Predictably, the UK’s first shale gas fracking plant has become the site of ‘direct action’. Once again, a small number of protesters have decided to inflict themselves on the rest of the world. The Guardian reports this morning that,
Protesters from the UK’s anti-fracking network Frack Off have invaded a test drilling site in Lancashire and occupied its drilling rig.
A group of nine people ran on to the site operated by Cuadrilla Resources at Hesketh Bank near Preston before dawn and used climbing equipment to clamber up the metal structure. They have fixed themselves on top and said that they plan to stay as long as possible. Other protesters are expected to hold a rally at 3pm outside the site.
This is the MO of the small number of environmental activists in the UK. Previously, they have trashed crops and attempted to shut down power stations and airports, and even parliament itself.
Isn’t the point of a protest to demonstrate popular support? Yet few of these instances of direct action ever muster more than a few dozen people. The environmental movement’s attempts at conventional forms of protest have resulted in disappointment — no more than a few hundred will turn out. Thus, to elevate their campaigns, environmental activists turn to spectacle: dangerous stunts that guarantee media coverage. For decades now, this has been the way environmentalists have attempted to engage the public. Yet they are more isolated than ever, and have completely failed to share the values and ideas which inform their actions.
For instance, there may be perfectly legitimate reasons to protest about the development of fracking. People living nearby may feel that they are inadequately protected from any possibly accidents, and that the fracking company will not be held sufficiently liable for any damage they cause, and may be encouraged to take risks. Hell, who could object, even to a protest about carbon emissions? But these are not the complaints of the fracking protesters. Their website reveals the real object of their criticism:
The actual problem we face is that civilisation has too much energy, not too little. This addiction to fossil fuels has driven a binge of extreme exploitation of our environment and our social structures, that is threatening our very existence. Fancy technological schemes to try to continue our present orgy of consumption and waste indefinitely are inevitably doomed to failure. Only a transition to a much less energy intensive way of living can save us from complete disaster.
It is civilisation itself — not hydrological fracturing — which annoys the protesters.
They should tell the 5 million households in the UK who live in ‘fuel poverty’ that ‘civilisation has too much energy’. They should tell the families and friends of the 2,700 people who die each year as a consequence that there is a ‘a binge of extreme exploitation of our environment and our social structures’. They should explain to the 1.6 billion people in the world who don’t have any access to electricity that ‘a much less energy intensive way of living can save us from complete disaster’. The Guardian quotes protester, Colin Eastman:
Conventional fossil fuels have begun to run out and the system is moving towards more extreme forms of energy like fracking, tar sands, and deep water drilling.
The move towards ‘extreme energy’ is literally scrapping the bottom of the barrel, sucking the last most difficult to reach fossil fuels from the planet at a time when we should be rapidly reducing our consumption altogether and looking for sustainable alternatives.
In the UK fracking for shale gas is planned alongside, not instead of, extraction of conventional fossil fuels like coal.
It’s a myth that conventional fossil fuels are running out. ‘Extreme forms of energy’ are being developed because civilisation is getting better at finding more abundant sources of energy. That’s what civilisation is: it creates the possibility of better and better ways of living, of more freedom and greater material progress. The Frack Off campaigners are intolerant and nervous of it. Their claim is that we are inviting ecological disaster, but this belies anxiety about disorder in the human world: on their view, nature serves to discipline our sinful, profligate selves. Civilisation means finding new things, rather than existing in a kind of social stasis, in back-breaking ‘harmony’ with nature.
The moral argument for more energy — for ‘extreme energy’ needs to be reclaimed. Cheaper, and increasingly abundant energy is a good thing because it increases the possibilities of human lives. Being restricted to Nature’s Providence is a bad thing, because it limits the possible freedoms humans can enjoy. Most people realise it, and only a few are prepared to climb drilling rigs to campaign against civilisation. Yet they’re the ones who get in the papers.