New Internationalist

The beginning of the end for the fossil-fuel spin machine

Oil drilling in the US [Related Image]
Tim Evanson under a Creative Commons Licence

A few weeks ago, an industry insider told me that one fracking company alone is spending $800,000 a month on pro-fracking PR in Britain: ‘It is a drop in the ocean to them,’ he said. Yesterday, the Sun newspaper published its latest blitz on those who are standing up against fracking, smearing Lord Cowdray, who has worked with Frack Free Fernhurst and Greenpeace to effectively block drilling company Celtique from operating in the area, by using the excellent Wrongmove strategy. Although you usually have to pay for access to the Sun’s online material, this article is free. The editorial finishes with an appeal to readers to sign a petition calling for Britain to ‘frack to the future’. The last time the Sun engaged in a pro-fracking campaign, it drenched the paper in pro-fracking spin and then called a vote. The result was 52 per cent against fracking in Britain, so the poll was quickly closed and the results strangely spun. Even when the rightwing press profiled me as an anti-fracking lunatic who wrote a school textbook and had a brother (well-known commie anarchist ketamine-addicted traits) the response I had was remarkably supportive. Profiling people is the bottom of the barrel; it means all level-headed arguments are failing.

What goes on behind the doors of the PR companies when they are scrambling to find their latest hooks and schemes to make hydraulic fracturing and other forms of onshore unconventional extraction seem appealing to the public? They tried the predictable avenues of saying that fracking will create jobs and bring fuel prices down, only for the industry itself to prove both assertions wrong. Even taking such simple routes as to suggest that fracking is safe and a proven technology has come up against the Advertising Standards Authority.

So where did those buzzing execs at the PR companies spin next? Money! What if one per cent of the revenues went to the local communities, they thought; what if we were to give each community $160,000 and, what the hell, chuck in cutting the business rates as well? But this too seems to have backfired, with claims of ill-thought-out bribery across the board from the British people and some local authorities, including the two councils covering Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s Cheshire constituency, dismissing the incentives. Since then, another ugly issue has started to ruffle the feathers of those PR think-tanks, in the shape of emerging evidence of the effect fracking will have on the value of people’s homes and the cost of their home insurance. Suddenly, not only are the promises of a jobs boom, lowered prices and safety assurances shown to be empty, but those meagre cash incentives seem out of kilter with how much communities will be hit economically.

So, what is left to spin? That we need fracking in order to make the transition to renewables and sustainables? No, what we need to make that transition is political will, devoid of corporate influence. We need leaders who look beyond 5 years, 20 years, 50 years. We need leaders who are not afraid to cut off the power that fossil fuel corporations wield within the government. We need leaders who will turn away from the infinite-growth model. We need leaders who will address hard and unpopular issues such as energy-use reduction, rather than brush them under the carpet in order to remain in power.

The BRICS countries are about to increase energy demand threefold. If that continues globally, it will be the end of any chance our species has of surviving climate chaos. It is obvious to anyone who respects the view of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that action must be taken now, yet this is something that an economic system based on infinite growth cannot countenance.

In 1961 US President John F Kennedy gave his famous speech pledging that he would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Space travel was in its infancy and, scientifically, his claim seemed impossible. But he was a man of vision, he had the nation behind him and he had the power to encourage innovation and scientific genius to be diverted to something that would benefit humanity instead of corporate profits. With the right leaders and a shift away from corporate, neoliberal agendas, humankind can survive. It can move away from fossil-fuel use and adopt energy systems that are infinite and clean, securing a future for our children of which we can be proud. But by doing nothing and believing the spin, we will have been responsible for leaving a legacy that will shame us all. Time to change the record.

 Follow Jamie Kelsey-Fry on Twitter: @jamiekelseyfry

Jamie is also part of the Talk Fracking collective which  can be followed at: @talkfracking

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