Pathfinders: Fracking – A Bridge Too Far?

April 2024 Forums Comments Pathfinders: Fracking – A Bridge Too Far?

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  • #92179
    alanjjohnstone
    Keymaster

    "I don't think Paddy was laying down Party policy."What I was questioning was this statement. "Pathfinders attempts to represent a socialist view of science, and a scientific view of socialism, in accordance with the Party’s view that we should try to form our ideas based on the best available evidence, not on our own preferences, or appeals to authority or peer groups" by Paddy. I see a certain ambiguity since it may exclude contrary opinions within the party and it is why I said "inferred" and not actully accused him  of "laying down" a party-line.If something is destructive to society, such as war/pollution or detrimental to our ability to make the case for the socialism, such as repression, our message is foremost to "end it now", to stop it, as i said. We acknowledge it will not be a permanantly cure for the problem but recognise the priority of that immediate demand to spare suffering. I extend that to certain applications of technologies that are damaging to workers and/or nature. We are not morally pleading to the capitalist's better judgement but making a call to action by workers to stop it. Our sympathetic participation in peace or environmental campaigns is implicit when we expose the causes and explain the solution. It is semantics to say we do not get  involved in campaigns. What we rightly do is stand aside from allying ourselves with political enemies with a different agenda.The fact that such calls may benefit certain section of capitalists, as you say the EU protectionist wing, is irrelevant since the primarily concern of ourselves is the condition of the worker and the struggles they engage in to better those. It would be stupidity for us to caution workers against health and safety on the grounds that employers declare it may increase the competitive advantage of economic capitalist rival in more lax regulated foreign country. With GM farmers – and I think we know my concern is not with agri-business conglomorates –  are not benefiting materially and are indeed suffering from the introduction of GM. It is not whether it is safe or not as I repeatedly say but the socio-economic impact it has. Therefore I do think the socialist position is to take sides with our fellow workers endeavouring to limit the extent of its influence. Also as I said in a previous post, here or on WSM, we have to be honest and candidly say, as we do with trade unions, that it is ultimately a lost cause because capitalism has the  power and the control to impose its will, so success means being only a delay or better compensation.Anyways, I find this "controversery" more worthy than certain others currently being aired on the discussion forum!! Hopefully, neither of us consider it a resignation issue!!  To turn around Paddy's and your position, if we cannot guarantee fracking to be safe we will not use it in socialsm. I much prefer that emphasis and one we all agree upon.

    #92172
    Anonymous
    Inactive
    ALB wrote:
    In other words, it is not inconceivable that fracking may (have to) exist in socialism. Or, as Paddy put, "if we need it, we may use it in socialism".

    So, if socialism isn't able to harness and utilise the 4.5 billion years of renewable energy which has been bestowed upon this planet and has to depend to a lesser or greater extent upon the dangerous, environmentally unfriendly and increasingly difficult process of extracting ever diminishing finite fossil fuels by methods no sane person would want to be part of, then it isn't worth the candle.We may as well stick with the present nightmare. 

    #92173
    ALB
    Keymaster

    That's a point, but Alan was talking about the early days of socialism and the energy structure that might well be inherited. Socialist society wouldn't be able to suddenly close down all nuclear or fossil fuel burning power stations that might exist at that time and conjure up a world-wide energy structure based entirely on renewable sources of energy. There'd have to be a gradual phasing out of the first in favour of the second.

    #92174
    Anonymous
    Inactive
    ALB wrote:
    That's a point, but Alan was talking about the early days of socialism and the energy structure that might well be inherited. Socialist society wouldn't be able to suddenly close down all nuclear or fossil fuel burning power stations that might exist at that time and conjure up a world-wide energy structure based entirely on renewable sources of energy. There'd have to be a gradual phasing out of the first in favour of the second.

    I don't think anyone has said that it would be possible for a socialist society to transfer immediately to world-wide renewable sources of energy.   If your statement above had been included in the original article it would have helped to  allay the fears of those who read it.  Instead the article gave the impression (at least to me) that nothing would really change in terms of a world-wide energy structure.

