CULTURE: Clean Energy or Dirty Water? – Part 3

After all the Earth’s resources are largely finite, and fossil fuels are all derived from life that once existed. Using them is simply the act of removing deceased life from the earth and burning it into the atmosphere. Along with all the other impacts we are having as a species, we are asking whether the biosphere can survive.

People are becoming aware of civilization’s impacts on the planet and the paradigm is starting to shift. Green activism has had a history of success, leading back to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962. I do see hope and optimism in the green movement, with one of these areas being the new conservation concept of rewilding.

Fracking is not an isolated issue, but a deeply complex one representative of the current state of affairs. There are two polarised views of it: the technocentric “everything will be ok” (business as usual) one represented here by Dr. Roger Smith, and that of the protestors, activists, “greens”, and an increasingly growing number of people across society who want to see an end to the exploitation of the natural world for our own gain. There are other approaches to this problem of the “energy crisis” and the Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future report from the Centre of Alternative Technology, is one of them.

““By making visionary investments at ground level, we not only create employment and stimulate the economy, but we also ‘future-proof the UK’ to be ready for the climate and energy challenges of the 21st Century.

Britain‘s economic reliance on financial services and a consumer retail economy are still too high – we need to rethink the economy, based on harvesting our natural assets and valuing our ecosystems.”

The report is comprehensive in its scope and provides many optimistic solutions for an alternative future away from fossil fuels. An example is the retrofitting of Britain’s housing stock to make homes more energy efficient. “If we all had energy efficient homes we’d cut down on our usage, but we have an old housing stock which would cost a substantial amount to upgrade” was Roger’s response to that idea. But long-term the savings would cover that initial cost, and if the costs meant employing people to do the work, well then isn’t that a good thing? The only losers would be the energy companies who want us to keep burning (and loosing) their expensive gas. And why only use gas to heat homes? Many other alternatives are out there, including heat pumps:

Solar heated hot water and geothermal heat can meet some of this demand, but most will be met by heat pumps. Heat pumps take ambient heat in air, water or the ground and ‘concentrate’ it, usually in water, to the required temperature.

To kick our fossil fuel addiction we require a mosaic of alternatives. It’s obvious that wind power alone is no solution. What’s needed is a real drive by society, government and science to invest time, money and effort.

Zooming in from this global perspective, back to the little village of Balcombe, Leslie Vlaservich had this to say:

“The risk taken to frack within the particular location is still unknown regarding both human and environmental impact. Giving permission to go forward seems unfounded when current research applied to this technology is in its’ relative infancy.  Accessible funding for research became available in the past 6 months to the general academic forum. Although we have Environmental Impact Assessments in our regulations, it seems the human impact of power struggles overrides the ideological, humanistic and social needs trickling down to places like Balcombe. Human needs seem to supersede the risk associated with environmentally damaging effects irrespective of geological time frames. I have read no concluding, peer-reviewed evidence on Balcombe, which thoroughly assesses the site from a transparent, open-access philosophy. Making a decision to proceed based on a lack of evidence seems to go against Western culture of science-informed policy-making. If we have responded to previous environmental issues with a change in industrial practice, to me, the issue of industrial fracking needs to be held to the rigours of assessment learned from the mitigation of historical environmental cases.”

What is clear is that Balcombe is merely the opening shot in a long battle that will rage across the British countryside for years to come. Anti-fracking groups have sprung up in many areas being considered for drilling, and have begun to form strong networks. It’s increasingly looking like fracking will be to this decade what road-building was to the 1990’s: a national movement of resistance with a many flash-points. When people’s local treasured areas of natural beauty become under threat, they tend to fight back.


 Even though I don’t agree with a lot of Roger’s views on the current situation, one thing he said at the end of the interview I completely agree with:

“Julian Simon argued the best assets people have is their ingenuity and ability to invent a different future”

It reminded me of that chant all those months ago…… “Fracking is stoppable, another world is possible!”

Written by Max Withey




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