Conservatism Is Not Consumerism, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 12 2012 @ 2:01pm

A reader fills out the fracking debate:

Just like the generation and harnessing of any energy source, including solar and wind, natural gas extraction has an environmental impact and we should pretend that it doesn’t.  However, we also shouldn’t exaggerate that impact either. 

130238726I work for an engineering company which provides services to gas companies working in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania.  The economic impact from this work is real.  No other industry is investing, or planning to invest, tens of billions of dollars into Pennsylvania over the next 5 to 10 years.  Billions will be paid out in land leases and royalties to families.  Well-paid, skilled construction and engineering jobs are being created and maintained.   Gas prices for utilities, industry and families are low and are likely to remain affordable for the foreseeable future. This is a resource we should be using because it provides investment in America and American jobs and infrastructure.

The headlines will continue to be filled with the isolated problems, which is fine, as holding a spotlight on the industry will keep everyone conscious about the risks. That said, please don’t fall into the trap of the either/or debate.  The conservative debate, as with the generation and harnessing of any energy source, should be what needs to be done to ensure the risks are managed appropriately.

From the other side of the debate:

As one of your readers has noted, upstate New York (where I live) is being rocked to pieces by the fracking issue. 

Today is the deadline for the Department of Environmental Conservation to receive comment for its latest Supplemental General Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS).  In its current state (already revised once), it is full of give-aways to industry, including NOT requiring companies to list the chemical ingredients of their frackingfluids deemed "proprietary", and proposes using fracking flowback water (laced with chemicals and radiation from the shale) on rural roads as a de-icer and to keep down dust.  

At last count, the DEC has received over 18,000 comments, and a few thousand more are expected by today.  Meanwhile, over a dozen towns and municipalities across the state have used their local zoning laws to limit or exclude drilling from their jurisdictions.  The energy industry is suing two of the smallest towns to overturn these rules on the grounds that local governments cannot "regulate" the energy industry (despite the fact that state law allows towns to use zoning to limit or restrict mining).  The industry is threatening other towns with expensive lawsuits as well.

The EPA is only just now trying to get a handle on the public health effects of fracking in Texas and Pennsylvania – two huge laboratories for what now seems like a sick science experiment gone wrong (why not drill for gas in suburban backyards?).  France and Quebec have banned the practice outright. The headlong rush to frack my state is one of the most frightening experiences of my adult life.  I feel sick for what the people of Pennsylvania have been experiencing and scared to death of the same thing happening here.

Another stakes a middle ground:

Gasland, whose trailer you posted, is borderline agitprop that plays very fast and loose with both scientific fact and personal narrative. Which is not to say that there aren't real social and scientific risks with this drilling technology. There most certainly are and Josh Fox is right to raise them, however imperfectly, to the fore. But focusing on this issue in particular obscures the larger (and much riskier) issue of coal and oil energy production and consumption – which, in turn, points to the much, much riskier issue of climate change. Fracking is a second or third order problem here.

You're correct, though, in focusing on the way the term conservatism has drifted over time, and I'm reminded here of Wendell Berry's work, which you might urge your readers to check out. Also of interest is this popular piece on capitalism, conservative identity, and climate change by Naomi Klein. Money quote:

Climate change detonates the ideological scaffolding on which contemporary conservatism rests. There is simply no way to square a belief system that vilifies collective action and venerates total market freedom with a problem that demands collective action on an unprecedented scale and a dramatic reining in of the market forces that created and are deepening the crisis.

My own, ever-shifting sense is that conservatives and liberals alike need to deal with capitalism's destructive neoliberal form, and until we do that, we're going to continue radically overstepping ecological limits. Keep up the good work highlighting this issue on the Dish. And know that I'm working hard to bring conservatism back into the academy, where it's sorely, sorely needed.

(Photo: A worker cleans and lubricates the head of the machine, after the stimulation hydraulic fracturing of one segment of the well is finished, at Southwestern Energy Co.'s natural gas production site at the Marcellus Shale formation in Camptown, Pennsylvania, on October 19, 2011. The Marcellus Shale, located in the U.S. Northeast, contains natural gas, which is obtained through hydraulic fracturing, a technique in which millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to break apart the rock. By Julia Schmalz/Bloomberg via Getty Image)