    #92175
    JH
    Participant

    It’s a good and necessary debate.The issues of water use and disposal which I raised and which Paddy appears to ignore have been dealt with in other posts.Paddy refers to the OFGEM report on energy capacity fall as providing a context for discussion.  It is but it is a context in British capitalism and what I find significant is the lack of any mention of fracking in the establishment debate which followed.  I get the impression that there is some falling off in enthusiasm for the project.  I would like to think that this is due to protest but it could be other reasons including logistical problems, disposal etc. exposing too early consequences of relaxation of planning regulations, etc. Whether so or not it shows the potential dangers of socialists tying themselves to a particular form of technology as Paddy appears to do in his very much pro article.What I find unacceptable is his sudden discovery of a ‘class issue’ in fuel poverty.  I don’t deny that this is a class issue although it hardly fits his criteria of involving the whole class but he suggests that somehow the anti-fracking people are responsible for this by putting impediments in the way of energy production.  It seems to miss his notice that the main criteria for energy production is not human use but profit.  As most consumers know by now their problems are not really of interest to the energy companies as long as they are making a profit and may one suggest that if profit was taken out the equation (the real class issue) then many of the problems would not be there.What prompted me to criticise the fracking article in the first place was its lack of engagement with the real issue and it is a real issue for people living in areas affected and the derision poured on their concerns.  Read it again.Paddy continues this vein in his reply, ‘local residents frightened by scare stories’.  What a patronising attitude.It is also the case that the main focus of the article seems to be to attack ‘greens’ and the language used to do this, ‘up a tree’ etc., is hardly conducive to constructive debate.In my reply I used info from an article in RP which I had recently read and which I thought provided a useful summary of some of the evidence against fracking.  I didn’t endorse or reject the article's particular position.However again Paddy proceeds to launch an attack on not just the political argument and the argument  is ‘political’, not  objectively  ‘scientific ‘ as Paddy appears to think, but also the motives of the author, accusing him of  ‘opening  gambits’  to put opponents in position of being ‘capitalist lackies,’  etc. , ‘sleight of hand’ etc.I find this whole approach problematic.It is clear to me that Paddy appears to think that opponents of fracking have some ulterior motives and are deliberately misleading people. The same depth of sceptiscism is not applied to the commercial interests of the energy industry who he appears to think are driven by concerns to end fuel poverty.Now there may well be capitalist interests involved in promoting renewable industry and some politicians who seek political power on the back of these issues but there are also people motivated by genuine concern for the future of the planet, the impact of certain forms of technology and a scientific curiousity which the dominant interests do not allow to develop.I am listening on a local radio phone-in to a discussion on attempts to set up a barrage to harness the power of tides on the Mersey. It is argued  that such a technology could provide 80% of Merseyside's current energy use.  Now there are environmental concerns about the effects such a barrage could have, fish, wildlife, etc. but someone has just rung in to propose floating barges that would rise and fall with the tides thus minimising effects on wildlife.  However the main reason the scheme was rejected after investigation was apparently the return on investment which would take up to 30 years to recover.I raise this to point out both the main motivations governing energy use under capitalism and the untapped potential of human ingenuity which would be utilised in socialist revolution and which would make energy problems so qualitatively different.When I said in my initial response that I found Paddy's article unengaged I meant precisely this.  If he went to some of the anti-fracking events or public consultations, he may find some anti-scientific people, conservatives, renewable energy interests, etc. amongst opponents as ALB suggests, but he may also find people open to a socialist argument as a solution to their problems and concerns.He will do this only if he relates to their concerns and does not suggest they are NIMBYs (heaven forfend that people should be concerned about the environments in which they live) or in some way responsible for fuel poverty or recession.  It may well be as ALB suggests that the position taken by Paddy is the position most SPGB members would support.  It is clearly a position taken by the ruling class and we all know that ruling ideas are ever ideas of the ruling class.  It is a complacent position that asks nothing of people and socialist ideas are never promoted in such a way.  It's fine if the Socialist Standard is only intended for its members but if it's intended to promote socialist ideas amongst the working class as a solution to the problems of capitalism, its lofty approach of objective science is disastrous and chimes too well with the interests of capital.

