Life with and without the Amish

Ezekiel, who grew up in an Amish household, describes his journey from the Amish to where he is toda

I am 33 years old. 33 was a big number to reach. Bigger than 21, or 30, because 33 is the year I have officially been living out in the World longer than I lived amongst the Amish.

I saw many of the people I grew up with, went to school with, and worshipped with do a lot of wild things on Rumspringa – the time when Amish teens get to live outside traditional Amish society without strict rules. I wasn’t nearly as adventurous as many of my friends, but ironically now live a life as a musician that perhaps many English (non-Amish) would consider wild even by their standards. Though, from what I have seen on television, still relatively tame compared to most musicians.

I loved a lot about the Amish lifestyle. I still do. The focus on family is something I will never lose. Rejecting Hochmut (arrogance) and embracing Demut (humility) are two things I learned being Amish that I will always practice and believe. Gelassenheit is something I try to hold on to in every day life. Calmness. Patience. Especially considering the boisterous nature of my profession, I need that quiet time. While the Amish take it to be submitting to the will of God or assertive, in my life here in the World (apart from the Amish)it has taken on a deeply personal meaning for me just as many of the beliefs I was raised with have.

While I loved the Amish life, I chose to leave it for reasons that became as strong to me as the love of what I left behind. Foremost among then was my wavering belief in God and the spiritual aspects of the life. I don’t know when this doubt first lit inside me. I was devoutly spiritual as a child, up until my teens. When I left on Rumspringa I came to a great appreciation of music, learning, and reading. I moved to New York when I was 18 and acquired my Certificate of General Educational Development, which allowed me to get a diploma from high school because Amish education stops at the 8th grade. I went on to four years of college, studying literature. The more I learned, the more I read, the more I questioned. That is not to say that people who still embrace God and religion, of any faith, are wrong in their faith. But the questions that came up for me were deep cracks in the foundation of my own. I came to believe that there is no right or wrong in religion. An individual’s faith is what is right for him or her, and no one else has the right to dispute that. If there is a God, I believe there is one God, but he or she is the God that each person chooses to believe in.

Then, as I have heard so many stories go in books and movies out here in the World, there’s always a woman. That was the case with me as well. I met my now-wife when I was 20 years old and working as a waiter. I had been through roughly two years of college and was still a bit “on the fence” as to what I was going to do with my life, but meeting her was, ultimately, the deciding factor. As it’s forbidden to marry a non-Amish woman, unless she joined the faith, I knew then and there that I was not going back. I had found my calling, and was lucky enough that she found love with me as well. Most Amish come back from Rumspringa to find a spouse and join Church. Rumspringa ended for me when I found a spouse and decided not to join Church.

A question I am often asked is if I am still Amish, and I am. It is part of who I am, and always will be. I still visit my family. I still embrace much of my Amish upbringing. I still value most of what being raised Amish has taught me. I will never lose sight of that, as surely as those who decide to join Church after Rumspringa will never lose sight of God. But just as their faith is strong with Him, my faith is strong with my family, my friends, and the people and life that I love.

Ezekiel was born Amish and grew up in Lancaster County, PA. He has now left the Amish and resides in New York with his wife.
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North Yorkshire has approved the UK’s first fracking tests in five years. What does this mean?

Is fracking the answer to the UK's energy future? Or a serious risk to the environment?

Shale gas operation has been approved in North Yorkshire, the first since a ban introduced after two minor earthquakes in 2011 were shown to be caused by fracking in the area. On Tuesday night, after two days of heated debate, North Yorkshire councillors finally granted an application to frack in the North York Moors National Park.

The vote by the Tory-dominated council was passed by seven votes to four, and sets an important precedent for the scores of other applications still awaiting decision across the country. It also gives a much-needed boost David Cameron’s 2014 promise to “go all out for shale”. But with regional authorities pitted against local communities, and national government in dispute with global NGOs, what is the wider verdict on the industry?

What is fracking?

Fracking, or “hydraulic fracturing”, is the extraction of shale gas from deep underground. A mixture of water, sand and chemicals is pumped into the earth at such high pressure that it literally fractures the rocks and releases the gas trapped inside.

Opponents claim that the side effects include earthquakes, polluted ground water, and noise and traffic pollution. The image the industry would least like you to associate with the process is this clip of a man setting fire to a running tap, from the 2010 US documentary Gasland

Advocates dispute the above criticisms, and instead argue that shale gas extraction will create jobs, help the UK transition to a carbon-neutral world, reduce reliance on imports and boost tax revenues.

