I feel the earth move under my feet
I feel the sky tumbling down, tumbling down
I feel my heart start to trembling
Whenever you’re around
Call me old. [If I wanted to be called Ishmael I would have changed my name by deed poll by now. So just call me old.]
Why? Because I still love this song, 44 years after I first heard it. I love the whole album. And I love listening to Carole King. And if that makes me old, so be it.
Yesterday’s New Scientist had a fascinating article on the unexpected origin of human values. [Sadly it’s paywalled; some of you may have access, my apologies to the others]. Ian Morris, the writer of the article, asserts:
The lesson of history seems clear. Human values are biologically evolved adaptations, just like the values of other primates; but the way we interpret those values are culturally evolved, and this makes us different from all other animals.
The notion of there being three modern ages of values — foraging, farming and fossil-fuel — supporting different levels of hierarchy and consequently different levels of inequality, is in itself quite intriguing, but not necessarily a surprise for those interested in the biology of values. But it brings into stark relief some of the challenges we face in dealing with the issues of today.
Many critical issues of the day are debated more on ideological grounds than on those of fact and evidence: climate change; GM crops; nutrition; water; energy, all suffer this problem.
That ideological fervour means that in many cases, strenuous attempts are made to make the facts hard to understand or interpret. So today, for example, I have a gnawing feeling that the German stance on nuclear fuel post-Fukushima is the right one, but it’s nothing more than a strong feeling, imbued with a sense that a pure focus on renewables is just logical. But I don’t have enough data to say “I know”.
Similarly, I have a sense that it costs the earth more to sustain a meat-eater than to sustain a vegetarian. That’s based on some facts, but still nowhere near enough for me to say “I know”. I haven’t seen longitudinal studies covering enough of the moving parts for me to feel certain. As Francis Bacon said so memorably five hundred years ago:
If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.
I am content to begin with doubts on many things. I read extensively, have the freedom to express my opinion, have friends who challenge, refine and improve my thinking. And for this I am very grateful. It’s how I learn.
Which brings me to the point of this post. I feel the earth move.
Time for me to use the f-word.
Until recently, I’d had mild-to-medium misgivings about hydraulic fracturing. Even so I couldn’t avoid smiling when I read a few weeks ago that some New York towns want to secede and join Pennsylvania so that they could frack.
I thought to myself, this one’s going to run and run. With elections approaching in the UK, it comes as no surprise that we get statements that fracking is set to be banned from 40% of England’s shale areas. With another coalition government on the cards here, and remembering the shameless u-turns carried out by the various parties involved on the Digital Economy Act and on university fees, amongst others, we can remain confident that we’re going to see a number of u-turns on fracking. Now you see it, now you don’t. Find the lady. Politics.
And then, a few days ago, I read an article in the New Yorker. The Arrival of Man-Made Earthquakes. [Thanks to the New Yorker, no paywall].
It’s a long article, and well worth reading. I would commend it to every one of you who has an interest in this subject. And for those of you who treat fracking with jingoistic dollar-sign frenzy, or for those whose ideologies will not allow them to read the New Yorker article (in case the facts disagree with you), I present you with this one paragraph:
Until 2008, Oklahoma experienced an average of one to two earthquakes of 3.0 magnitude or greater each year. (Magnitude-3.0 earthquakes tend to be felt, while smaller earthquakes may be noticed only by scientific equipment or by people close to the epicenter.) In 2009, there were twenty. The next year, there were forty-two. In 2014, there were five hundred and eighty-five, nearly triple the rate of California. Including smaller earthquakes in the count, there were more than five thousand. This year, there has been an average of two earthquakes a day of magnitude 3.0 or greater.
2008: One or two. 2009: Twenty. 2010: Forty-two. 2014: Five hundred and eighty-five. 2015: Two a day.
Hmmm. Why let the facts get in the way of a good old-fashioned ideological argument?
I feel the earth/move/under my feet.
And so will you. And everyone else. Soon. At a fracking site near you.