16 Aug 2013

Fight the Frack!


The local population of the quiet village of Balcombe in Sussex have erupted into protest.
The cause of this upheaval is energy firm Cuadrilla, which has been conducting exploratory drilling in the area.
Cuadrilla is looking to extract shale oil through the controversial process of fracking, which involves drilling into the earth and splitting shale deposits to release oil or gas.
For the locals in Balcombe the environmental consequences are appalling.
A cocktail of toxic chemicals are used in the fracking process and have the potential to get into the water table.
In 2011 fracking in Lancashire, also conduced by Cuadrilla, was halted after earth tremors.
You don't need a PhD in geology to realise that splitting rocks underground increases the risk of earthquakes.
And fracking has even been linked to lung cancer. In the US evidence has emerged that fine sands used in the process can cause silicosis. Workers will die unless levels are controlled.
But there is one fact above all others that clinches the argument against fracking.
In May the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii found that daily atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide had passed the 400 parts per million mark. This is the highest level of the climate changing gas since the Pliocene 2.6 million years ago.
A target of 350ppm has been set by international agreement to prevent disastrous climate change that will lead to extreme weather events like hurricanes, the destruction of crops and a litany of other ill effects.
So how has "the greenest government" responded? What concern has David Cameron shown, given his previous predilections for hugging huskies and advocating ecological energy?
Well he has effectively said: "Burn baby burn," and is seeking to drive carbon dioxide levels even higher.
Cameron and George Osborne love fracking. Osborne has given tax cuts to encourage fracking companies, while Cameron has argued that it is our patriotic duty to support this new energy alternative, claiming that it has the potential to reduce energy imports.
But the promise that it will cut energy bills for families seems unlikely.
We don't own the energy companies - they are run for profit and given a near monopoly in Britain. We know that if costs fall, profits will rise.
Take water companies for example. They provide us with water, which is often plentiful in Britain, but pass the costs on to consumers.
Likewise if rail costs fell, it is unlikely that the first priority for billionaire train operators like Richard Branson would be to pay drivers more and give us cheap tickets.
Quite simply Cameron wants to make sure that we make our contribution to disaster. It is our "national duty" to try and make the future unliveable for future generations.
So do we need to frack? The answer is No.
The TUC has shown with its One Million Green Jobs campaign that wind, waves, solar power and other renewables can produce plenty of clean energy.
This isn't energy which is extracted at huge cost to workers, customers and the environment but energy that is good for us and can be sustained for generation after generation.
Many commentators have argued that fracking is starving the renewable sector of investment.
Even KPMG, which is hardly a bastion of ecosocialism, isn't keen. It has argued that fracking doesn't have much potential in Europe and that shale gas will be more expensive than in the US, where its use has recently taken off.
The simple truth is that to fight climate change we have to extract less carbon.
Britain could lead the way in this - we have abundant wind and waves.
Instead Cameron and Osborne shame us all. Their attitude is to ignore climate change and its ill effects on future generations because they want to appeal to right-wing reactionary Ukip voters.
To halt climate change will require good politics and responsible governance.
In Britain we currently have neither. Politics is increasingly a game for corporate elites who seek to shape the policy agenda for immediate profit rather than long-term benefit.
Governance is an alien concept for neoliberal politicians - if by governance we mean the careful management of resources to maximise shared social benefit.
One gets the impression that if he could get away with it Cameron would give away free packets of cigarettes to 14-year-olds to get them hooked on the habit.
He and Osborne, I suspect, would frack their grandmothers' gardens such is their love of this poisoned power.
The Green Party has long opposed fracking and our South East MEP Keith Taylor has worked hard to support the community in Balcombe.
Our MP Caroline Lucas and our leader Natalie Bennett have also been down to provide support.
And I will be visiting Balcombe this weekend to join the Reclaim the Power camp and debate clean energy alternatives with Chris Baugh of the PCS and TSSA leader Manuel Cortes.
However it is never enough to say "vote Green." I would love other political parties like Labour to follow our anti-fracking lead.
We need to stop fracking by winning the argument and resisting the drillers.
We can become educated to the terrible cost of climate change and the dangers of fracking and also support non-violent direct action.
From the days of the campaign to win the vote for working-class men and then women, direct action has been shown to be important.
Mass non-payment worked to stop Thatcher's poll tax. In the 1990s the biggest roads programme since the Romans was halted from devastating the countryside by groups like Reclaim the Streets setting up protest camps.
Fracking can be halted but this will require focused action - and campaigners in Balcombe are showing the way.
Derek Wall is international co-ordinator of the Green Party of England and Wales
For more information about the Reclaim the Power camp visit www.nodashforgas.org.uk/campinfo/

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