• Despicable Methane

    Clearly then, it’s a bit much to expect a Tory-led Autumn Review to be anything else but jawdropping. They almost carry a sense of kudos in a way for being so spectacularly off-target. Like watching drunkards try to stagger home or kleptomaniacs try to fight their way past the doors of department stores, there’s potential for a kind of twisted schadenfraude in how badly they can get it wrong and how predictable and true to old form their behaviour has so easily reverted to. Except that no one I know feels like laughing.

    Concerning myself here solely with the ‘dash for gas’ under the new Energy Bill, it’s easy enough to trot out any number of facts about the potential pollution so that hearing the news contributes to a kind of white rage that the chancellor has yet again done his despicable worst. So let’s forget for now the concerns for groundwater, the fears of contamination from carcinogens and radionuclides, the fact that the process is a worse greenhouse gas emitter than coal when you take into account fugitive methane emissions and the huge amount of truck journeys needed for each well. Let’s look instead at whether the process can work even in the chancellor’s own terms.

    Firstly then, the geology in Europe is apparently different to that of the U.S. As Andrew Rawnsley in the Guardian points out, shales in Europe are thinner than those in America making extraction much more expensive. Of 50 exploratory wells in Europe, none have been proven to have grounds for being tapped profitably and even the fracking companies themselves have no firm idea of how much gas they can extract. Also a bonanza of cheap gas of the kind seen in America has been said by the CBI and the IEA to be unlikely as global gas prices are rising.

    So given the so far dubious extent of how much gas there actually is and the fact that shale gas may well only present a small – and quite possibly short-lived – amount, leaving us exposed to the volatility and political chicanery of overseas markets, it’s clear that in economic terms alone, a ‘dash for gas’ is a high risk gamble; doubly frustrating when the green energy sector is looking far more robust for investments. Environmentally, it’s probably enough to point out that even companies as large as Shell question the tenability of a shale gas ‘revolution’ in a country as densely populated as the UK. In terms of climate emissions, the government have ignored their own advisors and seem to be gearing up for a dismantling of the Climate Change Act itself.

    It this provokes disbelief, depression or fury, there are perhaps a couple of constructive things that can be taken to heart. One is that – as the recent row over corporation tax has shown – the capacity for informed and focused citizens to make their feelings known is as tenable now as it surely is necessary. Another salient example is the outcry over the sell-off of public forests in 2010 – an issue that was meant to be a ‘done deal’ and which analysts said there was no hope of overturning.

    And we can add grist to our mill too with the stark realization that it’s up to us to have these policies overturned; that means not only doing our part but taking every chance to inform those around us. The government has proved itself not fit for purpose, not least from going against its own advisors on climate change. Environmental protection agencies are effectively hobbled by the axe hanging over their finances from the war on the public sector and there is an often crude but no less potent war over information underway with all kinds of claims appearing in the press and with the chancellor himself appearing to possess a version of the facts that presumably has more to do his proximity to lobbyists over anything more genuinely empirical.

    Apparently, there’s a political storm brewing over this. But don’t wait for the opposition to bale us out, or white knighted European ministers with promises of greater regulation. And don’t assume a tranche of ‘eco-warriors’ will steam into action and save the day: only concerted action by every one of us can carry the hope of getting these toxic – and somewhat insane – plans sent back to the hell-hole they belong in.

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branchlines

The posts here originally grew from a website that was set up to advertise a book that describes things a long time ago. That book was always intended to address more than any single issue, even if it encompassed that as well.

At its broadest, I hoped it could help express how things can be when anyone of us acts on behalf of the environment, of their community, of our collective future itself. It was informed by far more than simply the times it describes; it was an attempt to articulate a feeling that has carried on and grown and means more than just a narrow 'us and them'.

I'm mainly working on other writing at the moment but thought there was probably something to be said for keeping these posts online while the issues they deal with remain relevant. I hope you find something on these pages that proves of interest or use as we all rise to meet the new times.

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