Wednesday 11 May 2011

On Gasland and Feeling

As I write just after sunrise this morning, I can hear birdsong of all kinds and a woodpecker drilling on a pole. A large wasp came in, carefully investigated the frame of the open window, flew slowly out again. The day is bright and the sky is mostly clear. The rain I wrote about on Monday returned with a few drops on the next night but that’s been it for now. The farmers have been watering the fields with those huge versions of sprinklers for several weeks.

Yesterday I got a message from 38 Degrees about the government’s proposals to remove the ‘red tape’ around environmental protection laws (read dismantle the laws protecting the environment) and reduce the UK’s carbon emissions targets. I read the piece by George Monbiot. I will write a letter to my local MP, as I did to protest the recent national forest sell-off plans.

And now I do want to mention what I did on my birthday, even though it was last week. I went to see Gasland with Charlotte at Cinema City. The event was organised by a young post-graduate from UEA and the auditorium was full of students, although from Transition Norwich I only recognised ourselves and Christine. We sat together for the film and the discussion afterwards with a panel of hydro-geologists and environmental experts.

Gasland documents the practice (and effects) of ‘hydraulic fracturing’ for ‘natural’ gas, or gas fracking, which in less than a decade has put thousands of wells all over the United States. Josh Fox decided to make the film after a company wrote asking him for fracking rights on his land in the Catskills. He got into his car and travelled the country to find out what was happening to the people who had sold rights on their land or lived near others who had.

It shows how gas and chemicals from the fracking process pollute the groundwater and poison the land. And how people (and animals) living in the area suffer or die as a result. There were shots of people setting light to the water coming out of their taps. One man said his water turned black overnight. Other people reported frequent severe headaches and worse - cancer and brain lesions.

Up until now in the UK, according to one of the panelists, gas fracking has happened out at sea but not inland. But it's due to start near Blackpool this summer. And what if those environmental laws get dismantled? Just as the US Clean Water Act was?

I think Gasland should be seen by everyone, certainly by anyone in a Transition initiative (see Rob Hopkins' review). Not just because it is interestingly shot, utterly engaging and completely topical. But because it has feeling. The filmmaker has real feeling for his home in the Catskills, the trees, the streams, the birds, the natural world, his fellow banjo players, the people he interviews. For what’s at stake. The kind of feeling we’re all going to need to have any real hope of restoring some kind of balance to our world, already fracked in so many ways.

This feeling was absent from the perfectly rational and well-presented panel discussion after the film. We heard about geological facts, profits and how in the UK our environmental regulations were tougher than in the US (although that was last week!). We were relieved that Norfolk (and I imagine Suffolk too?) was not earmarked for fracking.

I remarked on the curious flatness of the post-film discussion to Charlotte and Christine, who’d both felt it too. It reminded me of Ian McGilchrist’s book The Master and his Emissary*, which talks about how the left (smaller) hemisphere of our brains, the part that deals with facts, figures and stats, has put itself in charge of life, and usurped the right hemisphere’s rightful place, which is in contact with all life and the realm of feeling, and is really the ‘master’. And how this situation has become endemic to and expressed throughout the whole of Western culture with our obsession with numbers and quantification at the expense of the living planet and our own hearts.

One of the best things about being in Transition is the context it provides in which the bigger picture of diminishing fossil fuel reserves, carbon emissions, climate instability and the global economy can be brought to the table and given proper attention. With all our feelings on board. We can admit, as happened in our Low Carbon Cookbook meeting last month, that we don’t really know what the future will hold. Space and time for these discussions are invaluable in a left-hemisphere ruled world where 'getting it all done' and 'busy busy busy' are the norm. Where feeling is left out of the picture in favour of stats and ticking boxes.

And this is why I will go to a film like Gasland on my birthday. Because of the things it includes that are usually left out.

Pics: Josh Fox in the stream outside his house, among Wyoming wells, both from Gasland

*Click here for the PDF of the Introduction

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