For my summer holidays I have been mostly reading Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand has her faults but, boy, was she prescient.
One of the things she foresaw was the current nonsensical, dishonest, canting campaign against shale gas. In Atlas Shrugged it takes the form of Rearden Metal, the miracle technology which is going to transform the US economy if only the progressives will let it. But of course, Rand’s fictional progressives don’t want Reardon Metal to succeed any more than their modern, real-life equivalents want shale gas to succeed.
Why not? For the same rag-bag of made-up, disingenuous reasons which progressives have used to justify their war on progress since time immemorial: it’s unfair, it uses up scarce resources, it might be dangerous. Rand doesn’t actually use the phrase “the precautionary principle.” But this is exactly what she is describing in the book when various vested interests – the corporatists in bed with big government, the politicised junk-scientists at the Institute of Science (aka, in our world, the National Academy of Sciences or the Royal Society), the unions – try to close down the nascent technology using the flimsiest of excuses.
Here’s an excerpt from the book. (The story so far: in an ailing economy brought low by the sclerotic regulation of the bloated state, a dwindling band of entrepreneurs try to stick up for free enterprise. One of them is Hank Rearden who forges a new kind of metal, stronger and lighter than steel. But his rivals don’t like it, and unlike Rearden, they have friends in DC. Soon an unhelpful report is produced by a special committee of the National Council of Metal Industries…)
They said Rearden Metal is a threat to public safety. They said its chemical composition is unsound, it’s brittle, it’s decomposing molecularly, and it will crack suddenly without warning […..] They’re experts, though, the men on that committee. Top experts. Chief metallurgists for the biggest corporations, with a string of degrees from universities all over the country.
You may have noticed something similar going on with the anti-shale gas campaign. All those “experts” – many from the oil or renewables industries, no doubt with a string of degrees from universities all over the country – who’ve worked so effectively to delay shale gas exploitation in Britain with their ingenious excuses: our shale plays aren’t the same as America’s [true: the Bowland shale, for example, is significantly deeper]; our denser population makes it harder to extract without disruption or environmental damage [what? And wind turbines aren’t guilty of doing the same, only with far less obvious benefit?]; that the cost of gas won’t significantly drop [yeah, that’s really persuasive that one. We’ve got trillions of cubic feet of gas on our doorstep but when we drill for it and vastly increase available supply it won’t have any effect on price??].
Then, of course, there are those five big lies about shale gas so brilliantly nailed by Matt Ridley. The one about polluted aquifers, the one about methane, the one about excess water use, the one about the “hundreds of chemicals” the BBC tells us are pumped into the ground, the one about “earthquakes”: none of them is credible – yet you hear them being spouted by “experts” and green campaigners and concerned citizens all the time. Well, no wonder those citizens are concerned. When they hear some “authority” given airtime on the BBC and coming up with the usual spiel about earthquakes and water contamination, they not unreasonably expect that that person has been chosen because they know what they’re talking about. It never occurs to them that these people might either be liars or green zealots beyond all reason or paid advocates for the massively well-funded and well-advanced anti-fracking campaign (which has, I’d estimate, a good hundred times more to spend on its propaganda than the pro-fracking campaign does).
And so the poisonous meme spreads from corporate liar to greenie activist to useful idiot to gullible prat to Home Counties Tory voter. Suddenly, everyone thinks they know fracking is a bad thing. Even the Church of England now feels able to chip in its tuppenny ha’penny’s worth, though on God knows what evidence. Faith in Gaia, presumably.
Again, Ayn Rand foresaw all this. Swelling the ranks of the anti-Rearden-Metal protesters are all sorts of unlikely pressure groups – especially after Rearden Metal is used to make the sleepers on the new, fast, efficient Rio Norte railway line.
“I don’t like the resolution passed by the convention of grade school teachers of New Mexico” said Taggart.
“They resolved that it was their opinion that children should not be permitted to ride on the new Rio Norte Line of Taggart Transcontinental when it’s completed because it is unsafe.”
Ah yes. The convention of grade school teachers of New Mexico: of course they’d know. Just like Prince Charles knows. And Natalie Bennet and Caroline Lucas of the Green party knows. And those bright, clued-up sparks in the Diocese of Blackburn know.
Perhaps they gained their expertise from that experty expert Josh Fox the maker of Gasland. Because he’s reliable; he’d never just make stuff up, would he?