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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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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear