Freedom Rider: Fear of a Dead Planet

By Margaret Kimberley

Fracking is a corporate oil extraction technology. It uses vast quantities of water and irretrievably poisons water tables for entire regions before it brings up an ounce of oil or gas. Refining fracked oil & gas takes several times the energy and is vastly more polluting than conventional gas and oil, and once refined, burning even the cleanest gas and oil is altering the climate, possibly killing the planet. Fracking is fracked up.

Freedom Rider: Fear of a Dead Planet

By Margaret Kimberley

It is always challenging to work for the goals of peace, justice, and equal protection under the law. There is so much war, injustice, and inequality and most of it originates right here in the United States. Fortunately there are millions of people who persevere in the fight and more will join them as conditions force them out of their lethargy. But what difference will their efforts make if money and power are used to destroy the planet?

Hydraulic fracturing fracking, is poisoning air and water and in some cases causing earthquakes. No one wants fracking but it is nonetheless being forced upon people all over the world. It is flourishing because it is highly profitable for corporate interests. In such cases where popular will opposes capital, the wishes of the masses of people are first ignored and then conspired against and disappeared.

No one wants fracking in their back yard. The initial support for what is seen as an economic boon gives way to hostility when tap water can be lit with a match after fracking does its damage. The now widespread knowledge of the risks inherent in this practice are pushed aside when the 21st century robber barons want to get their way.

Fracking and tar sands oil extraction point to an unavoidable fact. Not only are fossil fuels the cause of pollution and global warming, but unfortunately they are also not in short supply. The long predicted crisis of peak oil hasn’t arrived. There is oil in great abundance and there are always new methods of getting it out of the ground. The Brakken shale fields in North Dakota may hold more oil than Saudi Arabia does.

Humanity is at a cross roads. We may be the first creatures in the history of the planet to wipe ourselves out. The upcoming third anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill on the Louisiana gulf coast brings with it stories of continued species die offs and contamination that will last for another 100 years.

The news goes from bad to worse. The Obama administration searches for a way to approve the Keystone XL pipeline which will bring tar sands oil from Canada to Texas. Tar sands have destroyed vast areas of Canada’s forests, poisoned water and ruined the lives of indigenous communities. While environmentalists insist on saying that they still support Obama, he will no doubt find a way to give approval to the project.

The city of Mayflower, Arkansas just found out the hard way why the XL pipeline is a very bad idea. An ExxonMobil pipe in Mayflower ruptured last month and spilled thousands of gallons of oil. Most residents of Mayflower didn’t even know that they lived near a pipe which transferred tar sands oil from Canada to Illinois to Texas. Despite a heavy handed news blackout which prevents full reporting, it is clear that the Mayflower spill is quite serious and a reminder of why fossil fuels ought to stay in the ground.

Earth Day came into being as a result of sustained popular action and a political effort which saw politicians go down to defeat. Now that political legacy has given way to feel good stories about eating local and buying electric cars. The environmental movement must reclaim its place as a force with clear political objectives.

The task is daunting. Capitalism dictates that new sources of fossil fuels must be discovered. Its power reaches into legislatures in every nation and puts our desires on the back burner. There is little chance that the Keystone pipeline will go unapproved. The people who choose the presidents and the prime ministers want the deal done, and so it will be.

The two faces of Barack Obama will make it so. Progressives still foolishly proclaim that they don’t want social security cuts but still support Obama, or they don’t want drone strikes but still support Obama or they don’t want expansion of off shore oil drilling but still support Obama. Obviously their tepid opposition is meaningless and Obama is allowed to be thought of as an environmentalist when he is anything but that.

Of course he will without any irony whatsoever, mark earth day with proclamations and platitudes and Michelle Obama will celebrate growing veggies in the white house garden. Meanwhile the flames from the North Dakota oil fields can be seen from space.

There is an old saying that money makes the world go ‘round. Money can do that but so can people who demand change. If the people who see that monied interests are killing the planet don’t step up as political agents, then money will make the world go around, or rather what is left of it.

Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)