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Fracking is in retreat; time to join the struggle

Recent days show that the establishment's fracking mania can be stopped by well-organised, well-meaning people, says Guy Shrubsole.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.” Margaret Mead’s pithy phrase has never rung more true than in the wake of yesterday’s stunning victory over fracking by the amazing community campaigners at Frack Free Lancashire.

The decision by Lancashire County Councillors to reject Cuadrilla’s bid to frack in the county, by a stunning nine votes to three, is testimony to four long years of campaigning by the community. That victory is down to wonderful people like Tina Louise Rothery, who raised up an army of ‘fracking Nanas’ to resist the depredations of the fracking firms. It’s down to people like Marie Taylor, whose home was devalued by the blight of fracking coming to Lancashire, but who refused to be cowed.

It is, in short, a victory for people power – a claim that these days is all too rare in a political culture dominated by insider lobbying, PR spin, sham consultations and ‘professionalised’ decision-making.

Let’s remind ourselves of the odds that were stacked against this victory. For the past four years, George Osborne’s Treasury has sought to tilt the playing field in fracking’s favour – in every way imaginable.

Osborne has lavished fracking firms with tax breaks. He’s talked up the potential for a ‘shale gas revolution’ at every stage, spreading false hopes that it is some panacea for our energy woes (all the while talking down renewables and undermining policies supporting them). He’s changed the planning system to allow fracking firms to trespass under homes to drill, weakened the regulatory regime, worked hand-in-glove with fracking firms. Lord Browne, chairman of Cuadrilla, sat at the heart of the Coalition government. Osborne’s father-in-law, Lord Howell, memorably advised him to frack the ‘desolate north’ rather than leafy Tory shires. The establishment, in other words, has done all it can to grease the wheels for the companies wanting fracking.

But all of that has come to naught. Because people have risen up and said no.

Saul Alinsky, one of the greatest of US community organisers, once wrote: “Power is derived from two main sources – money and people. ‘Have-nots’ must build power from flesh and blood.” That is what has happened with fracking. The same is happening with the fossil fuel divestment movement. The same was true of the anti-roads movement in the 1990s. Moneyed power can and has been defeated by movements wrought from flesh and blood, from the public organising to draw a line in the sand.

Anyone who cares about the future of the planet – and about the ability to change politics within a democracy – should take heart and draw inspiration from the battle against fracking in Lancashire. Today let’s celebrate. But tomorrow let’s take the fire lit in Lancashire and use it to light beacons in every community fighting to tackle climate change and see off the fossil fuel firms - across the country, across the world. The message is clear: we can win this.

Let’s join with the community of Ryedale in North Yorkshire, where Barclays Bank are funding fracking, to say: no fracking in Lancashire – no fracking anywhere.

Let’s join with the communities of South Wales in opposing opencast coal – building on their success last week in deferring a council decision on the proposed 6-million-tonne Nant Llesg coal mine, by rallying to support them on 5 August and help lock coal in the ground.

Let’s join with the communities around Heathrow and Gatwick airports, who face the imminent threat of runway expansion, and say: for the sake of people and the planet, no new runways here, nor anywhere.

The climate fight can be won by communities standing up to be counted. Fracking in Lancashire was a line in the sand. Together, we can draw a million lines in the sand on every fossil-fuel frontline. Because if the politicians won’t act, the people will.

Guy Shrubsole is energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

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Want your team to succeed? Try taking a step back

From the boardroom to the sports ground, managers need to step back for creativity to thrive.

Everyone is in favour of creativity, usually at the expense of creative people. The concept is in perpetual boom. Give us creative midfielders, creative leadership, creative solutions, creative energy. It’s with the “how” that the problems start – with extra meetings and meddling, over-analysis and prescriptiveness, whiteboards and flow charts. Professional systems rarely support the creativity that they allegedly seek. The creativity industry system is at odds with its stated goals.

The novel was an early casualty. Nothing makes me close a book more quickly and finally than the creeping realisation that the author is following a narrative map purchased on an American creative writing course. Life is too short for competent novels. The creativity industry pulls up the worst while dragging down the best.

