With Cuadrilla scrapping plans to use fracking technology at Balcombe in the High Weald AONB it is tempting to wonder whether the outcome of its current planning application to monitor exploratory drilling really matters. But it’s not just about fracking is it? As Green Party MP Caroline Lucas pointed out at in Court for taking part in an anti-fracking protest; it’s about preventing the UK being locked into using more fossil fuels. How we respond to the fracking debate seems indicative of how we might respond to the much larger challenge posed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its most recent report released on 30th March.
Their report confirms that human influence on the climate system is clear and associated with an increasing risk of irreversible damage to human and natural systems. This conclusion is supported by 95% of the world’s scientists.
The High Weald AONB, one of England’s most beautiful landscapes will not be immune from the impact of increased climate warming and unpredictability. For starters reduced rainfall in an already water stressed area will affect domestic households and this, together with increasing intensity to the rain that does fall, will affect our ability to grow food. Warmer temperatures in winter will encourage pests and diseases, changing the nature of our woodland. And, among the many other complex impacts, the unique biodiversity of our sandrock outcrops and shady gills is at risk. Even the swathes of spring bluebells that carpet High Weald woodlands will struggle with the warmer springs as less temperature sensitive plants get the opportunity to outcompete them.
As the IPCC report makes clear, limiting climate change now will require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The revised AONB Management Plan 2014 launched by the High Weald JAC on the 26th March supports action to ensure the High Weald plays its role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. To achieve this we will have to leave fossil fuels, such as shale oil and gas, in the ground. But are we capable of weaning ourselves off our addiction to oil and coal and can we do it in time?
Every public body and individual has a part to play in this and we owe it to our children and grandchildren to make the necessary changes however challenging these may be. Fracking takes us in the wrong direction. Like Tony Whitbread from Sussex Wildlife Trust I consider that fracking is a distraction from the real and difficult matter of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. This should be the focus of our creative energies and our policies.
The residents of Balcombe have made a start, setting up a cooperative to harness the power of the sun for electricity. Across the country communities and the local planning authorities that serve them could achieve reductions in fossil fuel use that persist for longer than the short term boost to domestic fuel supply that fracking operations might contribute to. The technology is already in place to insulate our homes and generate power locally. We can achieve this and help safeguard the High Weald’s beautiful landscape by insisting on sustainable development which is located in the right place and built to zero carbon standards, by developing local renewable energy schemes and by improving public transport in rural areas.
If you want to read the facts about fracking and the High Weald read our new report.