Author Archives: Gary Cranston

Amazon Watch : From Amazon to Zealand

Brazilian oil interests go global, stirring conflicts with Maori indigenous communities.

April 15, 2011 | Andrew E. Miller

Protests on the beach in New Zealand

“So, you are an artist and activist?” I inquired with Ora Barlow as we sat down for morning coffee in mid-March. “I’m just a local person who is concerned about the future of my community,” she replied.

By happenstance, our respective travel plans had brought us both to the west coast of Aotearoa’s (New Zealand’s) north island. A Maori musician from the Te Whanau-a-Apanui people, Ora plays with the three-woman band Pacific Curls. They had just performed the night before in New Plymouth. I was there on vacation with my wife, visiting my brother-in-law.

In the last year, Ora has become an accidental activist. On June 1st of 2010, New Zealand‘s government publicly announced a contract with Petrobras, offering a huge off-shore gas exploration concession along the north island’s east coast. This was a shocker for coastal Maori communities, who were hearing about the deal for the first time. The announcement was made right at the height of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Bonfires of protest Local communities were swift to express their discontent: they organized coordinated beach protests, lighting bonfires up and down the coast as an act of symbolic opposition to the plans. At the time, organiser Ani Pahuru-Huriwai said. “This is the way we all informed each other, signaled each other way back – through fire. In this case we’re saying that it’s Petrobras that we’re all against.”

Since then, Ora has focused her energies on public education at a local level about Petrobras and what’s at stake for the Raukumara Basin. She helped organize a highly successful “Stop the Drilling!” music festival to raise these issues with Maori community members, which attracted 1,500 concert-goers. She also contributed to a three-page issue brief that is currently educating people within New Zealand and beyond about the campaign.

Map of potential oil and coal expansion in Aotearoa

Though some areas of New Zealand have seen oil and gas exploitation for decades, the right-wing government has just recently launched their “Petroleum Action Plan” to expand such activities far and wide all around the country. Communities elsewhere are also just beginning to understand the deals having been made with oil and gas interests. Local resistance efforts are flowering around the country as a result.

Listening to Ora, I was stunned to hear that consultation with indigenous communities around resource extraction within their territories is as bad or perhaps worst than what we see around the Amazon. Community access to prior information is zero and the “consultation” is held with government-selected councils that are unrepresentative of the actual grassroots communities. I asked myself, “Is it really possible that the government of New Zealand is on par with that of Peru?”

Encouragingly, the localized resistance campaigns around New Zealand are gaining momentum. Understanding the importance of strength in unity, they are reaching out to other communities within their region and increasingly across the country. A number are organizing events as part of the April 20th global day of action against fossil fuels.

In the immediate term, the campaign against Petrobras’ deep-water concession is heating up. A local indigenous call for national solidarity has galvanized a group of Kiwi environmental groups to launch a flotilla of ships from Auckland harbor to the East Coast. The initiative is starting to bring a national-level media spotlight on the situation.

For our part, I committed that Amazon Watch would work to connect Ora and fellow Maori leaders with strategic contacts including Brazilian indigenous federations and organizations dealing with Petrobras in other contexts. As we have seen with our work across the Amazon, direct indigenous to indigenous exchanges of information and solidarity can help mutually strengthen their respective struggles.

In a serendipitous turn of events, I learned that Sydney Possuelo – the renowned Brazilian defender of the Amazon’s “lost tribes” or indigenous peoples in state of voluntary isolation – is living in New Zealand for the next two years. During my visit I facilitated an initial meeting between him and a local climate justice activist, Gary Cranston, who is working closely with Ora and the Petrobras campaign. My hope is that Sydney will provide first-hand knowledge of Petrobras and Brazilian connections that will strengthen indigenous efforts in New Zealand.

The success of this kind of campaign will depend on local conviction, persistence, and creativity. Indigenous organizers like Ora Barlow are part of a new generation of leaders who will carry the campaign forward in the years to come. As she and others step forward to challenge powerful economic and political interests, we should educate ourselves about their campaign and offer support when and where we can.

