• In Defence of the ‘Desolate’ North

    Like a gold rush there’s a kind of frantic scrabbling; for riches for many, for some a fight for more commonly given gifts. As proponents seek to rush the Infrastructure Bill through Parliament, and others seek clauses that will outlaw fracking or at least curb its worst excesses, attention shifts to Lancashire, due to be the first region in line for everything this industry threatens to bring.

    As concerned observers, campaigners, anyone occupied with a struggle for a future free from the contamination that seems to likely to occur what can we do? What can we bring to a region so desperate for the kind of investment fracking represents, where already injections of cash from Cuadrilla and other companies are finding their way into local civic life? We can sign petitions of course and many will protest outside the austere municipality of Preston’s County Hall on the given date of the coming local vote.

    But for others in the country the logic seems to run that if fracking anywhere else will be hard fought, with rebellious shires and disaffected Tory hinterlands, Lancashire represents a golden land of open moors and a cash-strapped population desperate for an upturn in their fortunes. That fracking rests on such dubious foundations financially, fostering a bubble at best that could burst any time and which in all likelihood would only result in more debt is not an argument that many want to hear.

    Speculation of all kinds aside and whatever the medium to long-term effects, it may well be that fracking could bring in more money. But measured against it are the very real costs to the local ecology and with it the knock-on effects in tourism and agriculture. These will be the industry’s lasting price tags and are all but irreversible. But in the Tory frenzy for more shale gas none of this seems to matter. Adages of flogging the family silver or burning the floorboards for one evening’s heating don’t even come close to describing the recklessness set to be foisted on the North (plans for fracking in Yorkshire are only a little further down the pipeline).

    But even if by some miracle farmland remains uncontaminated in Lancashire, even if the River Ribble remains clear in quality, the mindset that says that somehow it’s acceptable to dot the moorland of Bowland with thousands of wells because it isn’t particularly near any major human habitation is more than a poor one. If we are prepared to mortgage what remains of our last wild places we shouldn’t be too surprised if consequentially fracking come knocking – and undermining – much closer to home.

    But the frontline of fracking is not some apparently desolate heath, nor even a wider region far from the concerns of the Southern metropolis. It’s a front of information, where sheer audacity seeks to poison the well of well-founded conservatism over the land. It’s a front where giving an inch is to give up thousands of subterranean feet, where the forces of economic stagnation and ill-founded geopolitical concern countenance what should remain unthinkable.

    If we let our water be infected with polyacrylamide and who knows what else, if we remove the prospect of ever being able to live in true harmony with the land, if we are prepared to stand by while a generation is sold down the pan by an obsession with a pernicious quick fix, it should come as no surprise if we can no longer rely on the ground beneath our feet.

    Bowland tomorrow and then? If we think that any corner of the land or even the world at large is somehow less worthy of protection it only countenances destruction of places much nearer to us. We need to see the intrinsic value in each given place and the moors, when you walk them, don’t just restore such a sense; they saturate you with their given value.

    Sadly though the lunacy or desperation or corruption in the cabinet mean that Lancashire would only be the beginning of a swathe of devastation that would not bear thinking about were it not so tangibly close. Perhaps if the dozen wells in the UK planned to go ahead this coming year actually appear and their impacts or costs are much harder to hide, more people will come to their senses. But the determination of a government so hell-bent on shale despite so much evidence against their current course should not be underestimated. Where facts can be mauled by a tidal wave of lobbyists’ obfuscation, where opinion can be contested purely by the frequency and apparent conviction with which apparent truths are stated, this is a battle of stamina, stealth and attrition.

    The next weeks could not be more crucial, not least with next Monday’s vote on the Infrastructure Bill itself. But up in Lancashire so many of the people now are running with one thread, one vein, one sense that this can never be allowed, the unthinkable thing that so much can be poisoned or lost for a dubious truth, wrong-footed financial incentives and a credulous mendacity that seeks to suggest that to value our water and land is to live in the past. Only today can we live for the future. Only today can we see fracking off. Please make it to London or Preston next week if you possibly can.

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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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