It is surely only a matter of time before Tina attains the status of Swampy, judging from the Facebook appreciation of her efforts to co-ordinate opposition to Cuadrilla test drilling at Preston New Road, near Blackpool for hydraulic fracturing. There is a local Action Group, but sooner or later they will need a great deal of support from those of us not immediately threatened. Permission has been granted, but at present Cuadrilla is only constructing the access. So far, I form the impression from Tina’s Facebook posts that the Police are being even handed. How long before a pro-fracking government sends guidance reminiscent of Orgreave?
Many readers will be familiar with the important local part of the case against fracking, summarised here by Dr. David Lowry. But it will be recalled that Swampy merely succeeded in a slight delay in the building of the M11 across Essex. It feels similar to the advance of Caesar through Gaul: A band of passionate but not necessarily well organized resisters defending the status quo against a determined organization with a clear command structure – and a lot of money at stake.
But there is a much bigger aspect – the global implications. If the IPCC reports are right, Cuadrilla is mistaken in seeing hydraulic fracturing as a viable enterprise. Fossil fuels must remain in the ground if we are to preserve a viable ecosphere. James Hansens’ updates should frighten investors, but If even that were not enough, the abnormal displacement of extremely cold air which should be freezing the Arctic Ocean, should be the prime concern not just of corporations with money invested, but governments world wide.
But Cuadrilla are not alone. The incoming USA government dismisses climate change as a hoax. It is possible that 97% of deniers believe that 97% of scientific opinion is wrong, but as I have explored in recent blog posts, there is another possible hypothesis for ‘denialism’ : the Tragedy of the Commons. I must be ‘Devil’s Advocate’ for a moment.
There have been many hiccups, but economic expansion has been regarded as the norm for 250 years, and especially since 1945. We should have confidence that technologically clever humans will always rescue us from environmental limits – they always have done. It is all very well doubters suggesting that a planned cessation of economic growth ought to be available just in case technology does not save us this time from climate mayhem, but as long as any major player, and that now includes the USA government, assumes that growth will continue, no other participant dare back down. If they do, they do nothing to save the global environment, they merely put themselves at a temporary disadvantage, and no one can afford to do that. This is a cogent, if short sighted reason why the British government is in favour of fracking.
Fracking, and many other apparently normal, but unsustainable economic activities will continue to be seen as necessary until growth ceases to be seen as normal. Growth as the norm means that competition, and if necessary aggression is at a premium. Overall economic activity must be reduced, but an economy which stops emitting large quantities, of CO2 will manufacture far less than now, and repair and recycle much more. How do we expect manufacturers to feel about this?
But (I am now back to my normal, Green stance), fracking is one of the activities which must cease urgently. Even a small escape of CH4, methane, the product of fracking, would add far more energy to the atmosphere than 30 times that amount of CO2..It should be borne in mind that climate change does not just involve warming. More greenhouse gases simply trap solar energy in the atmosphere, but it cannot raise the temperature at the same time as it is lifting trillions of tonnes of water and driving bigger and more frequent hurricanes in unprecedented places.
Regulars know I advocate the Citizens’, Universal Basic income as one of the factors which will make possible a ’soft landing’ from growth , It will be an immediate ‘First Aid’ measure, but long term, it can (not will) form the basis of a new culture adapted to living sustainably, accepting finite planetary limits, yet extracting maximum benefit from them. The neoliberal clique which has already disabled democracy will remain in control, but an ethos where everyone has enough, and has equal opportunity to fulfil their potential is quite possible. The overriding rule is that no one need do anything to damage the ecosphere, and a consequence of that will be that the kind of aggressive behaviour which Cuadrilla have already demonstrated at Preston New Road in single minded, ruthless pursuance of profit will be taboo. It is not in Cuadrilla’s interests to wreck the global climate, but staying ahead of the pack will remain their primary motivation until that culture shift occurs.
Ecological disaster can be averted, by what in his essay on the ‘Tragedy’ Garret Hardin called ‘mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon’, but the ‘Tragedy’ logic just explained suggests that the last deniers will not switch sides until the last minute. When might that be? Shortly after the USA Presidential inauguration? The Paris Agreement on Climate Change in December 2015 could have been such a moment. It came closer than many expected, but even without the apparent setback of the Trump Presidency a dangerously high temperature is still possible.
Unfortunately, even though sanity may prevail, albeit too late to prevent some climate damage, one can see why Cuadrilla will be loth to think of their investments as ‘stranded’, even if they are aware that the IPCC case is correct. However, if I am right about climate change, but Cuadrilla really does believe it is a hoax, there will be much unnecessary unpleasantness at Preston New Road.