To learn more:

Global day of action against extraction : Aotearoa call to action

Callout for global support and solidarity : Maori communities face off with Petrobras over drilling permit

Your support and solidarity is urgently needed!

Tino Rangatiratanga Flag : symbol of Maori self determination which embraces the spiritual link Māori have with Papatuanuku (Earthmother) and is a part of the international drive by indigenous people for self determination.

1. Contact media in your country, write a press release supporting the communities in New Zealand that are threatened by mining activities and supporting their efforts to defend themselves. International media coverage is needed to put pressure on Petrobras and the New Zealand government NOW.

2. Use this information to alert your colleagues, networks and members of your organisation to what is happening in New Zealand through email lists, newsletters, magazines, bulletins etc.

3. Send a message of global support and solidarity to Let these communities know that they are not alone, and that they are a part of a global movement for climate justice.

4. Consider taking action against Petrobras in your own country as a way of supporting what is happening here, and building links between your organisation or community fighting Petrobras [or other extractive companies] and the communities of Aotearoa threatened by fossil fuel exploration projects.


On the 1st June 2010, just 42 days after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and 44 days before the well was capped, Brazilian company Petrobras was awarded by The New Zealand Government a five year exploratory license for oil and gas in the Raukumara Basin, situated in the East Cape / Bay of Plenty region of the North Island of Aotearoa (New Zealand). The license starts from a mere 4 kilometres offshore and goes out to 110 km. The granted permit area is 12,330 sq km. The New Zealand government sees just 6% of the profit Petrobras makes. If the project goes ahead, Petrobras will bring in their own workforce and maybe offer a few short term jobs.

The area for exploration is the traditional fishing grounds of indigenous peoples from the tribes and sub-tribes of Te Whānau-a-Apanui and Ngāti Porou. There was no prior consultation with these communities whatsoever.

The New Zealand National Party was elected in 2008 to lead a coalition government that has been committed to opening up the land and sea around the country for oil, gas and other minerals extraction in the interests of national economic development. A policy to mine pristine conservation lands was abandoned in 2010 when huge public opposition, supported by many environmental organisations, expressed widespread opposition to the plan, however, the areas remaining open to exploitation cover an area 42 times greater than that which is currently being mined, across most of Aotearoa.

A visit from a vessel contracted to Petrobras is expected to arrive off the East Cape on the weekend of the 2nd-3rd of April 2011. In response to a call to oppose deep sea oil drilling from East Cape iwi (tribe) Te Whanau a Apanui, a flotilla of ships is to set sail from Auckland, for the East Cape to confront the exploration vessel. People are being asked to light fires on the beaches and hui (meetings) are being called along the coast to mobilise the communities on land.

BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill superimposed on to the Raukumera permit zone

The Raukumara Basin sits on a major and active fault line. In a high seismic activity area such as the Raukumara Basin there is an extremely high possibility that there would be damage to any sub-sea installations (wells, pipe lines) in the probable event of an earth quake. The exploration area regularly experiences +4 or +5 magnitude quakes and lies on the same faultline as the one that recently devastated the South Island city of Christchurch.

The massive oil and gas spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which took three months to cap and spilled millions of barrels of oil, was an exploratory drill. The depth of the exploratory drill

in the Gulf of Mexico was 1500 metres. In the Raukumara Basin proposed depths range from 1500 metres to 3000 metres, yet NZ has almost no capacity to deal with a major spill and has no adequate or enforceable means of compensation. It is entirely unknown what impacts the 240db sonic booms shot from the exploration vessel during the 2d seismic exploration phase will have on aquatic life, particularly regarding marine mammals. The area is at the heart of a well documented whale migration route.

The region’s history revolves around the moana (sea) and the Iwi (Maori tribes) have many stories that speak of the cultural and spiritual significance of the sea. It holds some of the most central and important history of the iwi threatened by Petrobras’s search for hydrocarbons and profit on behalf of its shareholders.

