When people get more upset about Greenpeace activists scaling parliament than the millions of people who will be killed in climate-related disasters, we have a problem

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Last Thursday four activists carrying solar panels, scaled Parliament in Wellington in a direct action to deliver a powerful and necessary message about climate change to our PM John Key:


“Cut Pollution, create jobs? Yeah, Nah.”

There has been a lot of condemnation and ‘tut, tut, tutting’ and finger-wagging directed at the allegedly illegal actions of these Greenpeace activists. Yeah, I get it: people don’t like Greenpeace or activists in general, especially ones who engage in supposedly illegal actions. Some believe the environmental juggernaut is about nothing more than getting as many donations as they can through their street campaigners (who probably annoy and fuck off more people than they recruit to the cause) and that direct actions like this are for show and controversy for controversy’s sake. Not to draw attention to the defining crisis of our lifetime: climate change.

A Palmerston North Council member posted the Facebook update below in relation to the action.  I’m reposting it because I believe it speaks to a wider culture of people who hold simular beliefs around activism.

green peace nah

Let’s break this down. First of all, John Key has denied climate change has anything to do with the spate of flooding we have seen recently in Aotearoa which caused mass evacuations. Cycleways may be on John Key’s ‘shit-to-do list’ but climate change certainly isn’t. John Key supports the dangerous practice of fracking and is all for ‘cash for gas’ and has told New Zealanders it is perfectly safe despite growing evidence to the contrary. In an issue of The New Internationalist, from 2013, when fracking was a relatively new process, Danny Chivers wrote in ‘Fracking: the gathering storm’:

“Some call [fracking] an energy revolution, others a toxic threat. It’s been hailed as the dawn of a new era and condemned as the final deadly fossil fuel rush that will carry us over the climate cliff.”

In 2012, US fracking generated 1,060 billion litres of wastewater contaminated with heavy metals, chemicals and hydrocarbons which was then pumped directly back down into the earth as ‘solution’. Christopher Smith, a microbiologist, recently told me when we spoke about wastewater from fracking: “Many studies have since found traces of these contaminants [heavy metals] in drinking water close to the drill sites and much controversy still surrounds this topic.”

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Still, John Key insists fracking is safe. John and his revenue-hungry government have a vested interest in keeping oil companies such as Statoil happy and profitable, not saving our planet from human-induced climate-related destruction and death.

But by all means please, continue to condemn these activists while world leaders continue to make weak climate change deals and get into bed with dirty fossil fuel companies at the cost of millions of lives, and the destruction of whole entire countries such as Kiribati. A pacific Island nation which the IPPC predicts will be swallowed completely by rising sea-levels in our life-time, and whose water source is being destroyed by ocean creep.

Greenpeace activists were not ‘attacking’ the Prime Minster as Neil Miller claimed, but holding power to account – something journalists in this country routinely fail to do.  So often activists who commit ‘illegal’ direct actions or what people dean ‘immoral’ or ‘offensive’ acts are criticised harshly and condemned by a mainstream media and the wider population and I, for one, am fucking tired of it.  When the law is unjust the law should be broken. Susan Sontag said in a keynote address, On Courage and Resistance:

‘We are all conscripts in one sense or another. For all of us, it is hard to break ranks; to incur the disapproval, the censure, the violence of an offended majority with a different idea of loyalty.’

Endlessly protesters who have legitimate grievances are told they are, or are portrayed as, ‘dirty hippies’, ‘whinging idiots’ and ‘violent thugs’. In ‘No Justice, No Peace: why the Baltimore riots where justified,’ activist and writer Juan Thompson poignantly points out:

‘Broken lives should always be prioritized over broken windows.’

From Baltimore to Ferguson, black and brown protesters and white allies have been condemned by white Fox News anchors and the wider American population, who took issue with a few broken windows and overturned cop cars. When uprisings erupted over the ongoing police violence and the killing of unarmed black and brown folk and the race and class warfare minorities endure on the daily, in America, we need to ask: what is worse – destroyed property or destroyed lives? What matters more – the lives lost because of police and can never ever be replaced, or possessions that can be purchsed again?

When people are more offended and outraged by activists destroying property or ‘scaling it’ than the very thing they are protesting – the destruction of communities, of people’s lives, of the entire planet – you know, we not only have a problem with our collective perspective.  We have a problem with our own humanity.

This Council member may have felt the direct action in question was “poor timing”, but when would have been a good time for this direct action to take place? When the shrinking window of time we have left to take deep actions on a global scale to (at least) slow down climate change has closed completely? As the picket slogan goes: “sorry to inconvenience you, we are trying to change the world.”

Perhaps the reason why some people in Aotearoa see actions like those taken by the four Greenpeace activist as ‘radical’ and utterly unhelpful because our media has mostly kept us ignorant of the devastating human and environmental effects of climate chaos. In poll carried out by both the NZ Herald and Radiolive asking if people were in favour of the actions of the Greenpeace activists, mostly, people where in support. But a recent study shows New Zealander’s have one of the highest levels of climate change scepticism. The crisis of climate change is to most New Zealanders an abstract issue that probably won’t affect them in their lifetimes. These people are deadly wrong.

