Here she is in full throat: "As unlikely as it sounds, the fate of the Earth may rest with the residents of…tiny villages and small towns you’ve never heard of."
Indeed, it does sound unlikely. But that doesn't stop her from saying it.
She embraces the military metaphoric framing of the issue with verve: "There’s a war going on that you know nothing about between a coalition of great powers and a small insurgent movement. It’s a secret war being waged in the shadows while you go about your everyday life."
This is the "war" between overmatched but spunky never-say-die environmental activists and a death star coalition of evil-empire-building oil and gas corporations.
Just when you think she can't dial the rhetoric up any higher she hits a new register of apocalypticism: "In small hamlets and tiny towns you’ve never heard of, grassroots activists are making a stand in what could be the beginning of a final showdown for Earth’s future."
Wow. Final Showdown.
That must be why Cantarow sees the only possible response as a total ban on fracking. Indeed, she equates democracy with total prohibitions. Cities and towns must stop the frack altogether. There are two options for municipalities – take a stand or die.
Why is that? Well, instead of grounding her conclusions in an argument, she just adds hand-waving to the hyperbole. First, she waves at climate change, conjuring up droughts, fish kills, wildfires, super storms, and a prediction that 100 million people will die if fossil fuel consumption is not reduced by 2030. (No mention of how many would do if fossil fuel consumption is reduced). Yikes, fracking caused Sandy!
The assumption, I guess, is that fracking will worsen climate change. But that’s debatable. The alternative really is not wind farms and solar panels – it is coal. Natural gas does better than coal in terms of CO2 emissions. Now, methane leaks are a problem. But they can be reduced through better regulations. And industry wants to reduce fugitive emissions, because that is money lost in the air. But, remember, the only option is a ban. So, hello coal!
Then, she waves at a recent GAO study, claiming that it concludes that “fracking poses serious risks to health and the environment.” Actually the report never uses the phrase “serious risks.” It does point out the risks (and uncertainties) involved. But lots of things are risky – things, like driving, that we don’t ban because benefits come with the risks. Indeed, the GAO report notes the benefits of fracking in terms of a better balance of trade and reduced air pollutants from less dependence on coal.
This might make one pause and think, just perhaps, that we might want to see if we can’t retain the good things while minimizing some of the bad things. Maybe we could do that through smarter regulations. But, no. Not for Cantarow and her army of “insurgents.” They are dead-set certain that fracking is evil.
It would be nice to have such moral clarity on this issue. And it is an alluring position. It is so easy: simply stop the frack attack. Cantarow cites an engineering professor who classifies fracking as a case of “the health of the many versus the wealth of the few.” How crisp and clear.
But it is just far too simplistic. Millions of Americans benefit from natural gas – it is part of our collective wealth as a modern society with all the comforts and conveniences that brings. Indeed, it may be the health of the few (those closest to fracking) versus the wealth of the many. But that is also too simplistic. I think it is a jumble of goods and bads.
If it’s not apparent by now, I take umbrage with Cantarow’s piece – the hyperbole, the militaristic framing, the reduction of options to “ban” or “end of the world.”
I can respect a call to ban fracking. I don’t like fracking either. I can especially respect it when it is a matter of empowering people in decisionmaking processes that impact what happens in their communities. But what I can’t stomach is the moral certainty and the hysteria of it all. I don’t think fracking is a clear-cut, doomsday evil.
Rather, I think it does some good and some bad. I also think there are ways to do it that bring more of the good with less of the bad.
I think Cantarow does a disservice to the grassroots movement. I’ve been a grassroots participant in the fracking debate for nearly two years now. But I’ve decided to take the path of working for better regulations, which includes working with corporations to try to hammer out middle ground, sensible solutions. I’ve met in town halls AND corporate board rooms. This includes opening the black box of “fracking” to see all the variety of suppliers, contractors, materials, processes, equipment, and operators – and then picking the best ones and pushing those to get even better.
Cantarow leaves no space in her worldview for this kind of work. Now, I won’t claim the fate of the world rides on it, but I think it is important.