    #92176
    ALB
    Keymaster
    JH wrote:
    It may well be as ALB suggests that the position taken by Paddy is the position most SPGB members would support.  It is clearly a position taken by the ruling class and we all know that ruling ideas are ever ideas of the ruling class.

    That's a very weak argument as I'm sure that there are all sorts of "ruling ideas" (beginning with that the Earth moves round the Sun) that you share too but that doesn't make you a lackey of the ruling class any more than it makes Paddy.Incidentally, Paddy wasn't arguing for fracking, only against dismissing it out of hand.This is a better argument, though:

    Quote:
    I am listening on a local radio phone-in to a discussion on attempts to set up a barrage to harness the power of tides on the Mersey. It is argued  that such a technology could provide 80% of Merseyside's current energy use.  Now there are environmental concerns about the effects such a barrage could have, fish, wildlife, etc. but someone has just rung in to propose floating barges that would rise and fall with the tides thus minimising effects on wildlife.  However the main reason the scheme was rejected after investigation was apparently the return on investment which would take up to 30 years to recover.I raise this to point out both the main motivations governing energy use under capitalism and the untapped potential of human ingenuity which would be utilised in socialist revolution and which would make energy problems so qualitatively different.

    Exactly, and the same thing has happened over the Severn barrage: not profitable so not done.The obvious renewable energies to use on these islands off the North West of the European mainland are wind and tidal power and in socialist society there will be no such obstacle to building barrages across the Mersey, Severn, etc, but there is opposition too to these. How would you answer their concerns and fears if not by appealing to "objective science"?

    #92184
    JH
    Participant

    I'll leave you to argue the 'ruling ideas' thesis with Marx. I did intend it as a bit of a joke but it does seem relevant in this particular debate.  'Science' was a key feature in the development of capitalist ideology and the 'objectivity' arguement does allow for particular interests to pose as universal. I always found the ruling ideas arguement useful in providing an explanation for the rejection of alternative and particularly 'socialist' ideas in political arguements. Why people regard socialists who argue for a moneyless society as 'up a tree' or 'on another planet'.I do not reject science but my purpose in quoting from the phone in discussion was to show how some ideas can be excluded from the necessary scientific discussion.This must be clear to SPGB members, particularly in areas such as economics and sociology which are portrayed as 'social sciences'  and which then try to exclude marxist ideas on the basis of lack of objectivity. As an organisation you clearly have problems with the BBC and other media which like to portray themselves as 'impartial' and 'objective'. Similar arguements are at work in all areas of science. In a class divided society the notion of  'objective science' is fraught with difficulties and such a science is only really possible in a socialist society.I at no stage accused Paddy of being a  'capitalist lackey'. He seems to have drawn this implication from reading the RP article because it draws distiinctions betweeen 'official' and 'unofficial' narratives. I think it is a useful distinction and does not necessarily imply that people who share the official view are 'lackeys' in the way he interprets it.In terms of not argueing for fracking but simply 'not dismissing it out of hand' he certainly had me fooled and in the context of the fraught debate, in the areas concerned, that sort of ambiguity cannot be afforded and it would probably have been better to stay out of it altogether, rather than lay into the opponents 'the opposition lobby' of dominant corporate interests.

    #92185
    JH
    Participant

    To add to my comments on science and the debate. It is my impression that the nature of the issue of 'objective science', which by its nature requires democracy and transparency, is being made increasingly difficult by developments within capitalism. The plethora of think tanks, spin doctors and PR consultants being employed by corporate interest groups and their increasing use in areas such as energy use, especially since 'climate change' emerged as a major area of debate makes any real discussion of the issues very problematic.See this http://www.monbiot.com/2013/02/18/secrets-of-the-rich/See also the reports on changes in the Department of Climate and Energy which are using seconded consulltants from the energy industry to replace civil servants and advise on policy, coupled with prosecution of climate change protestors by firms such as EDF