For as long as the Maori communities of the East Cape can remember, their daily lives, tikanga (customs) and whakapapa (ancestry) have been connected to the sea. “The sea is forever in our lives” says coastal community member Ora Barlow of Te Whānau-ā-Apanui.

The CO2lonisation of Aotearoa


Petrobras has recently become the third biggest petroleum company in the world after implementing the largest share offer in the history of capitalism, specifically to raise funds for offshore oil exploration at a time when the world stands on the brink of runaway climate change and global oil reserves are peaking. Increasingly dan

gerous extraction projects are becoming more commonplace in an industry desperate to maintain its grip on the world’s energy systems. As a result, communities most directly affected by the exploitation of fossil fuel reserves are facing unprecedented levels of risk as these companies target what they call ‘unconventional’ fossil fuel reserves.

The New Zealand government has given permission to a foreign company, with an abhorrent social and environmental record the permission to threaten these coastal communities without any prior consultation whatsoever. An oil spill will mean nothing less than cultural genocide for a region that has managed to maintain a great deal of its traditionally cared for land and traditional knowledge of environmental management against all odds. Toka Tū Moana is their renowned phrase (whakatauakii) that declares steadfastness and resilience, standing firm and unshakeable, despite adversity. A great deal of effort is made within these communities to maintain knowledge of traditional environmental management and many programmes are underway to transition these communities back towards states of true community resilience. “Our tipuna (ancestors) practised sustainable living, we can do it too, they relied on whanaungatanga (collective living), and so do we.” – Ani Pahuru-Huriwai, Ngati Porou

However, an oil spill, and climate change itself may well wipe out the entire coastal community’s ability to maintain whatever level of traditional food sovereignty and self sufficiency they have left.


When the government announced their awarding of this permit to Petrobras, local Maori symbolised their opposition to the plans of Petrobras and the New Zealand government by lighting fires along their coastline. Ms Pahuru-Huriwai of Ngati Porou (one of the closest communities to the permit area) said. “This is the way we all informed each other, signalled each other way back – through fire. In this case we’re saying that it’s Petrobras that we’re all against.”.“It’s a serious threat to us and our kapata kai (food cupboard). It’s not just a Maori thing either – we think every Kiwi (New Zealander) has an issue with it. Everyone who is scared of what’s happening, they need to be here.”

Several months later and with no sign of Petrobras or the New Zealand government changing their plans, a music festival under the banner of ‘Stop The Drilling!’ was held in Te Kaha, a region adjacent to the permit area. One and a half thousand people showed up to show their support, dwarfing the resident population of that particular tribal

area. Crowds shouted ‘Stop the Drilling!!’ and spoke of defending their community from attack by sea.

Petrobras have approached local runanga (tribal leaders) and have entered into a process of communication with them. The runanga have communicated to Petrobras the position of the communities that no consent will be given to Petrobras to follow through with the project. Preparations have been made by Iwi leadership to apply for a judicial review of the decision made to grant the permit, and for communication with the United Nations while local Maori have, with support from environmentalists, fishermen and others, established the Ahi Ka Action Group to campaign for a revocation of the permit and a decision not to explore the area.

The Ahi Ka Action Group have distributed 20,000 flyers to raise public awareness of the situation, they have established a basic website and have lobbied local authorities to throw their weight behind efforts to prevent exploration and extraction activities in the permit area. The group has been linking up with individuals and groups in other parts of Aotearoa and overseas who are under threat from mining in their area. A national networking and information sharing website is under development at:

Petrobras has contracted a vessel to undertake the first stage of seismic testing in the Raukumara permit area and this work is due to start in March 2011.


With such a massive proportion of land and sea being opened up to mining companies, communities across the country are getting ready to defend themselves.

