Sunday, November 21, 2010

Afterthoughts on the People's Summit

Great as the People's Summit was, there were a couple things that troubled me while I was there, and I feel as if it might be important to the movement to note my misgivings.
  1. The East-West divide. Numerous westerners, folks from Texas and Wyoming who have been living with the effects of the fossil fuel industry (and fracking in particular) for years, professed themselves thankful that this issue has finally hit the east. They weren't wishing their ill luck on us--they were just pointing out that until fracking became a reality for us, we easterners were all too happy to consume the natural gas produced in their states. Like the fossil fuel industry itself, in other words, we were willing to externalize the costs of fracking, to palm them off on someone else. As a homeowner whose water and air are heated by natural gas, I hope I'll never make that mistake again. But I fear that, in many cases, an issue needs to affect one personally before one wakes up to its dangers, or even its existence.
  2. The black-white divide. Though there were numerous representatives of tribal peoples at the summit, there was no one I would have identified as African-American. (This is not to say, of course, that visual identification is foolproof.) One of the oldest splits in the environmental movement, one dating back to its origins in the nineteenth century, is the predominance of (relatively affluent) whites and their tendency to ignore the issues of most importance to (relatively poor) non-whites. Given the anti-fracking movement's emphasis on environmental justice--on securing clean air and water, meaningful work, and civil liberties for all people--I hope the movement will be responsive and receptive to the needs of people of color. But given who is most directly affected by fracking at present--rural and suburban people, large landowners, etc.--I fear the movement may take a while before it begins to recognize the concerns and claims of urban, lower-class, and minority peoples.

If this movement is to succeed, it can't be exclusive or exclusionary. Here's hoping the next People's Summit works to address the issues that divide us.


  1. Thanks for those observations.

    It seems to me that "rugged American individualism" has always contained a large portion of NIMBY----that one of the so-called strengths of the American culture has been a reluctance to join in to the idea of collective conscience. (War, and its opposite, humane rescue operations, being the exceptions).

    It's a paradigm that lost authenticity a long time ago.....but like all things vestigial it continues to shadowly reverberate.
    Effective action requires challenging that paradigm. Here in PA those people who are most immediately being affected are being given short shrift by the those in areas (southcentral PA,eg--including Harrisburg) not connected to the traffic, land disruption, water theft, air quality, etc caused by the industrialization/degradation, and I find it difficult to rally the cause or create awareness---they just don't care as much. Cheap gas is good they think--doesn't matter where it comes from.
    One of the primary challenges facing us is an extremely provincial consciousness----and I write this even as I just inhaled a molecule that came out of an asshole in China.

  2. I was listening to a segment on a local radio station where the DJ framed the issue this way: "Should we sell our lands to gas companies and get LOTS AND LOTS OF MONEY or should we, maybe, kind of, as an afterthought, worry about the health and environmental impacts?" Not surprisingly, the way the question was phrased, most callers said, "Go for the money!" Admittedly, this was neither a scientific poll nor a good source of information, but it does support RC's point about the need to challenge the NIMBY paradigm and to raise awareness of the ways in which this issue affects us all.