Category: politics

Youth, applaud and hope

“Youth”
Grasses and weeds series

What is youth when we get older if not a projection of what we used to think, what we believed in, what we thought would happen, what we hoped would change.

And then life came along, reality stepped in.

Reality.

Whose reality, young people’s, or wise old owls?
Or hawks, grizzly bears, dinosaurs?

Listening to the first British MP to be elected to Parliament aged 20 I applaud. I can applaud so I will, though it is not permitted to do so in such circles. The MP’s who bothered to turn up did applaud. Hurrah.

They displayed happiness and agreement, as normal humans do.

Is now the time to shake the way things are, let young people talk, encourage young women to challenge, hope youth is listened to more?

It is their future we are talking about,
It is their future being fought,
Who says we know better because we’re older?

Well done Mhairi Black, you are a breath a fresh air, a ray of hope, a window into real life, a feminine point of view, an energetic wish to cooperate, a respectful nod to the past and adversaries.

Whatever political beliefs, this is what politics need.

My mother the extremist 

First published on The Lady Shed on 1/5/15
“Problem with you Mum, you’re an extremist”

That stopped me in my tracks. Driving along in my automobile, on a West Dorset lane, hedges ensuring I can only look ahead, no views of what’s happening in the fields around me. I didn’t slam on the brakes, but I sure was stunned into silence for a second.

“What do you mean I am an extremist?”

“You always go on about the Americans. That is extremist Mum”.

He was a bit angry with me. He loves America, the skateboarding, the rap music, the series on tv and all that stuff on YouTube. He doesn’t watch the news too much, that’s always the same old stuff of no interest to him whatsoever. Like so many adults who have given up on lis’ning.

And he sure has a way to get straight to the point, that boy of mine. And stop me in my tracks. He makes me think. He makes me readjust my ways. And I want to listen. Kids are not as blinded by economic beliefs that have been misinterpreted by a society on steroids along a motorway with hedges so high we can’t see any fields that may look different.

green fields

When so many teenagers I listen to see little hope of a bright future in this country, I wonder where we are heading. Just like the next person.

Starting from the system as we know it, our current base, the jungle out there, I can’t help but conclude that we will need dramatic changes in the long term if we are ever to live in that more balanced world philosophers have been writing about for centuries. For changes in the short and medium term, if we are to achieve any long term goals of rebalancing Society, maybe we do need to think about a few extremist ideas.

Yet I keep hearing that people don’t like change.

It makes me very angry when the Conservative Party’s manifesto states in the first paragraph “Labour’s Great Recession”. It worries me no end that the MP where I live has written a book entitled “How to privatise everything”. It astounds me that he writes policies with the help of seconded employees from KPMG and their like, even more so that our laws allow him -and many others- to do so. And then you have France riddled with endless strikes and equally filled with food banks. Economics and balance sheets are the only reality of life, it seems. “I didn’t leave Labour, Labour left me” said a Scotsman from Inverclyde, a typical Labour constituency near Glasgow, interviewed by the World Tonight on Radio 4 on 29 April 2015.

Is he the only one thinking this?

Take calculator, add person A = £6,210 a year salary to person B = £1,865,999 a year, divide by two and you’ll get an average that means the country is doing great, thanks. It means bugger all, how does that deal with poverty? I’m useless at maths but if the top paid earn forever more and the low paid earns a tiny bit more thanks to tax cuts, then when you average their salaries the number will be bigger. Recovery we hear, but for who? Cuts to vulnerable people’s benefits have lead to deaths. In 2015, in Britain or France. How can this be?

More importantly, where do we go from here?

fragile

In our black and white world, it seems that if I speak up against ‘the Americans’ I must be Red Nat. I must be against Obama. If I go on about the danger of corporations acting as a monopoly I must be antibusiness. If I speak up about Israel, I must be antisemite. Therefore I must be racist. Therefore I must be derided, attacked, bullied, silenced. Which is pretty much how the media have been able to conduct their affairs up to now. And allowed to tell people who they should vote for. For goodness sake, why are these non-dom media barons allowed to get away with such blatant political bias?

Yes things are changing, people are engaging in politics when given half a chance, as the Scottish referendum has shown. People are turning to alternative media for news thanks to the internet. McDonalds are closing outlets, Tesco is struggling (on paper). What happens next? Will they pay their small suppliers even later? These dangers have been forecasted for years, by extremists on the left, yet they have mainly been ignored by Westminster Cabinet Inc. The old school media meanwhile is peddling the same old hatred to divide us to smithereens.

Benefit scroungers vs the rich, public sector workers vs private, countryside vs cities, good old days of the Empire vs ignoring the young, disabled vs the lucky ones, Eastern European vs proper British, hard working families vs lazy single parents (we can only assume). Oh and religions, obviously, nothing like a good old established subject of division and hatred. Always works that one. And that was before we even started the election.