On the West coast of the North Island communities of Taranaki are also under attack from land and sea with 13 new onshore/coastal permits and 15 new offshore permits being handed out by the government. Parihaka, a settlement of huge cultural and historical significance  which In the 1870s and 1880s became the centre of a major campaign of non-violent resistance to European occupation of confiscated land in the area is already surrounded by oil and gas exploration projects and is now facing even more. The company Greymouth Petroleum is focus­sing on northern to central Taranaki while companies Kea Petroleum, TAG Oil, Green Gate, L&M Energy and Todd Energy are targeting the rest of inland eastern and southern Taranaki. There is a great deal of concern surrounding the increased use of hydraulic fracturing to access oil and gas reserves in this area, a highly dangerous extraction process recently banned in some places in of the United States.

Down South, government-owned Solid Energy and other coal companies want to mine massive quantities of lignite, a low-quality brown coal, that lies under Southland farmland. They plan to turn it into briquettes, urea fertiliser, and synthetic diesel. At least 6.2 billion tonnes of lignite is technically and economically recoverable in 10 major deposits in Otago and Southland. The in-ground lignite resource is approximately 11 billion tonnes. A wide range of local and national groups are gearing up to stop these developments.

Up North, permits for a wide range of minerals, including gold are spurring communities into defensive action and communities are linking up with one another and a national level movement is coalescing to stop the drilling across the country.


Of course, this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon, Petrobras and the fossil fuel industry in general has a long and bloody history of threatening the very existence of communities in order to access fossil fuel reserves. “it’s an international issue and we have to make sure our local support is strong and then globalise” – Ora Barlow, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui

While politicians fiddle around in flailing international negotiations to halt runaway climate change, their hands tied behind their backs by the most powerful consortium of companies the world has ever known, these communities, and others directly impacted by the root causes and impacts of the climate crisis are successfully standing together and defeating them in their own back yards.

“We must stand united with other hapu, other iwi, other New Zealanders who care about the environment. We must keep pressure on our government to wake up and show some long-term leadership, make Aotearoa a Renewable Energy Country, no longer reliant on Fossil Fuels like oil & gas, that the human race is quickly exhausting. We are a nuclear free country; we need to be a fossil fuel free country too!” – Ani Pahuru-Huriwai, Ngati Porou

“We must support those who carry this kaupapa for us to the international stage. We must unite with other indigenous peoples and learn from their experiences.” – Ani Pahuru-Huriwai, Ngati Porou

As the case of the BP oil spill and those lower income communities hit hardest by hurricane Katrina illustrates, the communities most vulnerable to environmental destruction are also those most susceptible to the climate crises. Those hit first and worst are most often the least responsible for the crisis yet are actively leading the fight against major climate polluters. They require globalised support and solidarity in defending their answers to an ecological crisis which they have not caused or reaped untold profits from.

Te Whanau a Apanui spokeswoman Dayle Takutimu has called on the whole country to support their stand, at a time when seismic surveying by Brazilian oil giant Petrobras is expected to begin off the Cape.

“We are resolute in our defence of our ancestral lands and waters from the destructive practice of deep sea oil drilling. This is an issue for all peoples of New Zealand and we call on those who support our opposition to stand with us in defence of what we all treasure,” she says.


Flotilla Heeds Iwi’s Call To Stop Deep Sea Oil

climate justice taranaki

Withoutyourwalls – climate justice infoshop

Facebook group : Stop the Drilling on our East Coast

Contact : for global climate justice movement related contact on the situation

re threatened by mining activities and supporting their efforts to defend themselves. International media coverage is needed to put pressure on Petrobras and the New Zealand government.

2. Use this information to alert your colleagues, networks and members of your organisation to what is happening in New Zealand through email lists, newsletters, magazines, bulletins etc.

3. Send messages of globalised support and solidarity to – Messages will be passed on to the communities under threat. Let them know that they are not alone, and that they are a part of a global movement for climate justice.

4. Consider taking action against Petrobras in your own country as a way of supporting what is happening here, and building links between your organisation or community fighting Petrobras [or other extractive companies] and the communities of Aotearoa threatened by this current round of fossil fuel exploration projects.

