Sunday, 4 August 2013


There's something going on in a small village about half an hour from where I live.  A company called Caudrilla (a UK-owned, but mainly financed by Australian and American investors - how's that for global co-operation...) has obtained a licence from The Department of Energy and Climate Change and temporary planning permission from the local council to test drill for gas, in a process which has become known as fracking.  The end result being that they will use this technique to extract gas which they will then sell, at a profit, of course.  

Nothing too controversial here, I hear you murmur.  After all, people have been banging on about peak oil for a couple of decades now; so we all know that oil is running out and we need to find alternative energy sources in order to continue to live life in the way we do.  Because, of course, it (almost) goes without saying that our lifestyle, i.e. corporate-led consumerism is "A Good Thing".  Were it not, we wouldn't all be so happy and satisfied.  And the world, but particularly, our little bit of it, wouldn't be so perfect.  Would it?

Ah, and here's the crux of the matter - because other forms of energy are running out, in order for civilisation to continue operating the way that it does - which is to say by consuming - it does need to find other forms of energy.  And it would appear that one of these forms lies in the extraction of gas from underground rock formations through forcing water, and other substances (and depending on what you read, these substances range from sand to those listed here) through the underground rocks to cause fractures that allow the gas to be released and 'harvested'. And Cuadrilla believe that gas is located in the rock formations beneath a middle-England village called Balcombe in West Sussex, South-East England.

But the residents of Balcombe aren't happy about it. Well, judging by the last poll of all village residents, 85% of them aren't happy with it (9% don't know, 6% are happy).  So they are protesting.  And the protesting has garnered the attention of the media (here for instance, and here, to name but two of the current stories).  Because not only have the villagers come out in protest, but they have been joined by environmental activists who are opposed to any form of activity that they see as being detrimental to the environment, including Bianca Jagger and Chrissie Hynde's daughter; about which there has been some dissent, since it's not deemed appropriate that 'outsiders' and/or 'celebrities' involve themselves in protests in areas where they don't live, i.e. it's nothing to do with them.

There are several points I want to make:

The first being that I was in a local shop and the young man serving me automatically put my 2 purchases in a plastic bag.  I said 'I don't need the bag thanks.' and he replied 'Saving the planet?' and I responded 'It's not really going to have an effect is it?'. To which he countered 'We need to save the UK first.'  Says I: 'We could start with Sussex' (since this whole local fracking thing has been on my mind a lot).  His come-back was 'There are lots of places in the UK much worse off than Sussex.  We're very privileged."  And he's right.  We are.  

So, here's one of the points (I'm getting there...).  We are privileged.  We look out of our windows and all appears very well with the little bit of the world we inhabit.  The sky is blue, the sun shines, rain falls intermittently but copiously, enough to help grow the trees, and the flowers and the grass and the bushes and the veg.  And the bees buzz and the butterflies flutter by, and there are insects and birds and it's all very fecund.  But now, that could be under threat, since two of the side-effects of hydraulic fracturing is that it poisons the aquifers and that it causes earth quakes (as reported here)  So no longer is damage being wrought elsewhere *waves hand in vague over there manner*. Potentially, the damage could be wrought right here; it could poison the local water system (the drill site is 1.6 miles from one of the water reservoirs that serves the South-East of England); it could cause earth quakes (the drill site is yards from the London to Brighton rail line - so it wouldn't just affect local residents, but could also disrupt the commuter population going into London and the southern rail network). 

Which leads to the question: What are you willing to put up with in order to have cheap energy, or indeed, any energy at all?  What are you willing to sacrifice in order to continue buying what you want, when you want and where you want? 

Is it o.k. to sacrifice the environment of someone else, somewhere else - is that o.k.?  Out of sight, out of mind, out of conscience, out of consideration?  Not my fucking problem, mate....  Are you willing to sacrifice YOUR water supply?  YOUR land?  YOUR children's health?  Or is that too much of a sacrifice?  

