On a warm Labour weekend Monday, Coal Action Auckland staged a roadside protest near the Waikato town of Mangatawhiri along State Highway 2 to draw people’s attention to the looming threat of a new coal mine adjacent this popular holiday route. The threat doesn't come from where you would expect though, not from the traditional mining companies you hear about, but Fonterra; the largest dairy co-operative in the world.
At first glance it may appear strange that a dairy company wants to open a coal mine, but Fonterra, through a direct subsidiary; Glencoal, already operate many coal mines throughout the country. Fonterra use this coal in it's boilers, to produce powdered milk for export. This is where a large proportion of New Zealands carbon emissions come from. Glencoal has been granted consent to extract coal from the site for eight years, providing an additional 120,000 tonnes each year for Fonterra's milk drying plants at Waitoa, Te Awamutu and Hautapu.
It's a reckless and unethical move by Fonterra when burning coal has been proven to be a major factor in accelerating climate change. By phasing out the use of coal, and using wood waste in their boilers instead, this is one of the most easily achievable ways to reduce carbon emissions in the agricultural sector.
While this is by no means a perfect strategy, it would be a vast improvement on the current practice and was the message Coal Action Auckland was trying to get across to the thousands of holiday makers returning from vacation. Perfectly situated just off the highway, banners and placards were a welcome distraction for the near deadstill traffic, while pamphlets were handed out to the idle vehicles. Support was near 65% based on toots, thumbs up and yells of support. A very low 5% were openly opposed, consisting mainly of older white males in high end vehicles.
Along in solidarity and support were two Kanak anti mining activists from New Caledonia, who are here for a week to work on a film about the struggle in their homeland. Florent Eurisouke and his uncle Jojo are from a prominent Kanak family from the province of Houailou on the east coast of Grande Terre, the large island of New Caledonia, Kanaky.
Their people's ancestral tribal land includes the rugged and nickel rick Cap Boccage, a peninsula appropriated in the 19th century by the Ballande family originally from Bordeaux. The Ballande family are what they call 'Petit mineurs' (little miners) which is misleading as their Cap Boccage nickel mining operation is amongst the largest in private ownership in New Caledonia.
This private ownership status, the physical isolation of Cap Boccage and the historic arrogance of the Ballande family make for lax mining methods which have resulted in serious environmental damage. One particular event in 2008 was the collapse of a sump after heavy rain. This tailing's pond used to contain the acidic minerals scraped off the mountain tops to access the nickel ore was built too close to the typically very steep edge the of the operation.
The resulting collapse of the containment wall sent the toxic sludge crashing down into the coral lagoon below. The sea was red, the colour of the soil, killing all sea life for near on 20 kilometres along the coast. Florent, his father Vincent and 20 to 30 locals barricaded and occupied the main entrance to the mine for several months. He has made it his mission to protest not only the environmental concerns surrounding open cast mining but to question the legitimacy of their operation in his area on cultural grounds as well.
The group that he has formed includes staunch unionists, tribal elders, and many young people. It is an umbrella group that includes twenty-seven different environmental and independence groups and is firmly anti-colonialst, anti neo-colonialist; specifically the increasing power of foreign multinationals. Their struggle is very relevant to what we have lived with the still-on-the-reef Rena and what we are living now that mining seems to be gearing up around the country. They are interested in forming links with various groups around the country and will be speaking on Monday night at the University of Auckland at 7:30pm. Details here.