What a week! The response to my op-ed in last week’s New York Times Sunday Review has been overwhelming–and for the most part, phenomenal. People have written from all over the country to share their stories, strategies and encouragement. Thank you!
A few letters, however, and a segment on the Diane Rehm show on Tuesday, have convinced me that the framing of the conversation about natural gas is dangerously wrong. Here’s my response to a really nasty letter I received two days ago. I’m posting it because it pulls apart that erroneous frame (and because the letter pissed me off). I’ve edited it slightly.
Sorry it took me so long to respond to your letter, forwarded via the NYT and in response to my op-ed last Sunday about fracked natural gas infrastructure. I’m on book deadline and, as you can imagine, my inbox has been filled with op-ed responses (strangely, with most negative responses coming from angry men telling me what I don’t know, and positive ones coming mostly from women across the country who are engaged in the same work my sister is–preventing seizure of her property).
At first, I wasn’t sure your letter was legitimate. The tone, content and structure seemed somewhat incongruent with your credentials (listed in detail at the top of your letter). However, I’ve made the decision to respond to every email I receive.
My point is this: “Natural” gas is a ruse that distracts us from preferable (economic, ecological) methods of weening ourselves off non-renewable energy sources. We’re being sold the story that fracking is progress, the future, that it puts America back on top thanks to “Yankee ingenuity.”
I counter that frame, largely because it is developed by those who benefit (gas/oil corporations) and because it wrongly limits our thinking about alternatives. The benefits of natural gas are overstated and oversold. The job creation numbers are inflated and temporary; cheaper gas only further entrenches us in non-renewable systems; gas has a duration of only 35 years (less when manufacturing and exports kick in) and our investment in it is short sighted; co2 emissions should not be the only metric we use to determine clean (pipelines, post-fracking water, methane are pollution too); new gas infrastructure like pipelines and plants serve gas and oil corporations, not the citizens who are bearing their burden at the expense of clean water, air, soil, at the expense of public and private land, and at the bodily risk of leaks and explosions.
I reject your argument that my opposition to new natural gas infrastructure demonstrates support for coal. Minnesota is doing a fine job with solar and wind (and while it’s converting coal plants to gas, its example shows that new gas infrastructure is a short-sighted waste). I reject your argument that my opposition to natural gas infrastructure demonstrates support for the Keystone pipeline, nuclear power or any other non-renewable resource. I find your either-or argument to be too narrow for a conversation about the nation’s energy future. All renewable alternatives should be further developed and expanded.
As to your nimby comment, I oppose this pipeline, regardless of where Williams attempts to put it. To your inaccurate point that I prefer the development of public lands over private: this pipeline will pass through conserved/preserved property, which I oppose. And for the record, all NYT op-eds are rigorously fact-checked. Too, you would benefit from further research into the use of eminent domain in pipeline cases across the country.
I find directives from others that landowners and general citizens with concerns for their health, environment and well-being should quietly take installation of pipelines on the chin for the good for the country (or rather, for the good of gas corporations) to be paternal and naive. They’re also privileged: do you have a pipeline on your property?
I find your comment that I haven’t “given the matter much thought” to be demeaning. And I find your uninformed insinuation that I have not engaged in other energy activism to be irrelevant and illogical. You assert that, because this is a democracy and I am a citizen, I am in part responsible for our existing energy systems but, as you must know, the process that has created this current system was highly undemocratic (and in many ways unethically coercive), just as the process for approving new natural gas infrastructure is. (Besides, democracy is historically, notoriously inept at protecting minority rights.)
Your reference to global and worldwide needs implies that natural gas exports will be good for the US and the world. They may help us geopolitically, they may briefly boost the national GDP–but in the long run, they will put us behind by distracting us from developing alternative sources of energy. Currently, long-term natural resources (the environment we depend on) are being rampantly destroyed by natural gas industrialization; your letter only demonstrates the kind of short-sighted, narrow fervor that is fueling it.
You seem to misunderstand power in the US. Williams and other corporations, whose bottom line is profit, are claiming “public good” for extraction and transport of resources that they increasingly wish to export, via seizure of public and private property and endangerment of air, water and soil purity. Of course I blame Williams and other corporations for the use of eminent domain, as much as I blame complicit federal agencies, and our local, state and federal legislators. Building and/or expanding natural gas infrastructure in the US only ensures that we will pay most dearly for corporations’ gains for decades to come.
Thank you for reading and writing. Best,