By Jim Hindle, Jan 16 2017 01:32PM
As another year begins, we’ve had more cause than ever to reflect. Even discounting the elections and their repercussions, it’s a sobering time for anyone concerned with our environment. Most immediately, in the UK, fracking is perhaps the most salient threat. When you read through the latest information what strikes you most is the seemingly casual dismissal of concerns for our ecology in the face of considerations for energy security. It’s an understandable logic in a sense but it speaks of the huge dichotomy that is as acute with fracking as in any other sphere where a desire to keep the wheels spinning in our anthropocentric industrial paradigm trumps, if you’ll pardon the phrase, concerns for the land which sustains us.
Yes, our domestic infrastructure is largely hooked to gas for cooking and heating and power. Yes, we currently get much of our supply from regimes whose democratic credentials and record on human rights leave much to be desired, nevermind the damage gas extraction there may be reaping on their own environment. Yes we need to decouple ourselves from a future with coal and that leaves a massive deficit it’s a challenge for renewables alone to assuage.
But we have to balance against that the very real costs to our country that fracking would mean – the massive spike in lorry traffic, the liberal littering of well pads the size of two football fields, access roads, demands on our water supply, the visual impact of gas flares at night, the constant noise. And that’s before we even get onto the toxic waste and controversy over the dangers of contamination of water supplies, dangers that the tally of experience abroad only makes all the more pressing. To bring home the impact of all this, the industry standard for well distribution is 8 per square mile – that means a massive imprint however long each gas well lasts.
All this should mean that, if we care about our own health, nevermind that of the country around us, we have to up the ante in terms of what we are not prepared to accept. With this knowledge, our current dependence on gas should be seen as a thing we have to find our way beyond. If regimes abroad appall us, that should only inform our need to do away with our tacit support – we need to get beyond the extraction of gas on a global footing; wherever it comes from its impact on the biosphere is constant. If we seek a bridging fuel we have to remember, as I’ve said many times, that all gas wells leak (given time) and methane is a greenhouse gas that - over the first two decades after its release - is 84 times more potent than CO 2. And it ought to go without saying that we are at a truly pivotal time for energy procurement in this country and that the continued subsidies for the fossil fuel industries and the evisceration of financial backing of the burgeoning renewable sector ought to be a full blown scandal.
There are other avenues for procuring gas, just as there are for heating our homes. But rolling these out requires courage and vision. It should be clearer than ever that we cannot continue as a society to meet our needs with myopic planning, a blind struggle to plod along with one foot barely in front of another, a shrugging of the shoulders when it comes to the future itself. The Paris agreement should to hold us to this: is it really too much to expect that we ought to be good as our word?
Most people still don’t want fracking here, making it an issue of democracy itself. But there are still things we can do. We can press for greater uptake of renewable systems wherever they are needed in our communities; cutting out altogether the top-down impositions the decision to frack is so indicative of. These edicts from on high are a huge part of the problem in that they frequently pay no heed to their impact where they count; in our localities, in our communities themselves. They’re symptomatic of an industrial mentality of scale, where costs are removed for the consumer, unless you happen to live around Bowland or the Weald. And when you look at the vast swathes of the country already ear marked for drilling, you realise the threat is much wider than that.
But if change is not forthcoming we ought to remember we have options. It looks as though a new generation is being compelled to discover again what civil disobedience can do. However we do it, they deserve our support: they carry a truly great hope. But they shouldn’t have to face the stress or cold, or conditions of hostility or the harrowing experience of being the last to live on pieces of land before they are taken forever. We owe them much better than this.
We face perhaps the ultimate test: can we as a society possibly imagine and engineer our way beyond the quick fix? Can we decouple ourselves from business as usual? Can we actually remember en masse what lies outside our windows and walls as we flick another switch or turn up the dial? And can we convey this determination to those at the top before we plunge over the cliff of ecological havoc? The protestors remind us of everything at stake. But procuring conditions for genuine change is a thing that every one of us can help with.
At times like this perhaps a seemingly single issue can still somehow save us all. It can bring us together, make politicians see sense, give us the knowledge of what can be done when people cooperate, when we avoid cycles of division and make people see we’re all concerned with the common interest. As with other things this year, it would be foolish to think that we’re not up against it. But perhaps that can help our resolve. And perhaps that resolve can start with a very simple thing; to remember that this world has given us so much and that that which we owe in return is a question of our mutual survival.