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Date posted: 20 August 2013
A letter to the Guardian from Dr Isabel Carter, Chair of Operation Noah, in response to a Church of England statement on fracking.
The protests in Balcombe over the proposed drilling to explore hydraulic fracking potential, continue to focus opinions. Those most directly involved – local residents – are overwhelmingly opposed to the fracking with a survey (carried out by No Fibs) revealing that 85% of villagers were opposed to Cuadrilla’s operation. Climate activists who have held a peaceful weekend camp in Balcombe and two days of direct action against the drilling company Cuadrilla succeeded in delaying drilling and attracting a lot of media attention. The RSPB have objected to fracking proposals partly on the basis of local damage to wildlife and because increased gas use will ‘scupper our chances’ of meeting climate change targets.
Now a statement made on behalf of the Mission and Public Affairs group in the Church of England is suggesting that opinions on fracking should remain open as cheap gas obtained through fracking will be less damaging for global warming, will provide jobs and could help those in fuel poverty.
Operation Noah finds these comments baffling and unhelpful. Fuel bills have risen because of rising gas prices, not because of green energy measures, so it’s unclear why more gas would address fuel poverty. The government’s ‘dash for gas’ strategy is a false solution to climate change. Evidence suggests that fracked gas may be just as bad for global warming as coal (largely because of methane escape), in addition to all the local environmental issues. Gas prices are only lower because of government subsidies in the form of tax breaks. If these subsidies were invested in renewables (as Germany is doing), it would guarantee future energy supplies at affordable prices as well as create jobs. We don’t doubt that fracking might yield gas supplies in the short term but with huge environmental consequences – both to the local environment and to global climate change. Scientists tell us that to avoid devastating climate change we must not only stop exploring for new fossil fuels, but also leave the majority of current stocks in the ground.
To defend fracking because poor people are suffering because of fuel poverty, is misjudged. Climate change is indeed hitting the poorest people most and they will suffer most from our government’s ‘dash for gas’.
Fuel Poverty Action – the UK’s main action group on fuel poverty – was at Balcome and the ‘Reclaim the Power’ action camp this weekend, so they clearly do not think fracking is the answer.
Operation Noah has been campaigning to ensure that the Energy Bill, shortly to be debated in the Lords, has clear decarbonisation targets to ensure all our futures. Surely elements within the Church of England are not now suggesting that fracked gas, with all its attendant potential and known risks, is worth pursuing whilst putting aside hard won legislation towards climate change mitigation and adaption (made in the UK’s Climate Change Act 2008).
Westley Ingram, one of the Christian activists at Balcombe this weekend said: ‘A church that does not take a stand on climate change in the interests of the poor, at home and abroad, does not represent Jesus Christ well, if at all.’ Caroline Harmon adds: ‘As Christians we are called to steward the creation and use the earth’s resources wisely. We don’t believe that it is possible to do this if we are continuing to exploit fossil fuels.’
Dr Isabel Carter of Operation Noah comments: ‘Those who support fracking as a means of meeting our energy needs, are looking for short-term financial gain for the UK irrespective of the longer term impact and costs on our global community. As Christians we should be aware of the ethical issues around our energy usage and do all we can to encourage energy conservation and renewable energy sources’.
Isabel Carter, Chair of Operation Noah
An edited version of this letter was printed in the Guardian on 20 August 2013.