Catherine Delahunty

Scientific Megalomania?

by Catherine Delahunty

The Education and Science Select Committee carries out financial reviews of Crown Research institutes which is a fascinating process, not so much the glossy balance sheets but reading between the lines. We also get to speak with the heads of these bodies and ask questions about the work. Yesterday we meet with Geological and Nuclear Science (GNS) who were very proud of their balance sheets their contracts with the Sultans of Brunei and Oman, Solid Energy and many other clients.

Their piece de resistance was the work they did to secure a vast extension to New Zealand’s oceanic economic zone which, according to them, is riddled with wonderful opportunities to make us money out of oil, gas, gold and other minerals. The good work they are doing on climate change in the Antarctic and on geothermal energy, and tidal wave power in Cook Strait was overshadowed for me at least by their passion for “carbon capture” as in storing dangerous liquid CO2 in the earth in perpetuity. They are working with the “clean coal” scientists in Australia and are utterly convinced it can work, but when Moana Mackey from Labour asked them how they would prevent leakage in earthquakes, there was no coherent answer.

Best of all was a tentative idea of boring through the Alps to bring West Coast water into the Canterbury Plans, a boys own engineering fantasy which excites GNS. When I suggested that tangata whenua might have a contrary view about treating mountains and water in this manner they reckoned they could negotiate with the “upper cadre” of Ngai Tahu, but of course wouldn’t do it if there was opposition from tangata whenua.

Their enthusiasm for seabed mining in the EEZ was untempered by any consideration for environmental effects on sea mounts and ocean biodiversity. These are minor impediments compared to the vast opportunity of making money out of dinosaur fossil fuels.

What bugged me about their approach was how unscientific it was. It was so narrowly focused on geology and seemed ignore all environments in which all this drilling and blasting was to take place.

In the Wild West the hired guns work for anybody that pays. One of their leading scientists worked for the Pentagon they told us with pride. I can see that they have skills, experience and can invent fantastic machines and ideas; I just couldn’t find any environmental ethics in their portfolio. Perhaps I need drill down deeper.

Or perhaps science having to sell itself to survive is a big part of the problem?

Published in Environment & Resource Management by Catherine Delahunty on Fri, May 1st, 2009   

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