ON March 26 and 27 I'll be in Wellington outside the annual Petroleum Conference with hundreds of others from around Aotearoa NZ. I'm nervous but excited. We aim to stop the conference.
We want to help put a stop to new oil and gas exploration in NZ, because the burning of fossil fuels is warming the atmosphere and driving climate change. To keep below two degrees of global warming, which our government signed up to at the Paris climate talks in 2015, scientists have calculated that we can't burn most of the oil, gas and coal already discovered, let alone look for more. But that's exactly what this conference is about.
The annual NZ Petroleum Conference is, in the words of our government agency NZ Petroleum & Minerals, our "premier oil and gas event" where taxpayer money is used to sell off the rights to drill in our oceans and on our land to the highest bidder in the form of "block offers" — to multinational companies like Shell, NZ Oil & Gas (not a Kiwi company), Norway's Statoil and others.
We've missed the boat to be first in the world to stop new fossil fuel exploration; Ireland, Belize, Costa Rica and France have already beaten us, but we can still make climate change this generation's nuclear-free moment, as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced before the election.
I was there for the first one. I remember David Lange leaning across the table at the Oxford Union Debate in 1985. "I can smell the uranium on your breath, sir!" he bellowed in that deep lawyer's courtroom voice.
I was born the year after Dr Charles Keeling began charting atmospheric carbon dioxide at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii. His "Keeling Curve" is considered one of the most important scientific works of the 20th century.
In the '80s, while I melted the edges of my cheap hiking boots climbing the active volcano Pacaya in Guatemala, Dr James Hansen of Nasa was alerting the White House to the danger to the climate of burning ever-increasing quantities of fossil fuels. I was as ignorant then of global warming as I was of the Guatemalan genocide going on around me.
Now it's not only war but climate change that is killing people. I felt sick when I read of the gravediggers in Pakistan digging trenches in anticipation of mass deaths from the coming summer heatwave. Wildfires in the Mediterranean, California and elsewhere are being described as the worst ever witnessed. "It was raining fire. It was a view out of Dante", was Clark Tulberg's description from his southern California home two months ago.
Last week our Prime Minister took a first-hand look at the devastation wrought by climate change in the Pacific.
I hope to join the Super Grans outside the Petroleum Conference this year. We will make a Gran stand with placards displaying blown-up photos of our grandchildren.
We want our new government to be brave, the way David Lange was.
Dear Prime Minister: Make this moment your generation's nuclear-free moment. Stop new fossil fuel projects. The Super Grans will be there to cheer you on.
■Rosemary Penwarden is a Whanganui-born grandmother, now living near Dunedin