Monday, November 25, 2013

Ron Smith: Oil and Greenpeace - the 'hooligans' are at it again!

There is a lot to debate in regard to oil exploration around New Zealand, both on land and in the adjoining seas.  Oil already makes a substantial contribution to our economy and provides well-paid employment.  It has the potential to do a great deal more.  Of course there are dangers.  Accidents can cause loss of life and environmental damage.  Manifestly, this is not peculiar to oil.  As we know too well, people can die in coal-mining, or in off shore fishing, and there are potential environmental consequences from farming, especially intensive dairy farming, which is at the heart of our present relative economic security.  For some there is also the matter of anthropogenic global warming, which condemns oil exploitation and coal mining, however safely conducted.

We need to reconcile these things.  We need to apply serious cost/benefit analysis.  How much value do we put on the potential revenues and employment possibilities that might come from exploitation of our untouched oil assets?

In the light of the widely-accepted appeals for greater expenditure on a variety of social needs: education, health, superannuation, can we really forgo this potentially substantial revenue stream?  Well, perhaps the answer is, only if we are satisfied that the danger is as great as some of the most vociferous critics say it is.  Only if the risk is substantial and the ‘cost’, if the feared event takes place, is such as to overwhelm the benefit.  These sorts of calculations are not easy to do but the data is frequently available.  We all know that there is a risk of fatal injury from driving cars (and a slightly lower risk from flying in aeroplanes).  We haven’t done a careful calculation but most of us accept that the value to us of these activities outweighs the risk.  We don’t simply focus on a simple application of that old stand-by: ‘what is the worst-case scenario?’.

But, of course, this is a personal benefit and personal cost and it is different where the benefits and costs are collective.  A person living contentedly on their life-style-block, might place relatively little value on social development but, correspondingly, a higher value on the preservation of a pristine environment.  Or, like Al Gore, they may affect great concern for (say) global warming whilst, at the same time, insist on flying in their corporate jet.  In the case of these collective decisions, all we can expect the government to do is to make an assessment on what they take to be the best interests of the community as a whole, on the basis of the risks as they assess them and on the basis of such data and opinion as they may acquire from expert sources and community groups.

By contrast, Greenpeace represents persons who see no need to go in for this kind of subtle, rational debate, based on facts and logic.  They know they are right, and they couldn’t possibly be wrong.  I came to this point in my 16 October blog, ‘Greenpeace and the temptations of utopianism’, when I commented on how the Russians had dealt with (or, now, are dealing with) a Greenpeace ‘protest’ against a Russian oil-drilling platform.  Now we have them off the Raglan coast, attempting to obstruct a similar operation in New Zealand waters.  The crucial question is, what should we do about it?  The government has made the cost/benefit assessment envisaged above and passed legislation on the matter (The Crown Minerals Act), which prohibits protest vessels from approaching closer than 500m to vessels involved in what is a lawful and officially approved activity.  As a matter of fact, it seems that the law has already been defied.  But before addressing the question as to what should be done, it might be instructive to consider the response of another state to similar situations.

Earlier this year, Greenpeace activists invaded a Swedish nuclear power plant and engaged in the usual activities they adopt when intending to obstruct an activity to which they object.  As is also usual, they were arrested and at the conclusion of the subsequent court proceedings, they were fined amounts which varied between $200 and $500.  In the context of the enormous wealth of the parent organisation, this is no penalty at all.  In an earlier case which involved boarding a nuclear-power support vessel, the relevant magistrate managed to release the Greenpeace group sufficiently quickly for them to return to their power boats, and board the ship in question for a second time!  Both these examples apply to Sweden but there are plenty of examples from around the ‘western’ world which have the same characteristics.  Governments, and presumably their communities (certainly, their magistrates), seem to indulge Greenpeace activists as if they were merely naughty, or high-spirited, children.

It is about time we started to take this business seriously and end this wilful (and potentially expensive) obstruction to our national business.  Immediate action needs to be taken and the punishment to the lawbreakers ought to be somewhere between the threatened seven years for ‘hooliganism’ that the Russians apparently have in mind, and the totally ineffectual response of the Swedish authorities.


Brian said...

