Tuesday, April 19, 2011

FRACK YOU - Not learning from our mistakes

The issue of hydrofracking has all of the essentials of a prime example of how we treat the environment and other humans. It is a most visceral example of ecological degradation, too, because of the potential and already existing impacts it has resulted in. More on that later.

As with much environmentalism in this country, environmentalism is viewed under the lens of energy. There is a sense that if we can just find "clean energy," all our environmental woes will be things of the past. It is this mentality, coupled with our tolerance of high-risk corporate behaviour, that has led to the acceptance of hydrofracking as a way to find "clean energy." Add on top of this that this energy is not coming from the Middle East, and many have a reason to smile. Of course, it has helped the hydrofracking establishment that the hydrocarbon obtained from the process is natural gas, basically methane. As someone who has a little understanding of combustion, if you did want to burn something, methane is probably your least bad choice in terms of flame characteristics and the simplicity of the chemistry. What people are not thinking about is that the companies that are involved in the fracking are the very companies that have acted irresponsibly to people and the environment so far.

I think the issue of hydrofracking is less about these companies and their behaviour, which will not change as easily as we would hope, and more about what we think about what our lives need, i.e. energy. Many people are "techno-optimists" - they believe that these "breakthroughs" in "clean energy" will come; we just need to sit tight and believe. Given this techno-optimism and our inability to function without copious and excessive amounts of energy, we are willing to give free reign to those who will provide us the energy. But we are then shocked that they would take part in actions that lead to contamination of aquifers and rivers and pools full of radioactive wastewater and seas full of leaked oil. It is easy for us to tell these companies that "...hydraulic fracturing must be done in a way that protects the environment and public health,” but it is much harder for us to accept our complicity in their behaviour. Each and every one of us can reduce our patronage of these degrading entities. We can show that it is possible not to be defined by their existence and by what it is they sell us.

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