Now we’re in overdrive. When a woman suddenly inspires not only Scotland but also English voters, all hands on deck. She’ll be working with that Welsh one as well. And heaven forbid the Aussie one with mad ideas. She and the other two must be taken down: if we are to be Great or British, we must remain a Union, we must therefore ensure those self-centered Scots stay back where they belong, north of the border. And The Sun happily backs the SNP North of the Border, and treat them like terrorist scum South of the border.

And I’m an extremist?

I have a beautiful roof over my head, I live in a stunning area and I’m angry. I’ve never been hungry, but I’m scared. When more and more ‘haves’ think that Conservatives have gone too far, won’t vote for somebody who won’t tell them where those damn £12bn cuts will come from; when they can see for themselves how this witch hunt of the have-nots-who-must-all-be-scroungers hits the old industrial areas like Cornwall; when the scroungers off the top have not gone anywhere near a judge, let alone a prison, and nowhere near enough the coffers of HMRC whilst the rest of us keep filling that big black hole to pay for:

  • the interest on our debt that goes straight into the bank balance of private banks with no renegotiation of the rate,
  • in-work benefit that goes disproportionally to the likes of Amazon and their non-tax paying international friends,
  • private landlords that make millions from rents on sub standard properties because there is no alternative social housing,

then please forgive me for worrying from my utopian cloud. I understood (wrongly) free market to mean something a bit more balanced, a bit less authoritarian from the corporations who want yet more power in Europe with TTIP so they can sue governments if their balance sheet gets hit by:

  • our not wanting fracking,
  • our wanting to know what we eat with proper labelling,
  • our asking for dangerous chemicals to be banned.

TTIP is being negotiated in secret, now, and the main parties are in favour of ‘business’. When was TTIP mentioned in the elections?

And I’m not even talking about climate change, a subject that has been as good as absent in these elections too.

If we cut benefits from the poorest yet more, won’t there be even more anger? Would we not likely have more riots like in the States, like in New Orleans, still not recovered from the devastating hurricane ten years ago, even before racism is taken into account?

Do we want to become more like the States and their Senate that blocks the President from moving in the direction he was elected to go towards because a small number of people can spend millions on political campaigns, anti-climate-change ‘scientific research’ aimed at the ‘left’s conspiracy theories’, the Fox News and Tea Party of this world…

That’s why my son calls me an extremist about Americans. He’s not the only one. And I understand what he means. Out of context, I sound like a communist. In our current world, I’m just worried that we are like a car on a West Dorset lane going way too fast, heading for a tractor that we cannot see but is firmly around the corner.

Then what?

I have a vision of blondie Boris and his water cannons, a couple of years from now, you know the ones, acquired cheap from Germany without permission from government. That gives me a vision of his type of leadership, apart from his jokey way of talking to people like they’re idiots, like he knows better and will do what it takes to get his way. If authority is what we’re after, he’ll do a great job. Authority scares me because when it does not listen, it becomes totalitarian.

It does not let me talk.

If I want to go and protest in London about fracking I might end up kettled for hours by some private company like G4S, end up at the wrong end of that water cannon, maybe sent to a Serco private jail that needs to make a profit, if I get injured it may be Virgin that looks after me and if I end up with a nervous breakdown due to massive stress because I find our society frighteningly out of hand but don’t want to just ignore it because it is my children’s future, well, who knows who will look after me?

At the moment in West Dorset, people with mental issues who end up at the top of a cliff out of despair are taken in a police car to Poole, an hour away. Because there’s no money to help them significantly, they’re ‘released’, they go back to the cliff, the police has to pick them up again, and again, hopefully as the alternative is at the bottom of the cliff, and yet police numbers are decreasing.

Where do we go from here?

There are many alternative roads from the established ways, if only we get a chance to look at them properly, analyse their proposals fairly, and work out a more balanced way forward. From Positive Banking that invests in small businesses, to enabling community Green Energy so we never rely on monopolies and foreign countries anymore, surely humans are clever enough to build a better society learning from the mistakes of the past?

In my search for a fairer world for my children away from finance capitalism, totalitarian communism or corporate socialism…

am I really an extremist?

Suis je Charlie?

First posted on The Lady Shed 9/1/15

As fate would have it, for my turn on the Lady Shed this week I wanted to talk about satire, comedians and politics but in the light of the events in Paris, Russell Brand is out. My friends will know that I have been going on about my visceral fears of France’s fate in the last year, my country. Sleep has been difficult since 7/1.