Oil, Mining, Dairying, and other Capitalistic Ventures verses Greenpeace.
Dr. Smith has added some common sense to the political arguments formented by Greenpeace against just about everything, certainly any production which would increase New Zealand productivity and export income.
These modern day Luddites have found a great ally to further their cause, better than advertising, protesting or going to the High Court.
It is the simple emotive message the “ Power of Fear.”
This method although morally irresponsible is a sure winner, especially in a society such as ours; with a media daily searching for headlines/TV/Radio to trade off for any accuracy of whether the message(s) have any really validity. No matter, scare and frighten people as much as possible provided the Greenpeace view of the situation is accepted. In this case mainly by a semi youthful element and professional demonstrators, supporting their viewpoint even to the use of children as “fodder” .
Reprehensible? Of course, but also it is a winning visible impact, denying any thought of a counter demonstration? For who would dare too?
One can go back to the Atomic Bomb and the early days of the nuclear industry to see the Green’s long term impact. But then the Greenpeace organisation is very little different from the mass hysteria which accompanied the Witch hunts of the Middle Ages, and the Salem episode of the 17th century.
The real problem lies in our ability to further our standard of living or even maintain our present one if we shun economic progress? China did just that after the Ming Dynasty collapsed, prompting some centuries later the remark by Napoleon. “Let China sleep, when she awakes the World will be sorry”.
There is no doubt we are a very dirty as a race of people, but even in my lifetime I have seen immense strides made in the reduction of pollution. Farming will come to terms no doubt with its pollution, especially when the cities and towns also accept their responsibility for pollution as well.
If the Greens want “A World of No Pollution” then I suggest it will come in time to everyone of them.
Who says “There is no justice in this World”?

Kathryn said...

Two or three decades ago, I was a Greenpeace supporter. I left them back then when they became the militant politically motivated organisation that they have become today.
If they break the law, they should be arrested and charged with the courts handing down appropriate sentences rather than piffling fines.
I am concerned that the oil people do not skimp on their safety regimes because that is what caused that awful spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I think that lesson was well learned, and we ought to give them credit for that. Greenpeace come close to actually precipitating the events about which they have concern, and I have told them this in no uncertain terms.
The need to "pull their heads in" a bit, because their credibility is being eroded by their objecting to just about everything...

Mike Crowl said...

It's noticeable how often Greenpeace and activist movements use celebrities, especially artists and actors to front their causes. Would there have been as big a fuss about that recent 'occupation' if Lucy Lawless hadn't been involved? Somehow actors are supposed to give credibility to a protest, which is ironic given that actors spend their lives playing parts

Margaret said...

I cannot help comparing the Greenpeace Hooligans with the Somali pirates. On the one hand the pirates are dangerous because they climb onto ships and demand a ransom for their Gang leaders. The pirates have nothing but their tribal leaders benefit. If caught it is not the gang leaders who suffer it is the poor fools who do their bidding, and there is at least one who is now serving a 33year prison term for terrorising passengers and crews on ships. But when Green Peace activists do the same thing we chuckle away and think they must be doing something worthwhile. I see them no different than the Somali pirates. There can be no excuse for putting innocent lives at risk whether they be passengers, crews or crews going about their legal business. Why are we so naïve as to let this hypocritical situation continue in NZ. Margaret

Anonymous said...

When I think of Greenpeace "shark fins, whales and oil" all come to mind but most of all I remember the "Rainbow Warrior".
On balance I think the world has benefited from their existence over the past 40 years.


Auntie Podes said...

The melonheads defend their actions as "peaceable, non-violent protest". But there is nothing peaceable or non-violent when they endeavour to prevent others from carrying out perfectly legal activities by physical means. Physical coercion is, by definition, violent - it cannot be overcome other than by using retaliatory force.

Dave said...

Greenpeace take delight in always painting the worse case scenario. An example was the Rena sinking. To listen to Greenpeace and most of the sensationalist seeking media we would have been knee deep in dirty oil for years to come with our beaches ruined and sea life devastated. In fact the spill while unacceptable was dealt with quickly and efficiently. The remains of the Rena have now become a haven for marine and fish life and more prolific than before the grounding.
Even today we have the doomsayers demanding that the remains are removed because of the 'pollution'Half of them are driven by the prospect of money (compensation) and the others because the remains are a permanent reminder of the now contradiction to their earlier predictions.
Green peace has become a front for anti capitalism and communist ideologists. Unfortunately there are enough ignorant public who actually believe the propaganda.