5. Write to New Zealand government ministers demanding that they immediately reverse the decision to grant a permit to Petrobras to explore for oil off the East Cape of New Zealand and cancel all new mining and drilling permits. Express your feelings about the hypocrisy of a government that opens up so much of its land to mining projects and threatens indigenous communities while branding itself as a culturally progressive and 100% pure ‘clean and green’ nation to the rest of the world.

MARKETS SKEW CLIMATE TALKS TO FAVOUR RICH | Civil Society Condemn Offsets and World Bank role in Climate Finance

Immediate Release – 5 April 2011 – Alex Rafalowicz –


Civil Society Condemn Offsets and World Bank role in Climate Finance

BANGKOK – Today, civil society groups announced that over 100 national and global networks, representing millions of citizens, had signed a letter rejecting any role for the World Bank in climate finance.

At a press conference, hosted by Friends of the Earth, to launch the letter, several policy experts provided further analysis on the state of UN climate negotiations over the provision of funding under any international agreement. “The principles are simple, providing climate finance is a legal and moral obligation for rich countries.” Michelle Maynard of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) said.

“It is a legal obligation included in the UN Convention that every country, including the United States agreed to. It’s a moral obligation arising from rich countries’ climate debts – debts they owe from overusing their fair share of the atmosphere and from causing climate change and climate change harms.” Ms Maynard said.

“Funding should be from public sources, new and additional to Official Development Assistance (ODA). Rich countries should not shirk from their responsibilities by anthropocentrically commodifying nature through the market’.” Ms Maynard said.

“The presentations in Bangkok present a worrying trend. Developed countries proposed cuts are not consistent with the 2 degree target they agreed in Cancun, and they plan to achieve more than one-third of these inadequate efforts offshore in developing countries through “offsets”” Mr Stilwell of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development said.

“Equally worrying is that developed countries intend to count carbon finance as source of funding for the developing countries, even though it funds them to achieve their own targets. This sounds like creative accounting to me. “ Mr Stilwell said.

“Offsets is a code word for cheating. Offsets cheat on environmental integrity, they cheat on developed countries’ pledges to reduce emissions and they cheat on rich countries obligations to provide adequate climate finance.” Asad Rehman of Friends of the Earth EWNI said.

“Climate finance is part of the reparations for climate debt owed by rich, industrialized countries to the peoples and countries of the South.” Ahmed Swapan from Jubilee South Asia-Pacific Movement on Debt and Development (JSAPMDD) said.

“This climate debt must be collected, managed and disbursed by an institution that is democratic, accountable, transparent and governed by a Board with a majority coming from South countries, not countries who are responsible for the problem of climate change. The World Bank is not that institution and has no place in designing, setting up or running such an institution.” Mr Swapan said.

“We deplore the appointment of the World Bank as trustee for the Green Climate Fund. The World Bank does not have any credibility to be involved in climate financing given its long track record in promoting and funding fossil fuel projects that exacerbate climate change. In addition, it is involved in promoting false solutions to the climate problem.“ Mr Swapan said.

Climate Justice in Durban: build our movement for COP 17!

Climate Justice is the new global movement facing the greatest challenge in human history, because failure is the only way to summarize 16 years of talk by United Nations negotiators from national states influenced by fossil-fueldependent capital (and the big Environmental NGOs with which they work).

As the world will learn, the South African state also exemplifies climate injustice. Vast CO2 emissions are caused by provision of the world’s cheapest electricity to the world’s biggest mining and metals corporations (BHP Billiton and Anglo American), which in turn permanently degrade our water resources and pollute the air. Opportunities for Green Jobs and renewable energy are ignored. Meanwhile, electricity disconnections affect millions of low-income people each year. And President Jacob Zuma was one of the five ‘leaders’ who signed the unfair, unambitious and non-binding Copenhagen Accord last year.

Yet from the standpoint of justice, the choice of the International Convention Centre in Durban, South Africa to host the Conference of the Parties 17 (starting on 28 November 2011) is a good one, as some of the country’s leading environmental, social and labour struggles are underway here.