I talked about Kiribati before, an island nation which locals darkly joke is about to become ‘the next Atlantis.’  Ioane Teitiota and his family moved to Aotearoa in 2007 from Kiribati and he applied to be the world’s first legal climate change refugee in New Zealand courts. As sea-levels rise his homeland is becoming increasingly uninhabitable; waves crash over storm barriers and are destroying ground-water supplies.

Despite mounting evidence Ioane and his family have been displaced by climate change and will suffer very real and adverse consequences if they return home, the New Zealand Court of Appeal ruled that Ioane was not a climate change refugee. While the international media extensively covered the plight of Ioane, we barely heard a whisper in our New Zealand media. Morgan Godfery (one of few New Zealand journalists to cover this issue), said to me:

“The New Zealand media can be small-minded about things. The foreign media interest in the Teitiota’s has been huge but here in New Zealand very few people seem to know we have the opportunity to lead the world on a climate change issue.”

Instead of condemning the Greenpeace protesters who scaled parliament to draw attention to John Key’s broken promises of creating jobs, and his lack of action and horrific indifference over climate change, I’d rather condemn this callous court ruling. I’d rather be appalled at our media’s complete black-out of Teitiota and his story. But you can’t condemn what you can’t see. It is much easier to call into question the actions of a couple of protesters who posed a ‘security risk’ at Parliament than a judicial system that is yet to catch-up with climate change, at the expense of millions of people who need safe shelter from the storm.


A version of this blog will appear on Chloe King’s own site, Posse. 


  1. There are some problems with the facebook critic’s ideas:

    1) No one may use any colour that is even vaguely associated with a political party in NZ.

    This means all signs must happen on white background, with white writing. Red, Blue(and light blue), Green(and light green), Yellow, Orange, any Black and White contrast, and a kind of brownish greeny Olive and purple – they’re all out. I’m all for pushing the creative envelope, but that’s going too far. I think the critic saw what they wanted to see in a red background, revealing their bias and playing from the old playbook – Labour left, National right. They prefer National.

    2) Radicals = bad, and radical = breaking the law. If that is the case, I guess John Key and his party, and certainly ACT are all radicals and therefore all bad. But seeing that a person can be an activist and a radical without breaking any laws, it is not the case. However, John and his friends have broken the law.

    “Our democratic traditions” are based on a version of European feudalism that isn’t at all democratic and hasn’t ever been traditonal here – just go ask at your local Marae how the “traditional democratic law” is changed from one year to the next. I think the critic is just getting a bit puffy about having to deal with reasonable facts while trying to sleep in a bed made of wilful ignorance.

    3) They say the activists should have said “not enough” has been done on CC, instead of “nothing”, then give an example of something the government has done that is not enough, and will not reduce effects of CC at all, and suggest “dollars spent means we’ve done enough even if nothing has been done”.

    They then go on to talk about timing, because we all know that two things must not happen at once. 121 MPs in NZ and they can only handle ONE thing at a time, otherwise their brains explode. Boom. Just like that.

    They also say these activists were macho. Did I see photos of them sitting in folding deck chairs? I’m sorry, but folding deck chairs just aren’t macho. Hard cold concrete and a freezing ass is macho. Piles, that’s macho. Chillblains caused by activism – Macho as fuck! But you cannot look macho or cool sitting in a folding chair, not even at the rugby, and the activists looked pretty relaxed. Any more relaxed, they might’ve held a poetry discussion group. If climbing things is inherently macho, would they have won Equality Points for any women who were also involved?

  2. Nice one Chloe, because this protest was taken to the heart of Government it appears more was done to ignore the message. Even one political reporter referred it as being an “attack” on parliament, laughable really. I’ve never seen anyone assaulted with a solar panel.

    Also our current emissions are in the order of 20% greater than what they were in 1990. Nothing like the 80% below 1990 levels we need by 2030 to avoid some sort of climate hell. Watch as our current political and economic systems are torn apart by their own inability to deal with the real world and our greatest problem.

  3. Thanks Chloe got me out of my funk over how little of what this action highlighted has been discussed in the media. God our journos are a pathetic bunch of sycophants! We are a democracy it is legal to criticize the government. Key’s government has done diddly squat to address the multiple issues associated with climate change. There is no discussion, there is no debate there is zero understanding of the biggest threat to human survival since the last world war in our parliament.I despair!

  4. In years to come, children will learn that Greenpeace was a voice of truth and sanity in a civilisation mad with consumerism, greed, selfishness, wastefulness, mass-extinction; and terrorist bogeymen.

    Either that, or we’ll be grovelling in the dirt, eking out a living in a Mad Max future. With rats and cockroaches to keep us company.

    Imagine the look of disdain as some poor wretch, clothed in rags, unearths a National Party election placard bearing the faded, barely-legible words, “Bright New Future”.

  5. Nice piece Chloe. NZ’s media, particularly One News and 3News, were pathetic in failing to challenge politicians etc who whinged about security. But, I think Greenpeace also has itself to blame for failing to counter the security breach deflection as it emerged over the day. Plus, Greenpeace et al have presented over-simplistic monocausal argument and oversimplified solutions, as is shown in “Green-tweaks to Monopoly Capitalism?: snoopman.net.nz/?p=3082

  6. Anyone notice how much the Right and the Establishment seem threatened by Greenpeace? One thing I’m thinking is that Greenpeace has street-cred with young people and can be mobilised. The ‘millenials’ may not vote but they take notice of organisations like Greenpeace, and that freaks out the Right big time.

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