H.The Russian-funded hysterical “Luddites” was the way Jacob Rees-Mogg, in parliament yesterday, described worried residents opposed to fracking in England. What a slap in the face for those of us who have spent more than a decade trying to protect our communities from the dangerous and polluting shale gas industry. We never got even a ruble or a shot of vodka for our efforts.
Here in Lancashire, we truly believed we had won this battle, twice. Our first win was in 2015 when Lancashire County Council rejected planning requests from fracking firm Cuadrilla for two large sites between Preston and Blackpool. This decision was overturned by Westminster in 2016 and work began in 2017 to transform the Preston New Road site from a field where cows graze into a shale gas site. Nanas Against Fracking, a group I co-founded, also started protesting on the site that day and continued for more than 1,000 days.
Our second short-lived victory came in November 2019, when the government had to stop fracking and put in place a moratorium, because the works had triggered a 2.9-magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale. While it is possible to “monitor” earthquakes, which are one of the most dangerous risks of fracking, the government has had to face the fact that it is not possible to control them. The moratorium brought some relief to local residents and activists; although, of course, we wanted an absolute ban so that we could finally draw a line below this and feel comfortable again.
The government’s decision to lift the moratorium yesterday caused shock in our community. As an anti-fracking Nana, I know how much time and energy it takes to deal with a heavily funded industry, while the government acts as its cheerleaders and the police are used as security at fracking sites. My fellow Nanas Against Fracking feel angry and confused, as if we have been here before. In addition to earthquakes, we are plagued by other concerns, such as whether home insurance premiums will rise, as has been the case for people living in areas close to shale gas fracking sites in the United States. Like some of them, will we see a higher incidence of childhood leukemia? What about problems with maternal health, such as an increase in the stillbirth rate, for which there is evidence in Utah? What will be the impacts of waste and methane released by fracking? Has the value of our properties already dropped?
Witnessing this gross failure of democracy may seem hopeless. I remember an older man in Balcombe in 2013 looking out the window of a tea shop in the village as it filled with protesters. He said he believed that working, paying taxes, never breaking the law, raising his family and owning his home meant that he was part of a democratic society, that he could appeal to the government if he felt comfortable. risk. But his MP – Francis Maude, who appointed Lord Browne, Cuadrilla’s president, as the government’s senior business advisor – did little to help. Seeing our protest, the man said he was relieved. He was concerned about what fracking would do to the health and well-being of the people living in Balcombe and that we were the only ones to have heard his call from him.
So, if you want to resist fracking in your city, community organization is the place to start. At its peak, the anti-fracking movement in the UK was made up of 300 autonomous groups across the country. In addition to physically protesting, we lobbied local lawmakers, briefed councilors, held public meetings, objected to planning, researched and networked, and spread our message in the media. We made sure there was a role for everyone in this movement, regardless of their age, ability, background or location.
There is also room for non-violent direct action. Helps bring joy to activism. If you want to embark on a 1,000-day protest like ours, you need to find ways to motivate each other, such as recognizing the victories to be achieved before the main goal is achieved. We watched the stock prices of Australian company AJ Lucas (Cuadrilla’s parent company) and celebrated when they fell after the delays and bad press caused by our activities on its site. We rejoiced for every new face that joined the movement (and for those people who came back again and became familiar faces). We danced, sang and shared food.
The hardest thing about activism is getting into it. Who would wisely choose to live in opposition to a more powerful force? Coming consciously every day to accept that arrest, violence and abuse are a certainty? We used to give public talks to communities at risk of fracking, and I called the talk The Unwelcome Gift of Truth. I hated informing the residents of what was going to happen, because I knew the overwhelming majority would find it impossible to ignore the risks their families would face; that they too would fall through the door marked “activism”, and perhaps, like me, they would not be able to find the exit. How do you “not know” the facts? How can anyone just step aside and trust that the government or its toothless regulators will keep us safe from this industry?
Yesterday, my Nana anti-fracking colleague, Anjie Mosher, told me: “Although the government has nearly removed all right to protest, I will continue to peacefully defend myself to do everything possible to slow down and stop this industry before damage is done. irreparable .” I will do the same and hope you will too.