By Aragorn Eloff
Ivo Vegter was rousing.
In a recent article on The Daily Maverick website the well-known local free market ideologue and climate change denialist dutifully performs his well-rehearsed cherry-picking dance of apologist rhetoric in an unsuccessful attempt to ward off the growing grassroots opposition to Shell’s application to prospect for natural gas in the Karoo [http://www.shell.co.za/karoo] using hydraulic fracturing.
Beginning by pointing out the ‘Churchillian grand oratory’ of Lewis Pugh’s speech to the Treasure Karoo Action Group (TKAG), Ivo proceeds to deliver a tedious array of anti-environmentalist slurs against the dreaded angry and irrational Big Green Lobby – all 4×4 driving ‘ecomentalists’ in sandals and hemp trousers – seemingly unaware throughout of his own hyperbole. Then again, a little bit of caricature goes a long way; had Ivo chosen to fairly portray his opponents as what they are: a loose gathering of reasonably concerned Karoo farmers, retirees, business people and scientists – he would have had to rely on facts alone, and balanced facts are precisely what he is lacking.
Not that his style doesn’t feel like level headed scientific discourse; it’s just that it entirely lacks any credible, robustly examined scientific content, drawing instead upon carefully misleading language and questionable industry propaganda.
Still, it feels like a point by point refutation is in order.
- Ivo confuses the water use of the exploratory phase with the much greater (perhaps a thousand times greater) water use of the full commercial project that would result from success in this phase.
- Bizarrely, he states that we can trust Shell! Given their ‘humanitarian’ operations in places like Nigeria and elsewhere, I doubt many people find them inherently trustworthy.
- Another argument he gives for trusting Shell is that, as a reputable company, they wouldn’t want to risk the legal repercussions of doing anything even remotely controversial. Of course, that’s not how the real world works. In fact there’s even a term for the all-too regular phenomenon of big business co-opting state regulation: regulatory capture. In South Africa we also call this business as usual.
- Ivo interprets a lack of information about the risks of fracking in the Karoo as a reason to go ahead anyway. Presumably he has never heard of the precautionary principle?
- He seems to imply that because we don’t know exactly how the specific mixes of chemicals used in fracking (arsenic, barium, strontium, benzene, BE-6, Aldecide G, FDP-S798, and Borate Crosslinker J532) are getting into groundwater, we can’t prove that they’re in the water because of the fracking. I’m sure most of us can see the problem with this kind of logic.
- Evidence that fracking has never caused any harm, anywhere, ever, is dredged up. Of course, the agencies (and in some cases lobby groups) Ivo cites have all been challenged by citizens and external auditing bodies and their neutrality is highly questionable. In some cases regulators have even been caught receiving regular gifts from oil companies. Regulatory capture, perhaps?
- Ivo would also have us believe that fracking is safe because most of the ecological damage results not from the actual moment of hydraulic fracturing but from the surrounding processes of drilling, transportation, storage and so forth. Again, I’m sure I don’t need to point out why this is absurdly illogical.
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is cited. After all, surely if the EPA says fracking is fine we have nothing to worry about? The problem here is that there is serious dissent within EPA ranks: whistle-blower Weston Wilson and several of his colleagues have challenged the integrity of the EPA report on fracking as well as the impartiality of the organisation. EPA opinion is also heavily divided; even EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe is angry with the frackers.
- Ivo takes the TKAG – as well as commentators like Andreas Spath, to task for being mere ideologues spouting ‘clean green waffle’. Ironically, however, few have as visible and dogmatic an ideological bias as Ivo himself, an enthusiastic promoter of the usual ideological mix of free markets, nuclear energy, GM crops and climate change denialism.
- Although he would have us believe that gas is cleaner than coal, brand new research out of Cornell University indicates that once we factor in the full lifecycle impact of gas production – including all the methane emissions – it is equivalent to coal in terms of ecological impact .
- Finally, Ivo pulls the job card. In doing so, he also creates a false dilemma, stating that it’s either development of the fossil fuel industry (natural gas is a fossil fuel, of course) or no development (or jobs) at all. In sunny South Africa, of all places, I’m sure we can recognise that there are saner paths we can follow.
Throughout his predictable attack on the TKAG, Ivo uses every rhetorical trick in the book to paint them as a fringe group of irrational yuppie sentimentalists, even though the people expressing concern represent a broad range of regular, everyday folks. (In fact I’m willing to bet they’re very similar in composition to the group of Groot Marico residents I filmed last year, who fought against and successfully stopped nickel mining prospectors. I might be wrong though; Ivo is welcome to watch this short video about the Marico struggle and point out the Green Nazis.
In general, Ivo’s core tactic is exactly the same as that used by the spin doctors who want us to believe that there’s nothing wrong with nuclear energy, that GM foods are perfectly safe, and that there’s no scientific consensus behind climate change.
If these paid professionals (unpaid ‘altruists’ in Ivo’s case) are able to make us feel small and confused, as if we’re a tiny, out of touch minority who don’t represent the hopes and aspirations of regular people, they can keep us silent and divided.
I’m guessing however that the opposite is true – that those of us who are beginning to recognise the dire consequences of life out of balance, of unhinged science and a developmental economics detached from reality, of progress for its own sake and only ever of a single kind, now represent the bulk of opinion.
If so, then it might be that it is in fact people like Ivo, with their dogmatic reductionist ideologies and their strong confirmation bias – their remarkable ability to collect and interpret ‘evidence’ in a such a contrived fashion they can even convince themselves that anthropogenic climate change isn’t real – who are the real irrational fringe.
Read Ivo Vegter’s Fracking Controversy
Aragorn Eloff is an amateur filmmaker and one of the directors of the South African Vegan Society. He is currently traveling the world interviewing anarchists for a feature-length documentary on the subject, which he hopes to release sometime in the foreseeable future.