Over the last three weeks here in New Zealand, we’ve been grappling with our worst ever environmental disaster (in amongst the joys of the Rugby World Cup).

On October 5th, the Rena, a fully loaded container ship ran full-speed over a large reef 25 kilometres off the coast of the North Island. Since then it has been leaking tonnes of toxic bunker fuel, and losing dozens of containers. Much like the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the oil is now washing up on the shores of New Zealand’s popular holiday beaches in Tauranga and washing up oil covered wildlife in the process.

While salvage teams are doing their best to pump out as much of the remaining bunker fuel (it was carrying approximately 1700 tonnes), the sluggish disaster response has raised serious questions of the government’s plans to push ahead with opening up new deep-sea drilling platforms around New Zealand. With only 4 weeks until the general election, it’s put a strong focus on the need to scrutinise the energy policies of political parties. There’s also pressure being put on the ship company, Costamere to front up for the full costs of the damage (you can sign the petition here).

But ultimately this disaster reflects the costs of a fossil fuel addiction that afflicts our whole society. One of the responses that we’re supporting here in New Zealand is a fun campaign to encourage people to go without using fossil fueled transport on one Sunday each month until the end of the year – beginning this Sunday October 31st. It’s such a good follow on from Moving Planet, and is very much like a Car Free day, only there’s three of them. It’s called the “Ode to Tauranga: 3 Car Free Days”, as a dedication to the locals and wildlife affected by the disaster.

Organiser Charlotte Squire, editor of the e-zine, Happyzine is encouraging people to get creative with how they spend their Sunday without fossil-fuel transport, suggesting “leisurely strolls around the neighbourhood, cycling, morning and afternoon teas with friends, long over due house maintenance, long chats about stuff we’ve been waiting to find the time to chat about, shooting some hoops”. The campaign also aims to keep track of how much carbon is saved by people not driving on the days, all this can be done through the Facebook page or by emailing Charlotte with the number of kilometres you did not drive. And this campaign is not limited to New Zealand – so perhaps you’d like to join us?

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