    #92186
    ALB
    Keymaster

    John H, it is true that under capitalism today many scientists are like lawyers, "hired guns" paid by commercial entreprises to express in scientific language a case for or against something that would enhance or harm their profit-seeking.  So, yes, there is a perversion of science in the service of capitalism or, rather, of particular capitalist interests and we need to beware of this.But this criticism assumes that there is an objective standard by which such perversions can be judged and exposed. In other words, an "objective science".To deny that there is any such thing as "objective science" is to go down the road of post-modernism and its view that everything is just a intersubjective "narrative". The Earth is spherical whatever the narrative of flat-earthers might say.

    #92187
    alanjjohnstone
    Keymaster

    Just to complement what Adam was saying.Technology is often seen as either the salvation or the scourge of humankind. Some of us incline to be technophiles and others technosceptics and others a mix of both. It is neither possible nor desirable to abolish technology. What is required is to change the basis of society so that technology can be developed and applied in the interests of the majority.Neither fracking nor genetic modification are pre-requisites for socialism. Socialism will take, adapt and use technology as it finds it. What socialism must do,however,  is change our relationship with our tools, so that we can take control of our own destinies.In science good ideas are often not taken seriously enough when they come from people of low status in the academic world; conversely, the ideas of high-status people are often taken too seriously. The scientific method suffers because science is organised hierarchically.Another problem with science in capitalism is that scientists have mortgages to pay, so they need to chase funding because they can't afford to work for free."Science uses commodities and is part of the process of commodity production. Science uses money. People earn their living by science, and as a consequence the dominant social and economic forces in society determine to a large extent what science does and how it does it." (The Doctrine of DNA by R.C. Lewontin.)

    #92188
    alanjjohnstone
    Keymaster

    Further to above on what Adam calls the hired guns of science.On January 17, 2011, Dr. Don Huber outlined the dangers of approving Roundup Ready alfalfa in a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack. Huber requested that approval be delayed until independent research could evaluate the risks. Huber is professor emeritus at Purdue University. He has been a plant pathologist and soil microbiologist for a half century. He has an international reputation as a leading authority. In the US military, he evaluated natural and manmade biological threats, such as germ warfare and disease outbreaks and retired with the rank of Colonel. For the USDA he coordinates the Emergent Diseases and Pathogens Committee. In other words, he is high up in his scientific profession. Vilsack  ignored the letter and accommodated Monsanto’s desire for monopoly profits that come from the company’s drive to control the seed supply of US and world agriculture by approving Roundup Ready alfalfa.Monsanto disputes Huber’s claims and got support for its position from the agricultural extension services of Iowa State and Ohio State universities. The question raised is whether these are independently funded services or corporate supported, and there is always the element of professional rivalry, especially for funding, which comes mainly from agribusiness. Monsanto is sufficiently powerful to prevent any research other than that which it purchases with its funding.A submission to the Environmental Protection Agency by 26 university entomologists describes the constraints that agribusiness has put on the ability of independent scientists to conduct objective research. The submission, in which the scientists are afraid to reveal their names because of the threat of funding cutoffs, is included as an item in one of the bibliographical references below. Here is the statement:    “The names of the scientists have been withheld from the public docket because virtually all of us require cooperation from industry at some level to conduct our research.  Statement: Technology/stewardship agreements required for the purchase of genetically modified seed explicitly prohibit research. These agreements inhibit public scientists from pursuing their mandated role on behalf of the public good unless the research is approved by industry. As a result of restricted access, no truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions regarding the technology, its performance, its management implications, IRM, and its interactions with insect biology. Consequently, data flowing to an EPA Scientific Advisory Panel from the public sector is unduly limited.”http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/02/26/one-nation-under-monsanto/And further to fracking technology we have stated it has to be treated as an industry and not just as a technique. Part of the necessary process includes the use of crystalline silica sand. A fracked well could use anywhere from 2 million to 5 million pounds of sand. Western Wisconsin has at least 60 industrial sand mines. The airborne dust eminating from mining for frac sand can lead to silicosis for miners working on site and little is known about its effect on people who live near mine sites. "People here say this is an issue of property rights, that they can do what they want with their land," Ken Schmitt, a cattle farmer."Fighting this just seems so hopeless The companies just have so much money. They can just buy everybody. It seems like nothing can stop them." said an anoymous cranberry farmer.http://www.desmogblog.com/2012/11/20/la-times-covers-sand-land-ecological-hazards-frac-sand-mining-wisconsinAnd then of course there is the gas pipeline problems.http://www.desmogblog.com/who-monitoring-fracking-wells-and-pipelines-nobodyWhile coal and oil certainly pose their own health and climate disadvantages and the nuclear power stations have their own risks, it is important to recognise that fracked gas/oil is also a dirty fossil fuel . Why should we trust those companies with a proven track record of deceit to tell the truth on fracking. Given the uncertainties surrounding the impact of fracking surely it is only prudent at this point for socialists not to be seen aligning themselves too much with the proponents of it. That requires a non-neutral stance in our propaganda, indeed one of a scepticism. Better safe than sorry, to once again offer simple definition of the precautionary principle.

