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“We need to talk about more than just fracking” – London debate hears

17th June 2014

“This debate needs to be much wider than merely fracking”, said broadcaster Jon Snow, the chair of last night’s We Need to Talk About Fracking meeting in London. He told the sell-out event at Central Hall Westminster there also needed to be a debate about the “immediate and massive emergency” of climate change.

One of the panellists, John Ashton, a former diplomat, said: “You can be in favour of fracking for shale gas or you can be in favour of fixing the climate but you can’t be in favour of fracking for shale gas and fixing the climate.”

Another panellist, Milly Darling, a 22-year-old Community Project Manager, said: “I learned about climate change in primary school and I remember thinking why aren’t we solving it then. We need to build the solution ourselves.”

Vivienne Westwood, one of the organisers and funders of the event, said “We do hope we have not passed the tipping point [of climate change]. Every government in the world is taking us nearer and nearer to that point in everything they do.”

The event, the last of a nationwide series of meetings, was more discussion than debate about fracking. All the members of the panel were all opposed to fracking and despite invitations to take part, representatives of the fracking industry stayed away. So did politicians, even though the venue was within yards of the House of Commons. (Report on offer of a second debate to politicians and industry).

Dame Vivienne called for a new type of politics. “We have got to start somewhere and we have to start now”, she said. “This particular issue is where we have got to start. We have got to get governments to start to listen to people.”

Michael Stein, founder of the Trillion Fund, a crowd financing scheme for renewable energy projects, criticised politicians for working on five-year electoral cycles to try to solve the 25-year-problem of climate change. He described fracking as a “distraction” from concentrating on a renewable and sustainable future.  “It is time for our leaders to lead”, he said. “We have to persuade our leadership through our voting patterns that this is an issue that affects us all.”

John Ashton said the debate about fracking was a perfect illustration of what he described as the growing gap between the view of politics and the economy as seen by politicians and that seen by British people.

Politically, he said, fracking was about creating short-term opportunities for people who were not from the communities where they would be operating, while expecting communities to bear all the costs and risk.

He said fracking “just doesn’t do most of the things that are being claimed for it”. He said it didn’t protect the climate, displace coal from the energy system, improve energy security or reduce exposure to energy blackmail.

“What is missing”, he said, “is a serious conversation about the kind of economy we want to build in this country and the kind of country we want to be. I think people are thirsty for that conversation.”

“We can have what we want. It depends how we use our voices. This is not just about our energy system. This is about whether we want to take our politics back from the very small, mutually-reinforcing, self-serving elite centre which is taking all the decisions.”

Milly Darling said: “The younger generation feels especially betrayed by the political class who don’t represent us. A lot of young people feel completely alienated from politics.”

In contrast, Tina-Louise Rothery, of Residents Action Against Fylde Fracking, described how anti-fracking campaigns were self-activating communities. “We have watched the absolute beauty of waking up the inner activists: people who had never dreamed of becoming activists.”

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