We must beware to point the finger at one religion as most commentators have done, it is far more complicated than that, this attack did not happen in a vacuum, it happened within world events, it affects us all. To continue to simply point the finger at Islam extremism will only lead to more extremists, more hatred, more divides and ultimately, as we all fear, more blood.

We do not have freedom of speech nor do we have press freedom. France’s laws prevent its citizens from writing anything racist, xenophobe and, unlike this country anti-Semite. This is as it should be. It must be noted however that in France anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are seen as one, despite being two different things; they have become a single toxic subject that few will dare talk about for fear of misunderstanding, fear of offending and fear of reprisals. This is the most difficult post I have written, but France is my country, I cannot keep silent.

As the BBC has rules about not having any depiction of the Prophet for fear of offending, the French media does not discuss Anti-Zionism for fear of opening up old wounds that are deeply anchored in the French psyche; genocide a common guilt that Catholics have no idea how to deal with. We’re ill equipped for dealing with guilt when born in a Catholic society. Hell in the eternal life looms over our head to the point of silencing us in our short life on earth, as it has on many subjects over the centuries.

Zionism is not a religion, it is not a race, it is political. Sweeping difficult subjects under carpets does not mean they go away. Prohibition has consequences we have seen before. When France is not permitted to discuss Zionism yet discusses Islam extremism at length, this is not a balanced discussion of France’s other cultures within the republic. It is not about race or religion, it is about culture and the way we are brought up at home within a country where all are equal. We cannot have Fraternité nor Liberté without Egalité.

Anybody who is surprised about armed men taking the law into their own hands has not been following France’s events. French people are not surprised. Charlie Hebdo’s attack is in part due to the fact that very few newspapers and magazines will go where Charlie Hebdo went. I wanted to see newspapers around the world who said they were shocked about the events as it attacked freedom of press to publish some of the magazines’ cartoons on their front page. Not just the ones denouncing Islam extremists as many blogs have done adding fuel to the fire of misunderstanding what Charlie Hebdo stood for, but also the ones about Catholics, Jews, the Far Right, and the narrow minded white French man, Frenchie Joe Blogg. Oh and the English, my favourite subject, naturellement.

Who wants the English in Europe?

We need humour to survive. Humour is like anything else, what I like to eat is not what you like to eat. What I am allowed to eat is not the same as what other religions can eat. Sarcasm may be the lowest form of wit, I love it. No apology. Satire has long existed. Humour is part of our evolving civilisation. Court jesters were the only ones who could tell the all powerful King what the peasants thought and not be killed when he delivered the message; provided the King was fair and did not kill his subjects when he did not like what he heard, just because he could.

Satiric cartoons have long been able to depict in one single image an event, a mood, a wrong doing by the all powerful, kings, emperors, popes and again, even common people like me and you. We need this art more than ever. In our world where if this post goes over 800 words you won’t read it, we need images to wake us up to the realities that we keep shying away from. If art makes us smile or cringe but makes us think, it is needed. We want to get on with our lives, protect our children. We want to give our children a better world for tomorrow but are absolutely and totally hopeless at dealing with the bigger issues that are at the root of 7/1.

Since 9/11 the West has finally realised that a part of the world population hates us. Deep down we know why. We live in a world where a mainly Christian democracy thinks they have the right to tell the rest of the world what to do. Along with its allies, who are forever reminded that they were helped against the Nazis, and yes especially the cheese eating surrender monkey French, they (we) attack Muslim countries to prevent a war on terror and, because we are not infallible, we get it wrong. Are we helping? Are we attacking or are we defending? Are we defending ourselves against terrorists?

The largest democracy in the world uses drones against these countries whilst backing and funding a Jewish state that was given to Zionists by WWII winners. A war that started in Europe and took over the world once the Americans were attacked in Pearl Harbour gave its winners the right to draw a line in the sand in the Middle East, an appropriated land. Do we really wonder why the world is constantly at war? No we don’t. We know. But we are so deep in shit created by the past that we have no idea how to deal with the present to give our children a decent world in the future.

“Mummy, will we have a war” said my son when Ukraine kicked off.
Miss a heart beat.
We are already at war.
It is a world war.

Europeans and Americans helped start the Ukraine uprising, then pointed the finger at the Russians for their wrong doings because others’ wrong doings are always worse than ours. On 7/1 this international war came to the French capital with Russian AK47. Should we blame the Russians for selling arms?

It is all interlinked, we never really got out of the Cold War as the state of Europe today shows. When a French person says that a large majority of people in jail are Arabs, they’re called racist by news presenters who are petrified their show will turn into contentious subjects they’d rather not discuss at all. When we are labelled anti-Semite on one hand, racist on the other when we discuss the problems our country faces, with facts and figures, not emotion; when our police does not enter some parts of our cities where deprived disconnected French citizens feel they are not part of French society and rule a violent mini society within, where do we go next?