See, this whole protest isn't about the danger to the village of Balcombe and its surrounding area - the real issue is really about what sacrifices we are willing to make and to inflict on others - and by others I don't just mean human people, but on everything - the land, the rock formations, the atmosphere, the air, the water, the wildlife - in short, the entire planet which gives us life.  We are not born into the world, we are born out of it.  And if we are willing to sacrifice it in order that WE can continue to live in the way we are, then we're signing our own death warrants - because by trashing the environment, the land, below ground, the air, the atmosphere, the water, wildlife, we're fucking up everything that allows us to live - at the very least.  So, this isn't just a local issue.  It's a world-wide issue.  What Caudrilla has done is ignited these people's awareness - see this group for evidence of people's feelings - and made them conscious of the issues involved with energy extraction. Made them curious about the issues, the pollution, the poisoning - the consequences, in other words.  And they are getting angry and they are waking up to the facts.  They are beginning to see that if it's an issue for them, then it's an issue anywhere and everywhere else.  And those people - those 'outsiders' and 'celebrities' are merely evidence that the use of energy and 'resources' is not a local issue.  Ever. It's a global issue.  You may enjoy the fruits of others labours and degradation in your own back yard, but now it's becoming apparent to people that it is that very back yard which may now be subject to degradation and spoiling itself. It's now in their back yard.  And whilst that's a shocking and distressing thing for people to deal with, it may also make them realise that wherever these resources are taken from is SOMEONE'S back yard.

The second point is that even if we manage to safely extract gas out of the deep ground through fracking, it's still not very likely that we will be able to continue to live this way for very much longer. That gas won't last forever.  And yes, there's a lot of talk (insert the words 'wishful thinking' here) about 'Alternative Energy Sources' which technology will somehow produce out of a hat to save us all, halt the destruction and plundering of the land, and all above and below it.  Maybe that will happen - maybe science and technology will win the day and find some magical, renewable, cheap or free, minimal impact form of energy that will allow us to continue to have what we want, when we want and at the price we want it.  But that won't stop us using up the world's 'resources' in order to continue; i.e. wood, metal, minerals, water, soil, fish, animals, vegetation. It will just mean that we won't be using so much oil, or gas, or coal in order to convert those things into products - stuff, basically, that we don't need but which we're persuaded we do.  It won't stop people being paid a pittance to produce those products.  It won't stop the population growing, it won't stop starvation.  It might halt global warming or slow it down. It might stop drilling for coal, oil and gas.  It might stop or decrease chemical spillages and poisoning.  But, I doubt it. 

In order to produce we need raw materials to convert into the stuff we think we need.  And those raw materials (read; the entire world), are not endlessly renewable for a population that continues to grow and continues to spread its story of 'Consumption is Good'.  In fact not just good, but eminently desirable.  In fact, not just eminently desirable, but absolutely necessary. Because we have bought into the story of progress and growth, at all costs.  At any cost.  Most of us don't even question it.  We're raised within a culture that believes, for whatever reason, (and the reason for the existence of that belief may actually be the $64,000 question - although with inflation it's probably something more like the $1,000,000 question!) that we need to consume, to inflate, to grow, to progress, get more, be more, have more.  And it believes too, and this is it's greatest flaw and downfall, that this growth/progress/consumption can continue indefinitely, without the so-called resources that we churn into goods and products being used-up, depleted, spoilt.  Gone.  And that sorry belief can best be summed up by this alleged Native American saying: “When the last tree is cut, the last river poisoned, and the last fish dead, we will discover that we can’t eat money…”

At base, though, in the end it all comes down to whether or not you/we/I care in any real and meaningful way.  Whether we are willing to wake up and face the fact that we're trashing our home.  And if it takes the local water supply to be poisoned, and local earthquakes, then so be it.  The information and evidence is there for anyone to access - has been for decades.  And in this age of easy and convenient global access to information from anywhere in the world, nobody has an excuse to say they didn't know what was going on. 

Unless, of course, they really don't care.  And that is what it finally comes down to.  Whether or not we care.

That's it - in a nutshell.  Even if we do wake up to the facts, the reality - if we don't care, then we'll just carry on.  Do we care more than we value convenience?

What, if anything, are we willing to sacrifice?  Will it really take your water to be poisoned, and local earth quakes through fracking to force you to care, to convince you to make a sacrifice.  Because, necessity isn't a sacrifice - it's unavoidable.  If it's your land-base and environment that's being ruined, not someone else's, then you no longer have to consider whether or not to sacrifice your way of life - because the decision will already have been made.  Your way of life will be ruined.  Too late for you to make a choice.

But as things stand at the moment, you may still have a choice - but not for very much longer.  That's why it's important that not only local people protest and get active and curious about what's going on in their own back yard, but that we all get curious and active and protest about what's going on in our entire back yard.  This is not a local issue.  It never was.