So do these claims stands up? Let’s take each in turn...

Will it create jobs? Yes, but mostly in the short-term.

Industry insiders imply that job creation in the UK could rival that seen in the US, while the medium-sized production company Cuadrilla claims that shale gas production would create 1,700 jobs in Lancashire alone.

But claims about employment may be exaggerated. A US study overseen by Penn State University showed only one in seven of the jobs the industry forecast actually materialised. In the UK, a Friends of the Earth report contends that the majority of jobs to be created by fracking in Lancashire would only be short-term – with under 200 surviving the initial burst.

Environmentalists, in contrast, point to evidence that green energy creates 10 times more jobs than similar-sized fossil fuel investments.  And it’s not just climate campaigners who don’t buy the employment promise. Trade union members also have their doubts. Ian Gallagher, Secretary of Blackburn and District Trade Unions Council, told Friends of the Earth that: “Investment in the areas identified by the Million Climate Jobs Campaign [...] is a far more certain way of addressing both climate change and economic growth than drilling for shale gas.”

Will it deliver cleaner energy? Not as completely as renewables would.

America’s “shale revolution” has been credited with reversing the country’s reliance on dirty coal and helping them lead the world in carbon-emissions reduction. Thanks to the relatively low carbon dioxide content of natural gas (emitting half the amount of coal to generate the same amount of electricity), fracking helped the US reduce its annual emissions of carbon dioxide by 556 million metric tons between 2007 and 2014. Banning it, advocates argue, would “immediately increase the use of coal”.

Yet a new report from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (previously known for its opposition to wind farm applications), has laid out a number of ways that the UK government can meet its target of 80 per cent emissions reduction by 2050 without the introduction of fracking and without harming the natural world. Renewable, home-produced, energy, they argue, could in theory cover the UK’s energy needs three times over. They’ve even included some handy maps:


Map of UK land available for renewable technologies. Source: RSPB’s 2050 Energy Vision.

Will it deliver secure energy? Yes, up to a point.

For energy to be “sustainable” it also has to be secure; it has to be available on demand and not threatened by international upheaval. Gas-fired “peaking” plants can be used to even-out input into the electricity grid when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind is not so blowy. The government thus claims that fracking is an essential part of the UK’s future “energy mix”, which, if produced domestically, will also free us from reliance on imports tarnished by volatile Russian politics.

But, time is running out. Recent analysis by Carbon Brief suggests that we are only have five years left of current CO2 emission levels before we blow the carbon budget and risk breaching the climate’s crucial 1.5°C tipping point. Whichever energy choices we make now need to starting brining down the carbon over-spend immediately.

Will it help stablise the wider economy? Yes, but not forever.

With so many “Yes, buts...” in the above list, you might wonder why the government is still pressing so hard for fracking’s expansion? Part of the answer may lie in their vested interest in supporting the wider industry.

Tax revenues from UK oil and gas generate a large portion of the government’s income. In 2013-14, the revenue from license fees, petroleum revenue tax, corporation tax and the supplementary charge accounted for nearly £5bn of UK exchequer receipts. The Treasury cannot afford to lose these, as evidenced in the last budget when George Osborne further subsidied North Sea oil operations through increased tax breaks.

The more that the Conservaitves support the industry, the more they can tax it. In 2012 DECC said it wanted to “guarantee... every last economic drop of oil and gas is produced for the benefit of the UK”. This is a sentiment that was repeated yesterday by energy minister Andrea Leadsom, when she welcomed the North Yorkshire decision as a “fantastic opportunity” for fracking.

Dependence on finite domestic fuel reserves, however, is not a long-term economic solution. Not least because of the question of their replacement once they eventually run out: “Pensions already have enough stranded assets as they are,” says Danielle Pafford from 350.org.

Is it worth it? Most European countries have decided it’s not.

There is currently no commercial shale-gas drilling in Europe. Sustained protests against the industry in Romania, combined with poor exploration results, have already caused energy giant Chevron to pull out of the country. Total has also abandonned explorations in Denmark, Poland is being referred to the European Court of Justice for failing to adequately assess fracking’s impact, and, in Germany, brewers have launched special bottle-caps with the slogan “Nein! Zu Fracking” to warn against the threat to their water supply.

Back in the UK, the government's latest survey of public attitudes to fracking found that 44 per cent neither supported nor opposed the practice, but also that opinion is gradually shifting out of favour. If the government doesn't come up with arguments that hold water soon, it seems likely that the UK's fracking future could still be blasted apart.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.