This is where we are. Are we Charlie? Charlie is the bloke in the pub that talks loudest, he is totally politically incorrect and many walk away from him. Charlie is not a fascist. He does not vote Le Pen or UKIP. He hates the Far Right and shouts it from the top of his voice to whoever will listen. And he doesn’t give a damn if you walk away offended. He speaks his mind. He takes the piss out of everybody, especially the Far Right voters who have forgotten than in the 1930’s, Germans never thought that Hitler would kill his own people if they were disabled, gay or stood up against his regime. Do we think we can’t go back to that? Did the Germans of 1930 think they would ever have to live what the ones who survived had to live?

In Dresden in 2015 some people think their problems are due to Islam, as more and more people do in many parts of Europe. Our problems are rooted in a history we cannot change and a diversity of population that keeps changing as it always has. The arms trade is doing fine. Yet for a minority of armed extremists there are billions of people who do not want war. Now more than ever we are able to stand together against more militarisation and against those newspapers and political parties that only bring more hate and division. We won’t solve the problems in one post, within one year or within one country. But together we can pressure our governments to lead us on the road of meaningful negotiations, and we can convince one person at a time that hate fuelling newspapers should not be shared so these media outlets who are dividing European citizens against each other within their own countries, let alone within Europe can lose readers, one by one. Non violent unarmed people are the majority.

If we lose hope and humour, we lose everything. Let’s have faith in human beings.

affiche-lepen

The cartoons on this post are by Charb one of twelve French citizens killed on 7 January 2015 by three French citizens armed with AK47.

In your hands

Originally posted on The Lady Shed on 12/12/14

A Facebook friend shared a photo of a French man with a yellow triangle stuck on his chest. “Shame on you Marseille” she wrote.

So I read the caption, obviously:
“French homeless forced to wear ‘yellow triangles’”

What is wrong with France I wondered before I had time to think, brain blinded into alarm mode. Have they gone mad?

“The city of Marseille has been blasted for using Nazi-era tactics to identify its homeless population by issuing them with ID cards, adorned with a yellow…”

Well I bet, for crying out loud, what were they thinking?

A bit of research (in French, it helped) and the story appeared to be political poop-stirring. Once a city votes a far right councillor into office, as Marseille has, all sorts of poop will hit the fan; from stories that absolutely need to be reported to twisted facts taken out of context to create catchy headlines (and poop-loads of hits on a website).

And now in this country, as I feared prior to the European elections, main political parties have jumped on the immigration bandwagon, driven as we are by the media’s bottom line rather than balanced facts and figures. With a far right party driving the national train to the good-old-days of la-la-land stuck firmly in the long gone era of steam engines, I wonder: what is waiting for us at the next station?

Now, if you are concerned with the rise of UKIP in this country, you may think so long as we point out how dangerous the Far Right could become, never mind the tactics. Maybe, then again adding oil to the fire of xenophobia has consequences. When I commented on my friend’s Facebook that the original idea of that yellow triangle was to help, it was not an obligation nor supposed to be worn in full view, my friend was not having any of it. She’d seen the yellow triangle, and like me, understandably seen red. “Wake up and smell the coffee” said an outraged Facebook friend of hers.

There are images that blind us. A yellow triangle is one of them; rightly. There are stories that scare us. In an economic crisis, the fear of our child or grandchild losing their job to a lesser paid foreigner will shout loud and clear ‘Protect my child”. People who can’t find a decent job will understandably look to political parties that promise to offer answers. We need to blame someone for the ills of our overcrowded NHS and schools, worn out roads or zero hour contracts.

Nigel Farage on BBC Question time yesterday (11/12/14) explained that foreigners would exasperate these national problems with no explanation of how he would solve these exasperations. When an angry woman in the audience shouted against the rise of the far right, Mr Farage turned to Russell Brand – who had been told he should stand for election by another angry man in the studio – “Yes, you should stand for election. These are your voters. They’re lovely people”; imagine a half smile of contempt behind eyes that mean anything but the words being spoken. Man of the people indeed, maybe he should become a comedian, sarcasm at the ready.

Blaming foreigners turns to something like this “Maybe with Marseille’s collaboration during the war they learned all the wrong things?” was one of the comments on my friend’s Facebook post. Thump. Why don’t you just whack me in the face and kick me in the stomach? I thought. But did not write. These ‘articles’ and this constant blame game bring the worst out of us.

Ahead of an election year where dozens of communication specialists paid by political parties will look for stories to bash the opposition with; when more out of context quotes from politicians will create rivers of quick outraged articles that will leave the real issues unanswered, I can’t help but wonder quite how nasty it will become.