Something similar happens inside professional sport, even though creativity is so obviously linked to performance and profit. Yet sport, especially English sport, has suffered from excessive managerialism. Perhaps guilt about English sport’s amateur legacy gave “professionalism” free rein, however pedestrian its form.

Here is sport’s problem with creativity: professional systems crave control, but creativity relies on escaping control. If an attacking player doesn’t know what he is going to do next, what chance does the defender have?

So when truly unexpected moments do happen, they take on a special lustre. This month, Olivier Giroud scored an unforgettable goal for Arsenal. Bearing down on the goal, he was already launched in mid-air when he realised that the cross was well behind him. With his body far ahead of his feet, Giroud clipped the ball to the top corner of the net with the outside of his left ankle – a so-called scorpion kick.

It was, in retrospect, the only option available to him. Football, for a moment, touched the arts – not only beautiful, but also complete. Nothing could have been added or taken away.

I once tried to compare the perfect cricket shot to Robert Frost’s celebrated description of writing a poem: “It begins in delight, it inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events, and ends in a clarification . . . Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting.”

A great goal, however, fits that poetic model better than a cricket shot. Cricket shots come in many aesthetic grades, but they are all intended as shots. A goal, on the other hand, is more than just a very good pass, only better. There is an act of transformation within the event.

Frost’s acknowledgment of luck (distinct here from fluke) neatly defuses the accusation. Saying that a great goal involved luck does not to diminish it. Many unearned factors must interact with the skill.

“But did he mean it?” some people have wondered about Giroud’s goal. That isn’t the point, either. There wasn’t time. Giroud had solved the problem – to make contact with the ball, however possible, directing it towards the goal – before he was fully conscious of it. That doesn’t make it an accident. The expertise of a striker, like that of a writer, is opportunistic. He puts himself in positions where his skills can become productive. It is a honed ability to be instinctive. “If I’d thought about it, I never would have done it,” as Bob Dylan sings on “Up to Me”, an out-take from Blood on the Tracks.

Pseudo-intellectual? Quite the reverse. There is nothing pretentious about recognising and protecting creativity in sport. Over-literal decoding is the greater threat: instinctive performance needs to be saved from team meetings, not from intellectuals.

Having described a creative goal as unplanned – indeed, impossible to plan – what can coaches do to help? They can get out of the way, that’s a good start. It is no coincidence that the teams of Arsène Wenger, who is sometimes criticised for being insufficiently prescriptive, score more than their fair share of wonder goals.

The opposite arrangement is bleak. A friend of mine, a fly-half in professional rugby union, retired from the game when his coaches told him exactly which decisions to make in the first six phases of every attacking move. In effect, they banned him from playing creatively; they wanted rugby by numbers.

Not everything can be rehearsed. One useful book for coaches scarcely mentions sport – Inside Conducting, by the conductor Christopher Seaman. “I’ve never had much sympathy for conductors who ‘program’ an orchestra at rehearsal,” Seaman writes, “and then just run the program during the performance. There is much more
to it than that.”

Dan Vettori, the rising star among cricket’s Twenty20 coaches, is rare for having the bravery to echo Seaman’s theory. He believes that cricketers are more likely to play well when they feel slightly underprepared. It’s a risk and a fine balance – but worth it.

As I explored here last month in the context of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, there is a danger of slotting players into false stereotypes and classifications. Giroud, for example, is slow. Slow yet athletic. That’s an unusual combination and partly explains why he is underrated.

We often think of pace as the central and definitive aspect of athleticism. But speed is just one component of total athletic ability (leave to one side footballing skill). Giroud has an outstanding vertical jump, power and great balance. Because he is big and slow, those athletic gifts are harder to spot.

Management systems overestimate both labels and top-down tactics. A braver policy, pragmatic as well as aesthetic, is to be less controlling: allow opportunity to collide with skill, directed by an open, expert and uncluttered mind. l

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge