Shale gas fractivists are predictable true believers, the sort who are always around regardless of the issue, and we should never be discouraged at what sometimes appear to be victories on their side. They are losing the war.
Now and then, the opposition to shale gas development momentarily appears to gain some traction here and there. This invariably worries some on our side who become dispirited as they see irrational, fact-deprived opponents seemingly win a few battles. Notwithstanding these butterflies, the reader can be assured we are winning and they are losing the war. They will cause delays in places like New York where political insanity often reigns for long periods before rationality sets in, but, ultimately, our shale gas resources will be developed because the facts are with us and the country needs to do it.
More than that, the shale gas opposition is, at its core, essentially negative and Americans are never long seduced by the wailing of complainers and naysayers. We are a forward looking people more likely to adopt “can do” than “can’t” as our motto. The typical shale gas opponent or “anti” is a member of small band of radicals whose inherent negativism is being rejected, and will continue to be rejected, because it is backward looking, uncompromising and unreasonable – in a word, shrill, and shrill voices seldom prevail in the end.
Why are antis so shrill? Well, one must understand who the typical anti-gas ideologue (as distinguished from ordinary citizens who are just honest skeptics) is to answer that question. Here are a few of my observations from 40 years of dealing with some of these individuals in matters that cover the gamut of trendy causes.
- The typical anti doesn’t have to earn a living off the land he or she insists on protecting. They want to protect others’ land from its owners on the theory they know better what to do with it, but have no real economic-dependent stake in the matter beyond this fervent belief that they’re smarter. They have either already made their money elsewhere, have inherited it or or otherwise living off previously created wealth. The number of trust-funders (e.g., Sean Lennon) engaged in the cause is nothing less than stunning. Meanwhile, most landowners struggle to make a living and pay the taxes on the land they keep in the open space the anti is determined to protect for his or her own enjoyment.
- The typical anti has no long-term investment in the community as “home.” Antis are often second-home owners, occasional visitors or transplants with little or no connection to the shale gas region as their ancestral home. Home is more likely the “Big Apple” or some other city far removed from the place they love to visit. Josh Fox is, perhaps, the perfect illustration. His father owns about 20 acres in Milanville, Pennsylvania, that he loves to call home and visit (even voting there) but his real base of operations is New York City where he grew up and went to school. His natural gas heated headquarters are there and that’s where his friends and associates are. He owns no land in Milanville and didn’t even bother paying his annual occupational taxes the last time I checked. Moreover, he is a member of none of the community organizations to which a typical resident might belong (e.g., fire company, service club).
- The typical anti is one by nature – a natural born protestor. If it wasn’t gas it would windmills and if wasn’t windmills it would be any one of dozens of other causes ranging from the “occupy” movement to public television access to genetically altered food products. Any development project, any land use or anything at all that doesn’t spring from their own minds is ripe for opposition, a convenient excuse for demonstrating what they perceive as a superior social consciousness that needs to be imposed on others, at no cost to themselves, of course.
- The typical anti has no children seeking jobs locally. While there are exceptions, most antis are either childless or the parents of already grown children who are employed elsewhere. Those who are worried about the futures of their children and how to keep them close by tend to be supporters of natural gas and other development. They understand the importance of gainful employment to the health of their families, in contrast to antis. Think I’m making this up? Well, look at this poll and Questions 15 and 16. The greatest opposition to shale gas development comes from the oldest and wealthiest of those surveyed.
- The typical anti comes from an urban culture and knows little of how either their food or their energy is produced. An individual living in New York City or any other city is accustomed to food and energy being available at their fingertips. They have little or no knowledge of how either is produced or what is involved. They have the luxury of not knowing – it all just comes to them. It’s easy to segment production from consumption in such minds because the former always takes place out-of-sight and usually far away. Turning the thermostat one way or the other is all that is required to get heat or air conditioning. The blatant hypocrisy of opposing the development of natural gas one uses for their own benefit never even occurs to an anti raised in this environment. Sean Lennon, who dwells in the famous Dakota building, which was recently converted to natural gas to meet emission standards, comes to mind. He has made a spectacle of himself opposing the fracking that heats his opulent apartment.
- The typical anti tends to be artistic, emotional and guilt-ridden, rather than analytical. He or she often seeks power to dominate discussion and impose what they hold to be superior and enlightened ideologies on what they perceive to be a unenlightened hick culture. Hence the anger, condescension, name-calling (wish I had a dollar for every time I was called a “shill”) and smugness – all geared to dominate debate by shutting it down. They desperately seek to assuage their guilt at having done so undeservedly well by substituting their consciences for those they believe they can dominate. They also attach themselves to various causes they hope will allow them to do so without sacrificing any of the privileges that give rise to their guilt. Eric Hoffer examined much of this in his famous book, The True Believer. Read it.
- The typical anti is both unrealistic and uncompromising. This dangerous combination is what invariably dooms the ideologue, when the cause is not based on facts or logic, to an ignominious defeat. Yet, the anti persists in the strategy, denying the facts and pretending we can shift away from fossil fuels in a heartbeat, while continuing to use them to meet their own needs. (Tony Ingraffea, who lives in a natural gas heated home in Cayuga Heights, New York, is a perfect example.) The anti repeatedly falls for such foolishness and is easily taken in by Gasland and other similar cartoonish enterprises, because they childishly hold to the view that wishing it to be, makes it so. Moreover, they aren’t willing to confront a truth that would destroy their artificial social construct.
This brings us to the more important point – that such individuals never prevail but for a short time. Every cause, whether good or bad, whether destined for success or failure, attracts such true believers (e.g., the American Revolution), but only those causes founded on facts, logic and objective truth ultimately prevail, while the others burn out quickly with a bright glare that fades to dark before we know it. The fractivists are very much in the latter category. They have nothing but baseless speculation on which to rely. As shale gas continues to prove itself and spread worldwide (both are taking place), the typical anti is pushed further and further to the edge and tries raising his or her voice to be heard; hence the ever more shrill tone.
The anti has a small chance in the short term, though, if the rest of us are silent and do no more than complain to ourselves. We have to be engaged. We must combat the foolishness of the anti cause with facts by attending municipal meetings, speaking out, writing letters to the editor, demanding action and calling out our friends on the other side. We must be organized to protect property rights and the truth. We must be vigilant and recognize there will always be antis to confront.
Today, we face the fractivists; tomorrow it will be someone else or, more likely, the same folks with a different cause. They’ll always be there because their psyche demands it from them. We must always be there, too, and we will be because Americans are forward, not backward, looking. We are happy warriors and that’s why we’ll win.