When I left France twenty seven years ago Monsieur Le Pen was beginning to change the face of French politics; and in its wake, France. Rather than build bridges that history had created and politicians had exasperated, canyons of hate are still being dug, forever wider. Here in the rural South West of England, a small minority were followed by a large proportion of voters in the last European elections. Two UKIP MEP’s sit at the European parliament representing the South West. That’s two out of six. I have a growing bitter taste of déja-vu in my mouth.

natamagat-0537

France is different, friends assure me. Yes it is, but like it or not we are joined at the hip by European history. I sure hope the Rosbifs will not go down the same route nationale as the Frogs. We can’t vote for celebs, MP’s is all we have. But Russell Brand has a point, the air smells of revolution.

I hope it does not have the bloody taste of the French Bastille of old nor have the smelly whiff of today’s French political landscape. Oh and like all Europeans in the UK, I can’t vote in the national elections. The fate of the UK political landscape is down to British and Commonwealth voters.

We’re in your hands.

Fracking and renewables in rural England

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Fracking is a big issue. We’re all busy working, raising our kids best we can and don’t really have time to understand the pros and cons do we? 

Are we being over cautious and blind to our necessities?

I’d say if you are going to put chemicals into the earth, it concerns me and you.

How do we know arsenic is not going to end up in our drinking water? Do we trust the government, the agencies and the energy companies to think long term rather than short term or look after us if it goes wrong? Who decides ultimately what our energy looks like tomorrow?  

I tried to find facts, figures and what the pro and anti tell us; without being hysterical.   

How does it work?

Simplified to bare minimum:

1. Drill further down than we have before onshore in this country
(approx 1km and over)

2. Inject water, sand and chemicals in thick metal pipes
(7 to 15 million litres per well)

3. Contaminated water comes back up, is then recycled or left on site

4. Extract the shale gas (for months or years)

5. Block the well by filling the hole with cement.

Chemicals? What chemicals? 

According to chemistryviews.org three to 12 chemicals are added to the water, 0.5 to 2% of the total amount of stuff that’s injected into the ground. At millions of litres of water per well, that’s large amounts of chemicals into the earth. Forget the worries of big holes we have been accumulating around the earth for years, we now have to think of chemicals coming into contact with layers of soil that have not encountered these chemicals before. I wish my chemistry teacher had warned me I’d need to understand chemical reactions at some point in my life.

From high levels of mercury around the Faroese archipelago to the drugs given to an increasing number of very young children for hyperactivity, some will say our governments have not helped us make informed decisions on what we do, what we buy and what we do to our planet.

It’s not a blame game, it’s a fact. And we’re not stupid or disinterested as we are often accused to be. The vast majority of people in the UK are busy working and are sadly despondent with politicians. But for the first time ever, we can raise our concerns and have a chance of being listened to. It has started, there’s been some U turns, it’s up to us to keep the momentum going. So what are the worries with fracking?

Earthquakes? 

When Cuadrille started drilling near Blackpool in 2011, there were seismic events (highest being 2.3 on Richter scale). According to Cuadrille’s website the British Geological Survey said “The tremors were way too small to cause any damage”. Fair enough. On one site.  What about when you multiply that by an unknown number?

In the US, Nationwide Mutual Insurance stated in 2012 it would not cover risk to farms from fracking (source frackfreedorset.org.uk). Some green organizations say, stop concentrating on earthquakes, that’s only a very small part.

OK, so what’s the bigger picture?

Who are the players in the shale gas market? 

Apart from the governments setting up the rules from the experts’ findings, energy companies will be the ones drilling. Closest to home (in Southern England) is IGas with a license for shale gas in the Weald Basin.

According to their website, they want to play their part in diversifying Britain’s energy mix and have been extracting oil and gas for 30 years. They know what they’re doing. They have not had any catastrophe. Fair enough. We’ve been using their energy to heat our homes for years.

They are working within the new UKOOG charter that will ensure communities will receive a share in the benefits that shale gas may bring.

That sounds good, financially, so how does it work?

What is UKOOG?

UKOOG United Kingdom Onshore Operators Group published industry guidelines to include hydraulic fracturing and the public disclosure of fracture fluid composition. So, fracking will be regulated, and they’ll have to tell us what chemicals they’re using.

UKOOG has also published an engagement charter, they promise £100,000 for the community situated near an exploratory fracking site (whatever the outcome) and 1% of the production revenues (before the operator has accounted for their costs). Evidence will be published and as the industry develops, they are pledging to consult further with local communities. These funds will be distributed via the UK Communities Foundation.

