger zone. We can’t even afford to use the oil and gas we already have, let alone prospect for more.

Climate change will wreak devastating effects on our economy. Cleaning up frequent and intense storms is expensive. Supporting thousands of Pacific climate refugees, whose islands will be engulfed by sea levels rising, is expensive. Rebuilding entire coastal towns, including the capital of our country, is expensive.

It’s infinitely cheaper to prevent the worst effects of climate change now than to wait for them to reach catastrophic levels and deal with the aftermath.

The biggest sore point for this policy is that jobs are on the line, and this is an entirely rational concern. But I don’t want to live in a country where thousands of families rely on oil and gas for their livelihoods. Having to choose between profiting from the gradual demise of our planet or not being able to put food on the table is a massively unethical burden to place on these workers.

Not only that, but it’s crucial to recognise the massive job instability rapidly growing in the fossil fuel industry already. Nations and corporations all over the world are divesting away from oil and gas as they recognise its severe environmental and humanitarian implications, and the demand for fossil fuels is expected to plummet in the coming years. Without this policy there’s still very little guarantee that these workers’ jobs will be around in a few decades. With this policy, though, we have time to plan for the future.

The ban on new oil and gas exploration will give New Zealand a platform on which to kickstart a transition out of our fossil fuel addiction. The Government has been very clear on this: it does not plan to abandon oil and gas workers, but instead to work alongside them at each step of this transition.

Some of the oil permits which have yet to expire still have a decade of life in them. A decade is enough time to diversify into other industries, to make our national energy supply 100% renewable (which the government has committed to doing by 2035), and to work out how the skills of oil and gas industry workers can be applied to other sectors. It’s enough time to build an economy that stands the test of time, and is based on an appreciation of the environment and, most of all, humanity.

Putting an end to oil and gas exploration is a bold move by the government, and it’s a scary one too. New Zealanders have a right to be apprehensive about how it will affect the manner in which they can provide for themselves and the people they love. But the truth is that the effects of climate change will have much scarier impacts on our jobs, on our cities, on our friends, and on our families. So if there’s ever been a time to make a bold move, it’s now.

 

LAURA SOMERSET is an accidental environmentalist who’s always doing too many things at once. She’s into lush bass lines, gelato-toned turtleneck sweaters, and consistently missing every deadline.

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