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Whether Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Republic, has cracked the fracking issue remains to be seen and the price of freedom from fracking is eternal vigilance and a load of intelligent action. While there may be some disadvantages to modern communication methods and social media, they can be important tools in conscientising people on an issue like fracking and fossil fuel extraction, and the mobilisation in localities like Leitrim, Fermanagh, Carrickfergus (Woodburn) and the North Coast has in many ways been remarkable over the last years.
It is not that mobilisation on such issues was impossible before modern social media – e.g. the impetus behind the campaign against uranium mining in Donegal in the early 1980s was greatly assisted by the distribution of an information pamphlet on the topic by the Belfast anarchist group Just Books. The very successful anti-nuclear power movement of the end of the 1970s had a number of different tendencies in terms of organisational style but in that era, of phone and letter, it still managed excellent results in mobilising and conscientising ordinary citizens. However modern communication methods certainly make conscientisation and mobilisation easier (though countering propaganda is also more sophisticated).
The struggle in Northern Ireland, where there has been significant exploration of potential hydrocarbon resources, has been assisted by the simple fact that the companies involved have not found the resources they expected. In Fermanagh the anti-fracking cause was assisted by a deft political move by Arlene Foster, then Minister for Enterprise, in not renewing a prospecting licence on a technicality. It might have been expected that the 'business minister' of a pro-business party, the DUP, would back fracking but as she is a Fermanagh MLA who would face significant fallout from a pro-fracking decision in an anti-fracking county, a deft move not to extend a prospecting licence on a technicality put that one to rest, at least for the moment. However the importance of the anti-fracking movement cannot be overestimated; would Foster have made this move without the work of those activists? No.
In the Republic, where there has been a moratorium on fracking, the recent unanimous first reading of a private member's bill to ban fracking is a remarkable development which, it is hoped, will continue its passage through the Dáil. It is interesting that Fine Gael's wish to hold off on such a motion was overcome by an unusual political unanimity. Let us hope this translates into an all out ban, and the SWAN report (see News section this issue) certainly posits strong expert objections to the safety of fracking in Ireland for our water resources.
Of course preventing fracking is only one part of what needs to happen. The Irish government has been very tardy in moving to renewable energy and mitigating other contributions to global warming (e.g. agriculture), as green groups and networks like Friends of the Earth and the Environmental Pillar regularly inform us. Making excuses and not making green energy and green lifestyles is truly pathetic when we consider what is at risk – and the repercussions for all parts of this fragile globe.
But an important part of preventing rampant global warming with woeful worldwide effects entails not exploiting many already established hydrocarbon fields. No more ones need to be established despite the 'IMBY' approach (or perhaps ISEBY – In Someone Else's Back Yard!) of some politicians, e.g. in England, looking for a few jobs and a contribution to national fossil fuel exploitation. Carbon dioxide levels have now reached the unprecedented level of 400 parts per million, higher than any time for many hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of years. Keep it in the ground – and keep the ground in one piece.
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'Daniel Berrigan in Ireland', Nonviolent News 240
In the article entitled 'Daniel Berrigan' in Ireland, Nonviolent News 240, June 2016, the author, Garreth Byrne, stated that Daniel Berrigan visited Dublin around 1970 or 1971. He now accepts that the first time Berrigan visited Ireland was 1973. However apart from this telescoping of times the article is accurate and all the events related did take place.
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
October 2016 saw the creation of two important pieces of international legislation relating to the effort to mitigate climate chaos. One was the ratification of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, which will come into effect on the 4th of November. The other was the amendment of the Montreal Protocol to eliminate 90% of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are the gasses that enable appliances such as air-conditioners and fridges to work. October also saw the passing of a non-binding international agreement to curb aviation emissions and there are ongoing discussions about controlling the emission of global warming gases from shipping. Some of the above would be good news if governments took the legislation and agreements seriously. Sadly they don't, leaving concerned citizens to conclude that international legislation and agreements as well as the public statements of government ministers responsible for addressing climate chaos and other environmental issues is theatre on a grand scale.
The evidence for the sense that it is all theatre is the determination of government, district and local councils as well as international corporations to pursue the economic growth agenda. The pursuit of economic growth, in essence monetary gain for the relatively few, is wholly incompatible with reducing the emission of global warming gases, the restoration of ecosystems and the protection of biodiversity, safeguarding the land rights of indigenous peoples as well as the preservation of cultural sites important to understanding the story of humankind. The fixation on economic growth to the exclusion of all other concerns is not only environmentally destructive but shapes the psychological makeup of society as can be seen in the meaning of education embraced by post-primary school educational institutions where the emphasis is on rote learning as a formula to passing exams.
Governments wilfully undermining the legislation and agreements they sign concerning climate chaos can be seen in the behaviour of the UK government during October. On the 6th October Sajid Javid the Communities Secretary announced that the fossil fuel firm Cuadrilla could drill four fracking wells at Preston New Road, near Fylde. Environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth warn that this will open the floodgates to fracking across the UK. Aside from the necessity to leave fossil fuels in the ground if emissions targets are to be met their continued extraction reinforces societal dependency on them in terms of costly infrastructure.
On the 25th October the UK government announced the go-ahead for the building of a third runway at Heathrow Airport. Although it might be blocked by the courts because of the almost inevitable violation of air and noise pollution laws that would result the resolution of the government to pursue major airport expansion reveals its lack of commitment to international legislation and agreements on reducing climate change emissions. As George Monbiot informs us in The Guardian, 18 October 2016, the "prime minister cannot uphold the Paris agreement on climate change… and permit the runway to be built.
Aside from climate chaos there is the important issue of health. Presently 40,000 people die every year in the UK because of air pollution. If this number of UK civilians died in war each year there would be outrage and government would be accused of failing in their primary duty to protect the people of the country. These deaths and related aliments cost the NHS dearly at a time when it is dire financial straits. Given these facts the government's quest, and that of the aviation industry, to increase air-flights into and out of the UK in the coming decades and their fixation on fossil-fuel extraction can only but lead to an increase in air pollution aliments and untimely deaths.
Although ordinary folk electing to role model good eco-behaviour by voluntarily restricting the number of flights they take each year has a positive impact in undermining norms of destructive behaviour effective action needs to be taken by government. The one thing political parties in democracies genuinely care about is your vote. Nonviolent protest is the most effective way to persuade governments to behave in an eco-responsible and equitable way. Silence over such urgent matters as climate chaos, air pollution and loss of biodiversity is interpreted by government and large corporations as consent. We need to let government know that we do not consent to the termination of civilisation and the extinction of species which climate chaos, and lack of respect for nonhuman life, will ultimately bring about.
All is not gloom. Governments have the capacity to act collectively for the common good as the 27th October signing of an international agreement to create the world's largest marine conservation area in the Southern Ocean testifies. There was also a positive outcome of the UN's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cities) which closed in Johannesburg on the 4th of October. We need more such robust farsighted environmental legislation but we won't get it if we stay silent.