Dorset Community Foundation 

My local one, the Dorset Community Foundation, works with private and corporate donors. It has distributed £10m in charitable grants since 2000. The Bridport Rowing Club received £1,567 in October 2013, the Dorset writers’ network £5,250 in April 2013, the Drimpton Hall £1,000 in 2013, the Beaminster Area Seniors £1,500  in July 2012.

If we had fracking on our doorstep, more money would mean more help. What do financially struggling small charities think about that? £100,000 is very tempting in the least and a tiny portion could mean the survival of a struggling small local charity. Some will see it as a form of bribery, others a necessary evil.

Local impact in an AONB

According to UKOOG, in areas of scenic beauty operations will be screened and the site restored to its previous state once operations are finished. The average site of a drilling rig is 125 ft (38 m) and is needed for an average of 12 weeks. The water needed is 100-300 trucks movements per year per ‘pad’ (area around the well) over 20 years.

As a comparison, UKOOG use the 11 million m3 of milk produced in the UK by dairy farmers representing 370,000 truck journeys yearly. As nobody knows how many pads there will be, nobody knows how many trucks will be driving around our roads.

Exploration sites are preferably 24 hour operations with floodlights. Noise is kept to the minimum possible. Whilst I live in an Area of Outstanding Beauty, these localised nuisances must not detract us from looking at the bigger picture. Sadly they often do. There are questions that will have a far wider and deeper impact.

Will it be safe? 

The Royal Society advised the Government specifically for shale gas. A few extracts from their advice in 2012.

‘It is mandatory for operators to submit reports about accidents and incidents to the UK’s regulators. Reports should also be shared between operators. Reliable data on failures of well integrity, as well as failures or shortcomings in procedures carried out during well construction, operation and abandonment, are not readily available.’

(To be fair, the UK have not been doing this for years -as the US have- so cannot be expected to have these records)

‘These data should not be proprietary to any one company. Commercial confidentiality or the prospect of adverse publicity should not become barriers to sharing data and learning from incident experience. The importance of an open sharing and learning culture is clear from investigations into past oil and gas incidents.’

This, in theory, should enable us to be as safe as possible. I use should as governments and companies use could (provide jobs, provide enough energy for the next 50 years).

But are these the most important questions? What about the long term effects for my kids and theirs? We have to look at that greyest of grey area, climate change.

Policymaking and climate change. 

The RA further advises:

‘Policymaking would benefit from research into the climate risks associated with the extraction and subsequent use of shale gas. Policy making would also benefit from research into the public acceptability of shale gas extraction and use in the context of wider UK policies, including:

  • climate change policy, especially the impact of shale gas extraction on the UK meeting its emissions targets
  • energy policy, especially the impact of shale gas development on investment in renewable energy
  • economic policy, including socioeconomic benefits from employment to tax revenue and from shale gas use.’

Carbon footprint: 

‘There are few reliable estimates of the carbon footprint of shale gas extraction and use in the peer reviewed literature. One US study from Cornell University concluded that the carbon footprint of shale gas extraction is significantly larger than from conventional gas extraction owing to potential leakages of methane’ (Howarth et al 2011). ‘The same study recognised the large uncertainty in quantifying these methane leakages, highlighting that further research is needed’. (Source RA)

The UK government indicate that carbon footprint from shale gas extraction is lower than coal extraction and that methane leaks were mainly due to bad well design or maintenance. The UK therefore will be learning from past mistakes and we can trust risks will be minimised. Research is still carrying on specifically on climate change and how to transform the methane into useable energy.

The best guidelines in the world

The guidelines set out that ‘operators must publicly disclose all chemical additives to fracturing fluids on a well-by-well basis, including regulatory authorisations, safety data and maximum concentrations and volumes. These disclosures meet or exceed all known standards in the global shale gas industry’. (UKOOG)

The government has set out to lead the world on best practice for shale gas extraction. They and therefore we have to rely on the companies that will extract.

Cuadrilla

The pioneer company in the UK is Cuadrilla. Based in the north of England, Cuadrilla is a network of limited companies in different countries, a typical multinational. Cuadrila claim they ‘could create 5,600 jobs in the UK, 1,700 of these in Lancashire’. They also claim that natural gas is an ideal transition fuel and as they receive no public funding, no money is being taken away from funding renewable energy. Cuadrilla Resources Ltd is privately owned by its management team and two investors, AJ Lucas and Riverstone LLC.  

When we deal with companies, we obviously deal with people. Cuadrilla’s Chairman is John Browne, ex Group Chief Executive at BP. He is a member of the House of Lords. He is Chairman at Riverstone Holdings LLC (energy private investment firm with $27 billion of equity capital raised, one of Cuadrilla’s investors), Director at Fairfiled Energy Ltd, White Rose Energy Ventures LLP (both oil and gas), Director at Pattern Energy Group (wind and transmission company). He is also chairman of the advisory board at Stanhope Capital, advises Deutsche Bank on climate change and gets book royalties from Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

According to his autobiography ‘Beyond Business’ he invented the oil ‘supermajor’ and led the way on issues such as climate change, human rights and transparency.

