Another last throw of the dice delusion - Oireachtas considers fracking

The Canadian writer Naomi Klein is one of the influential public figures to link today’s destruction of our planet with the insatiable appetites of capitalism.

In her book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate she argued that perpetual growth and the triumph of market logic, with its “domination and fierce competition, is paralysing almost all serious efforts to respond” to the reality of climate change.

It is not surprising, apart at all from her nationality or gender, that Ms Klein was not offered a position in President Trump’s cabinet where a visceral opposition to environmental protection is a prerequisite.

One of the Republican Party’s proposals gathering momentum, one that could have a real impact long after temporary immigration bans have been lifted, comes from Jason Chaffetz, a Tea Party Republican from Utah.

Congressman Chaffetz, who is also the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is driving proposals to give away up to 3.3 million acres of public land because it served “no purpose for taxpayers”.

The idea of giving public land away arises because America’s constitution makes the sale of national parks difficult. If Chaffetz succeeds up to 640 million acres of publicly owned land will be in jeopardy.

This seems an affront beyond comprehension — and not just for America. That soulless nihilism shows what might happen if our world, our environment was treated completely as a commodity, as no more than a setting for our commercial adventures and exploitation.

An episode in that do-or-die drama played out in Ireland this week when a draft of a bill to ban fracking was considered by the Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action. The bill was referred to that committee by the Dáil last October.

That referral came after the Minister for Environment Denis Naughten supported a ban on fracking. That decision was welcome. The ruling followed the publication by the EPA of 11 related reports from the Joint Research Programme on Environmental Impacts of Unconventional Gas Exploration and Extraction. Before the committee began its work the Irish Farmers’ Association, The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association, the Environmental Pillar, The Sustainable Water Network, Love Leitrim, Good Energies Alliance, Friends of the Earth, and Leitrim County Council expressed support for the bill.

That the IFA and other farm organisations have taken this stand is significant. That they, the hands-on managers of much of our land, should sound alarm bells means we should all sit up and take notice.

Fracking is an unlovely process and a last throw of the dice for fossil fuels, a gamble that ignores the frightening fact that 2016 was the warmest year on record. Fracking, like tobacco, has its powerful advocates but the threat it poses goes far beyond any damage it might inflict on our environment.

It offers the psychological possibility that we can, as the grim reapers Mr Trump has assembled argue, defer again a meaningful switch to alternative energy essential to our survival. That we may, like an alcoholic having one last drink, embrace such a fantasy would be a victory of the dark forces already changing our world in such negative, dangerous ways.


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