    #92189
    ALB
    Keymaster

    This article from June 2011 "Windy Nimbies mean nothing can get done" by David Aaronovitch showed how Nimbies also misuse science to protect their backyards.http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/columnists/davidaaronovitch/article3057289.eceUnfortunately, you have to pay to see it, but the part you can see gives the gist of it:

    Quote:
    Whether it’s turbines or high-speed rail, the vocal and time-rich will dredge up any argument to stop progress
    #92191
    alanjjohnstone
    Keymaster

    i thought that this link broadened the issue of the bias of scientific approach and the political bias is not restricted to the hard science but also a question for the social sciences. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/mar/02/amazon-rainforest-tribe-yanomami-anthropologists"many anthropologists are ignoring the pursuit of pure research in favour of becoming activists for the civil rights of their subjects." Versus "Chagnon's work has been used throughout the years – and could still be used – by governments to deny the Yanomamö their land and cultural rights."

    #92192
    alanjjohnstone
    Keymaster

    Another link which analyses the feasability of fracking financially, describing it as an investment bubble, and that its practical possibilities are much less than what is imagined. I do like the description of fracking as "pump and dump"http://www.countercurrents.org/greer020313.htm

    #92190
    JH
    Participant

    Sounds exacty what's been happening in this country. Its the exploration companies bumping up the prospects in the hope of being taken over by the bigger conglomerates.Talk of' ' progress' and  'objective science' are often ways of concealing underlying commercial interests.I'm not saying abandon a scientific approach but such an approach has to be critical and in cases like this requires analysis of both the underlying interests and the social context – capitalism.Talk about 'hired guns'. I find it difficult to read anything by the ex-stalinist Aaronovitch. He who thought the invasion of Iraq was in the interests of  'progress' and was rewarded ever afterwards by regular appearances on the BBC and regular columns in the Murdoch media, only outdone by that other 'great communicator' Alistair Campbell.This the context in which we have to assess the information with which are provided and in which the Socialist Standard is produced.It would not surprise me given some of the comments here, to hear the Yanomi, described as 'NIMBYS' and enemies of progress. It is capitalist accumulation that drives the energy needs of capitalism not human need and you will look in vain for any semblance of progress in terms of meeting human need under capitalism. The idea that knocking half an hour off the journey from Manchester to London (HS2) is anything other than an opportunity for capitalist investment at a time of recession and to provide some stimulus for growth and to see it in terms of human progress is nonsense.How long before the population of the world suffering from the impact of climate change and trying to preserve a reasonable environment in which to live are derided as 'NIMBYS', enemies of capitalist progress. Marx and Engels long ago realised the impact of capitalist degradation of the earth and took sides on all issues, exposing and analysing the underlying forces.Don't let the Standard abandon that approach in favour of some abstract 'objective' science.You cannot stand above the class struggle on that way and end up supporting the dominant interests if you try.'The educators must themselves be 'educated'.

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