Welcome to Durban, where activists’ critiques of incompetent global elites are well-rehearsed. The UN World Conference Against Apartheid and Racism was held in 2001 and attracted 15,000 protesters on August 31, because under Washington’s influence, the UN refused to put onto the agenda either Israeli racism/apartheid against Palestine or Western reparations for centuries of slavery, colonialism and apartheid.

Exactly a year later, at the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development, 30,000 activists marched 12km to protest the UN’s commodification of nature: ‘Bluewashing’ of corporate polluters through the Global Compact, ‘Type Two Partnerships’ with multinational capital, promotion of neoliberal social and economic policies, and endorsement of water privatization and ‘Clean Development Mechanism’ carbon trading.

Other protests were held at the Durban ICC against the World Economic Forum and the neoliberal ‘New Partnership for Africa’s Development’. The history of eco-social solidarity is rich. South Africans and our

international allies fought racial apartheid until 1994. They next tackled denial of access to cheap anti-retroviral AIDS medicines by Big Pharma, the World Trade Organisation and the Clinton and Mbeki governments. History was made here even earlier. South Africa’s modern trade union movement began at Africa’s largest harbour in 1973. The rise of South Africa’s ‘new urban social movements’ began in the Durban neighbourhood of Chatsworth in 1998. The first South African critiques of AIDS denialism took form at the Durban ICC AIDS conference in 2000.

Climate is a sore spot because of the intense emissions and air pollution in Durban. The Durban Group for Climate Justice was founded in 2004 and continues today as a source of critical information about ‘false solutions’. One of the highest-profile fights against carbon trading was waged at Durban’s environmentally-racist Bisasar Road landfill (Africa’s largest) in the mid-2000s, resulting in a World Bank retreat from project financing in 2005. In 2009, a major climate summit was hosted by the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, an activist group which also organized the first protests against the World Bank’s 2010 decision to fund the Medupi coal-fired power plant with its biggest-ever project loan ($3.75 billion).

Activism continues in South Durban, one of the world’s most dangerous petrochemical complexes, including one of the ‘1000 Cancuns’ on December 4. The other main South African cities also have regular protests on climate, energy and related issues. On December 2 there were 14 arrests at an

Earthlife Africa Joburg protest against the state’s energy policy. Regular demonstrations are held at Eskom and Sasol, SA’s two largest emitters. South African activists founded Climate Justice Now! SA in 2009, and in early 2011 will announce hosting and activist strategies for the year ahead.

The Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal is hosting several Climate Camps in 2011. SDCEA, groundWork, Earthlife eThekwini,, the Diakonia faith and justice centre, Ecopeace and many allied community, environmental and labour groups will ensure that delegates to the COP 17 get the message: cut a genuine deal or face South Africa’s famed social protests, amongst the world’s most militant and prolific.

Join us for a crucial moment in socio-environmental history!

For more, see,,

What is Climate Justice?

  • Principles and demands articulated at Rights of Mother Earth conference, Cochabamba, 2010
  • 50 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2017
  • stabilising temperature rises to 1C and 300 Parts Per Million
  • acknowledging the climate debt owed by developed countries
  • full respect for Human Rights and the inherent rights of indigenous people
  • universal declaration of rights of Mother Earth to ensure harmony with nature
  • establishment of an International Court of Climate Justice
  • rejection of carbon markets and commodification of nature & forests through REDD
  • promotion of measures that change the consumption patterns of developed countries
  • end of intellectual property rights for technologies useful for mitigating climate change
  • payment of 6 percent of developed countries’ GDP to addressing climate change

Our local-global inspirations: Durban was home to eco-social justice visionaries who died in the past year: Dennis Brutus (26 December 2009) and Fatima Meer (12 March 2010). Durban social movements held several memorial ceremonies in 2010. The two would have insisted on the most critical, vigorous engagements with the COP 17 elites.

Fatima Meer – Dennis`Brutus