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Fossil Fuels Have Got to Go

An Editorial

From the Autumn, 2011 issue of Jewish Currents

WHEN THE NEWS came out in the Forward that four Jewish summer camps in Pennsylvania have signed leases with the Hess Corporation to allow hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) on their land during the past few years, Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center urged Jews to protest. Such deals, he wrote, are “a profound violation of Jewish wisdom and values for summer camps or other Jewish institutions,” the lands of which should not be used “in ways that will poison God’s and humanity’s earth, air, food, and water.”

Fracking is a technique for extracting natural gas from shale rock, which is widely present in the lands of western Pennsylvania and New York. The technique involves pumping tons of chemical-laced water into the ground to fracture the rock and release the gas. Rabbi Waskow noted that it is both a local and a planetary hazard because “it leaks methane, a planet-heating gas much more powerful than CO2.” This makes fracking, according to scientists at Cornell University, more environmentally damaging than conventional gas drilling and, “in fact, worse than coal and worse than oil.”

Yet even if the most optimistic scenarios predicted by energy companies for fracking were to come true, the push to permit the technology should be vigorously opposed. The constant quest for fossil fuels feeds all of the wrong political and social tendencies in society:

  • It means ever-more concentrated power for oil, mining and energy companies and their financiers;
  • It means that environmental values are calculated strictly on a dollars-and-cents basis;
  • It encourages heedless consumption, in the belief that we can grow, grow, grow the global economy and still live, billions of us, upon this small planet;
  • It encourages the quick resort to war to assure fossil-fuel supplies.

Politicians and industry “experts” say that we must pursue it all: renewable energy, yes, but also coal, natural gas, nuclear energy, biofuels, and, of course, oil. We say that the quest for energy, which has for too long been a quest for profit and corporate power, must now be transformed, first and foremost, into a quest for planetary preservation. Renewable energies, especially solar, wind, and hydro power, hold the key to that transformation, and it is those technologies that must receive focused, well-funded governmental and industrial attention. Fracking, by contrast, means more of the same industrial culture that brought us the Gulf oil spill, the Japanese nuclear meltdown, and climate change itself.