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Floods, fracking and the case for a real democracy in 2016

As the UK prepares for the New Year in the midst of storms and floods, a new and shocking contradiction emerges – “most at risk of flooding = most at risk of fracking”.

We are living through more and more of such contradictions, where there is an absolute conflict between the interests of the people and the planet, and those of the corporations, who are backed by governments.

The site at Pease Hall Farm in Lancashire where Caudrilla’s first fracking attempt caused earthquakes, leading to the moratorium ended by the last government, is totally flooded (see pictures here). Whatever Caudrilla left under the ground then is washing into the River Wyre now.

toxic waste

Even the industry admits that half of the toxic chemical mix used in fracking remains in the ground. Imagine all that toxic waste being washed out of hundreds of fracked wells.

In Lancashire, where thousands of homes and vast areas of farmland and moorland are flooded, the Tory government is determined to overrule the county council’s attempt to block fracking.

In Scotland, a new government report says the Falkirk area is likely to suffer “acute flooding” as climate change brings even wetter weather to the country. But Falkirk was the first place to be licensed for coal-bed methane and the whole area around this fast growing residential area is now licensed for one or another form of unconventional gas – including fracking.

Here are pictures of the flooding at Langholm, where the River Esk has burst its banks. Langholm and the area around it are mostly in the estate of the Duke of Buccleuch who has licences for UGE (unconventional gas extraction) on the estate and is also a big investor in Five Quarter energy which has licences for underground coal gasification.

Launching the flood report, Scotland’s environment minister Aileen McLeod said: “Climate change is happening now. Extreme weather is having an impact in Scotland and across Europe and the world – as some communities have already experienced to devastating effect this winter.”

And even at Westminster, Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, admitted “trends” of severe weather events: “Addressing dangerous climate change is about security for people, and making sure that for the long-term future they are not impacted by really dangerous weather events.”

But whilst politicians will now admit that climate change is happening, they will not take any real action to halt it. The direction is entirely the other way (though the Scottish government still has a chance to redeem itself by transforming its UGE moratorium into a ban).

Instead of investing in renewables, making a real contribution to halting climate change, they plan to shut all the coal-fired power stations and replace them with unsafe nuclear power stations, and others running on fracked gas (UK-produced if there is any, or imported through Grangemouth if there isn’t). Subsidies for renewables have been withdrawn. Neither the Westminster or Scottish governments have met their own climate change targets.

During the floods, the focus has all been on so-called “mitigation and adaptation”.  For the government that means talking about, and continuing to lie about, investment in flood defences which has been cut back

And the best the discredited Environment Agency can come up with is the bizarre idea that people need to “waterproof” their homes. How the hell does that work, when most people haven’t even enough money to insulate their homes? Who will pay for this expensive “waterproofing”.

Billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, owner of INEOS (which holds the largest number of UGE licences in the UK) is building his £5m coastal mansion on hydraulic stilts, safe from rising sea levels. But people living in areas he plans to exploit for UG are unlikely to be able to afford even basic building insurance in future. Repeated flooding in Yorkshire, Cumbria and Dumfries and Galloway is putting some communities under actual existential threat.

This “one world for the rich and one for the rest” is forcing more and more people to conclude that the nation state they live in does not work for them. And that is true. The state functions as part of the capitalist system which will wreck the planet in order to keep going, even in continuing crisis. It is a dying system, and its commitment to fossil fuels is more and more redundant as renewable technology develops.

The falling oil price is not only a result of slowing global commodity production, but also because of the potential of renewables. As energy market commentator Chris Cook said in an interview given in Tehran, the issue is not really “peak oil” but “peak demand”.

The corporatocracy will do anything to keep the fossil fuel age going, however, not drawing the line at dropping bombs on civilians or seeing areas of their own countries become uninhabitable through repeated flooding.

Their power and privilege relies on it – can anyone think that George Osborne or Amber Rudd and their relatives (brother and father-in-law up to their ears in the fracking industry) would have any role in a real democracy?

develop a movement for real democracy

This is the challenge we face in 2016. The only way we can, as people, affect climate change, fracking and UGE, or poverty, rights or any other issue, is to develop a movement for real democracy, to make our own constitution which takes power away from the corporations and investment banks so that we can plan a sustainable energy future.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
31 December 2015