• The Holes in Blackburn, Lancashire

    It only really adds to the sense of the surreal that seems to grip British politics these days that, behind the grinding headlines of Brexit, an issue every bit as important - not least due to its immediacy - has not gone away and for hundreds of people forms part of their daily lives as they man the cordons up and down the land, desperately trying to hold off the man-made catastrophe that fracking for gas still presents. In many ways it’s a struggle that defines our times.

    Our society for the last two hundred years has been predicated on cheap fossil fuels. We face a huge task to somehow provide for the shortfall as we move away from their use. Once, I thought the necessary spur from the anticipated crisis of these fuels running out was the thing that would ultimately save us. But where it’s increasingly clear that the extraction of our remaining fossil fuel reserves would lock us into climatic disaster, fracking only demonstrates our species’ capacity to fail to adapt, the death-grip instinct to cling onto old models in how our system continues to function, the belief that all will be well if we only don’t look down or stare at the cracks.

    But as efforts to divest from fossil fuels gather pace from all quarters, as this week’s announcement from the World Bank only helps reinforce, the writing would appear to be on the wall. Governments and institutions across the world are beginning to see we have options, or in a sense a lack of them; for continuing with business as usual is less of an option than ever. Admittedly, our heating infrastructure in the UK is largely wired to the use of 'natural' gas and moving beyond it and adapting its use requires an extra challenge. But it's imperative we do so as soon as we can.

    At such times we’d do well to consider that the prospective effect of shale on our energy security is overrated, as a report by the UK Energy Research Centre makes clear. The report stated unambiguously that shale gas will not reduce energy prices or reduce the UK’s reliance on foreign gas, most of which currently comes from Norway and Qatar. In any case our climate commitments mean we need to be phasing out gas by the mid 2020’s (unless CCS proves to have any traction at all). The particular impact of methane emissions is also real cause for concern as is the fact that shale gas has been deemed more harmful to the climate than coal. Consider too that one gas well would only provide for 2.5 hours of UK consumption. The situation is complicated by the vagaries of the European gas market, where gas is sold to the highest bidder. It seems ironic that we currently export 30% of the gas we produce.

    If what is at stake in a very immediate sense is in any doubt, think about The Yorkshire Dales, the wild hills of Lancashire, Sherwood itself and some of our most iconic beauty spots. All of these places are first in line for the rolling out of the process. And these are just the gateway schemes; if unopposed they only herald the way for many more drilling sites, each of them posing huge risks to our wildlife, to say nothing of the visual, aural and infrastructural blight of thousands of well pads.

    To anyone paying attention to the issue over these last several years none of the above should come as a surprise. But the industry is less popular than ever; people are waking up like never before to the far from abstract repercussions of its looming impact. This is in no way assuaged by the well-documented behind-the-doors influence of the fracking lobby, or the flawed thinking that touts fracked gas as a clean ‘bridging fuel’. Questions over the process’s tenability are being posed at the highest levels.

    Renewables are increasingly proving their worth and viability and if seeking to modify our existing gas infrastructure presents a unique task we should remember we still retain choices. We should be going all out for research and development of other resources; wood-burning stoves can be installed in many homes as a backup and boost to - if not a full replacement of - central heating without the need for an overhaul of boilers and pipework and there is the potential for other technologies waiting in the wings. In particular, the potential for green gas grows stronger by the year. It’s also disingenuous of the government to say they are simply concerned with heating our homes; the planned round of gas fired power stations are explicitly tailored to generate electricity and only lock us in even further to what could become a dependency on shale.

    We have it in us to find a way forward and the struggle to do so will determine the kind of world we leave behind. No one can say that providing energy security is always a straight forward thing, or that we don’t live in unprecedented times. But the amount at stake for our health and environment means we need to ratchet up the pressure to pursue other options. We need innovation and boldness, not a bolt for easy money and a quick fix. How much do we value our water, natural habitats, the landscapes formed from thousands of years of careful husbandry? Do we really want to ignore the clear warnings from other countries as to fracking’s effect on people’s health? Can we find it in us to heed the experts and help forge ahead with the best of burgeoning technologies?

    We have to all of us face the fact that we still need huge change in how we go about procuring our needs. The price of not doing so is only too starkly illustrated by processes such as fracking. For the sake of that which we love most dearly; the icons of the natural world that help define too who we are as a people, we have to help call a halt to a process whose only good point is that it is only too clearly a clarion call to wake up. To make such a move would be the best thing that could possibly be done to restore trust in a Westminster that respects the will of the regions. It would state the case that we can find the way forward into a future whose only real limit is that of our imaginations, collective will and willingness to change. The cost of not doing so is etched in every angry cry at protest sites throughout the land; voices who care because they still carry the hope that we can collectively see sense.

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    Please the sign the petition against drilling at Leith Hill.

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branchlines

The posts here originally grew from a website that was set up to advertise a book that describes things a long time ago. That book was always intended to address more than any single issue, even if it encompassed that as well.

At its broadest, I hoped it could help express how things can be when anyone of us acts on behalf of the environment, of their community, of our collective future itself. It was informed by far more than simply the times it describes; it was an attempt to articulate a feeling that has carried on and grown and means more than just a narrow 'us and them'.

I'm mainly working on other writing at the moment but thought there was probably something to be said for keeping these posts online while the issues they deal with remain relevant. I hope you find something on these pages that proves of interest or use as we all rise to meet the new times.

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