Mount More Bird-choppers for Power?

How to save ourselves from the new Middle Ages: stop building bird-choppers and start fracking

So it turns out that fracking for shale gas really is more effective at making the earth move than all the onanism of the enviros over windmills. We should thus get on with drilling and stop building the bird-choppers.

In a shocking surprise anyone attuned to the way government actually works, this is in fact what is about to happen. Or at least what the current Government seems to be inching towards, after an official report found that the technique caused two small earthquakes last year (one of them near Blackpool) but recommended the wider use of it nonetheless.

Welcome to the most important point you never get taught about economics: there are no such things as solutions. All we’ve got, all we can ever have, is a series of trade-offs. Are there problems with fracking for shale gas? Sure there are: it causes earthquakes, as this report confirms. I’ve written elsewhere about US reports into the contamination of groundwater and yes, this too happens. Almost all of those cases come from inadequate care of water and chemicals being used and spilt on the surface. The one case that might be of deep contamination, of contamination of an aquifer, is due to the very odd geology of the area.

And yes, fracking is noisy, noisome and annoying, and we would all really rather no one did it in our back garden.

On the other hand, this “civilisation” thing is pretty good too. The fact that we can heat our hovels, that something gets piped in to turn that tartare into burger, that we have plentiful hot water to keep the lice count down – all of these are among the things that have made the last century or two the most pleasant to live in of all human history.

So we’ve our trade-off here: heat and power for all, as against a minority of us having to put up with burly men penetrating Gaia with their massive drills. One can understand the opposition of the more anti-phallocentric greenies to this idea, but what about all us sensible people? A reasonable trade-off or not?

The Guardian is the home of such greens, as we know, and their bleater-in-chief makes this point:

Unlike fracking, the alternative put forward by green campaigners does not involve moving the Earth, but would instead require a seismic shift in policy. “We should be developing the huge potential of clean British energy from the sun, wind and waves, not more dirty and dangerous fossil fuels,” said Friends of the Earth’s head Andy Atkins.

Well yes, we could do that, we really could. Mount more bird-choppers, use the weak sunlight of our rainy isles, digest all the sewage in the country and power ourselves that way. Except this is a different set of trade-offs. The first one that leaps out at you from any of the various calculations is that they all assume that we’ll cut our energy use in half. No, really, it’s at the heart of all of them, whether the numbers come from Greenpeace or DECC. It is always and everywhere assumed that we’ll be happy with a forward-to-the-Middle-Ages movement.

The second is that this method will be vastly more expensive than any energy system which uses fossil fuels. For this is our very problem in a nutshell. If renewable energy technologies actually were cheaper than fossil fuels, then we wouldn’t be having any of these arguments in the first place. We’d all be happily sacrificing eagles to Mother Earth and leaving the oil in the ground. The very fact that we have laws, renewables obligations, taxes and regulations to force us to do this is all the evidence anyone needs that it is more expensive.

This expense is important as well: we are lazy, greedy shaved apes, and we want as much as we can get for the least effort. Which includes heating, light and cooking for the least part of our income that we can get away with, leaving more of such cash for the other things in life. Trade-offs again: less heat, less power, less everything in fact, in return we get to delay global warming by, what, seven months? Assuming that we do something and no one else does, that is?

Let’s come back to the great trade-off that we need to make up our minds on as a result of this new report. Yes, fracking causes earthquakes. So, do we go fracking for gas or don’t we?

Do we all get to be warm and toasty for a century or more or do more pictures fall off Lancastrian walls as they shake and tremble alongside the piercing of Gaia’s veil?

Put like that’s it’s pretty clear isn’t it? Sorry, Blackpool.


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