We need energy, jobs and taxes

Companies and governments like to talk jobs. Cuadrilla could create 5,600 jobs although it is not clear whether these are for drilling (short term) or extracting (longer term).

To compare to a company that operates in the energy market currently, IGas employ 170 staff over 100 sites in the UK.

Companies also pay taxes into the Exchequer. In 2012 BP paid $1.1bn in corporate income and production taxes according to their global website. According to a thisismoney.co.uk article BP have 67 companies registered in offshore territories (for 85 subsidiaries) too. Energy and commerce are indeed international but we cannot ignore the energy companies’ share of our national budget.

So, what about the Government then: 

The Government wants investment to come to the UK. They promise English local authorities 100% of business rates collected from shale gas schemes rather than the usual 50%. Cameron claims the process could support 74,000 jobs and reduce bills. Could.

Recently at the World Economic Forum David Cameron has made it clear he does not want the EU to add more stringent rules for fracking companies. Does this means our current rules are stringent enough to safeguard us from companies that will put profit before people’s safety? We can only go on past experience and make up our own mind.

Although undoubtedly welcome, some may find Ed Davey’s timing on looking into British Gas interesting. Our Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change is asking the regulator to look into why British Gas are so expensive whilst holding 41% of the national share of customers. Better late than never some will say; others -as it happens one of the big 6 energy companies- say that he is meddling in the affairs of the regulator and he should not (The regulator are due to give a report shortly. Source BBC). If the government cannot take action when they are told by the people who elect them that there is a problem, then are we safe with these regulators?

It seems to me our Energy Minister had no choice, he will not be able to sell us the idea of fracking without tackling the big issues consumers currently have with the current energy companies. And British Gas has been a bone of contention with many for years. Only with fracking, it won’t be a case of swapping supplier.

What are we dealing with?

Nobody denies that we are dealing with highly toxic and carcinogenic chemicals and a method of extraction that has very little data.  As it stands, we have to trust that the Oil and Gas industry will be more responsible than in the past.

If each well only has one or two people on site, we have to trust that each and every individual working for the company will not try and cover an accident, say an arsenic spill for fear of losing his or her job. Accidents happen and should not stop progress. True. There will be monitoring for levels of chemicals in our aquifer (where our drinking water comes from) of course, but is that enough?

There are still consequences that are unknown:

Drilling more and further still 

Drilling more than a thousand metres below the surface is new to the UK, the US have only been doing it for a few years (they claim they’ve been doing it for a long time but does a few decades give us an understanding of the consequences of fracking for the generations to come?).

Increase of radioactive materials to the Earth’s surface

Nobody denies that there will be increased radon and Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material in the air and the water. It will be monitored locally so it should be OK. When will we know the real impact of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster? If we keep adding even minute amounts of bad stuff internationally, on and on, and on, when will the balance tip to danger or even, let’s go hysterical, disaster?

Unprecedented quantities of water needed 

Where will the huge amounts of water needed come from? This is probably the least of our worry in this country, let’s face it, water source should never be an issue, although sometimes it is. Water bans in the UK have always puzzled me but we’ve had them.

Contaminated water needs to be stored 

It is not clear yet how flowback water (with its toxic chemicals) will be recycled, the US have had open pits (with obvious problems), containers above ground (a potential temptation for a wicked mind?) or put it back underground. Can we be safe in the knowledge that the ground layers around these contaminated waters will not react to the new chemicals that have been injected? Listen to whichever specialist you want, they don’t agree anyway. I can’t help but worry.

Who invests in green energy? 

If companies invest in shale gas will they invest in green energy or research into better methods? Lord Browne assures us that one does not take away from the other. That’s as it may be, the big world of commerce is beyond my understanding.

It is worth noting nevertheless, that in June 2013 Centrica Plc (aka British Gas) paid £40 million in cash and became an investment partner in Cuadrilla in Lancashire. Big companies won’t put all their eggs in one basket, I understand that much, but if one basket disappears, then maybe investors will put their money into other baskets; maybe the ones that are investing in cleaner energies. Their return may not be as high, but where have high returns led us in the past?

Companies are there to make money. People who are lucky enough to have money to spend, have enough education to be informed and are free to choose help create the markets companies will want to invest in. As more and more people realise this and share information, we can only hope we all make better informed decisions. We do have a choice.

Climate change,
of course it exists,
what will be the impact from fracking? 

Do we really understand climate change? I don’t. Sorry. The problem with climate change, for most of us, even the ones who have gone to Uni but did not study maths or science, is that it goes beyond our every day understanding. Did you know that physicists started warning us about greenhouse effect in the middle of the 19th century?

All over the world scientists have been warning us ever since with new findings to back up their theories. And to this day, loud voices still spread doubt.

Is it now time to help the big hungry machine of western society say stop?

Breathe.

Think.

Learn from our mistakes.

We are in the middle of devastating floods.

Why?

Will our floods teach us anything? 

Let’s look at where we are now and what we (Joe Public) know. We’ve built on flood plains, we’ve taken the hedges away, we’ve put concrete and tarmac all over the show and we know that when the ground is saturated, water will find its course to the lowest point. Joe Public have been saying this for years. Country folks sure have.

So why did we build in the flood plains in the first place? Did the scientists not warn us? Was it the cheapest way out of a housing crisis? Whatever the reasons, we probably felt we had no choice.

Flood defenses may be the answer to dealing with this crisis now. But who listened to the country folks who said stop taking our hedges away or the top soil will disappear into the rivers? Who listened to the scientists who said monoculture is dangerous for the future of the ground? Did farmers have any choice? How many farmers who tried to go organic early on survive? How many small farmers have survived full stop. These were choices made for housing and eating. Yes I know industrial revolution, feeding the world and all that. We’re now being convinced that we need shale gas to heat our homes and cook for our children. Do we?

What will be our flood defenses for shale gas, if in 75 years we realise we have gone too far? Will we merely be shut up and told ‘this is not A Level chemistry’?

We have a choice, and the British Government is telling us to use common sense. Things are changing.
The internet is changing things.

We know that there were snippers in Kiev.

If history was written by Kings’ scribes in the past, current history is being written and filmed by everybody. We can reach our governments, they cannot keep ignoring us.  If we don’t make the most of this, then what next?     

Who decides? 

At the moment, I’d say the UK government is realising that its people and their petitions cannot be ignored all the time. Not all ministers have clocked social media feedback yet but fact is they’re flocking to twitter (almost flocking and definitely yet to understand how it works but you know, one step at a time), some still think that people who sign petitions are stupid, but then where I live Town Council voted against monthly meetings’ information being sent by email in 2013. Yes. Seriously. Let’s keep printing reams of paper, collate, staple, deliver and pay somebody to do this. And increase our Council Tax. I digress but I had to tell you. You need to know these things. How else will we ever evolve?

Back at national level, it is a good thing British Gas is finally being investigated. It is a good thing we have a government that does listen to us -as well as the lobbies of course-, whether you call it a U turn, vote swaying or listening. And no, I am not a member of the Conservative party. I don’t care who is in government, they’re all individuals who have to make decisions. And like us, they need the information to help them decide. Forget the bad apples, they’re everywhere and distracting us from taking action. Let’s not use them as a good excuse for apathy, we’ve been doing this long enough on too many subjects.

Decisions, decisions

We do not have enough information yet to understand what we are doing to our finite earth. We may never do. Meanwhile, we need to decide what to do with the information we have. Renewables are not perfect but if I have to choose between unsightly and arsenic, I’ll choose an ugly turbine. If I have to choose between unspoiled grassland and solar panels, I’ll choose solar because when a better solution is found, the solar farm can be dismantled and the grassland won’t have disappeared forever. And yes, I realise that we need to extract minerals or metals for renewables’ engineering and that there are consequences there too. This is what we have to play with at the moment, whilst our government tries to convince us that fracking is a good idea.

I cannot help but get increasingly frustrated in my rural heaven by all the No to wind turbines, No to solar farms, No to anaerobic converters, No to fracking, No to emails.

Yes to what then?

Scotland getting the North Sea Oil?

That decision is in somebody else’s hands. A few months away, it may be Goodbye North Sea Oil, Bonjour EDF who in forty years have still not found where to safely store nuclear waste. If we know that one thing is, to the best of our knowledge, more dangerous than the other which one should we go for?

Bonne chance England.

——

Sources: 

http://www.ukoog.org.uk/community/benefits
https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-myths-and-realities-of-shale-gas-exploration

http://www.dangersoffracking.com
http://www.energyfromshale.org
http://www.psg.deloitte.co.uk/NewsLicensingRounds_GB_ON_0806.asp

http://royalsociety.org/uploadedFiles/Royal_Society_Content/policy/projects/shale-gas/2012-06-28-Shale-gas.pd

http://www.hpa.org.uk/webc/HPAwebFile/HPAweb_C/1317140158707

http://www.cuadrillaresources.com/news/cuadrilla-news/article/cuadrilla-welcomes-centrica-as-new-investment-partner-in-lancashire/

http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/lords/lord-browne-of-madingley/2172

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8285247.stm