Posted by: theodorecosmosophia | February 21, 2012

Free to be Poisoned: How Fracking is Destroying the Communities who Put the Right in Power

If you found this article via a Google search for information on Fracking, you will have had to scroll down past several “sponsored” sites from the energy industry, offering the “truth” about how safe hydraulic fracturing or “Fracking” is. But this is not an article about how the “free” exchange of ideas on the internet has been bought by corporate power. Nor is it an article about how democracy has been bought by corporate power. But it could be. It is about how our water and our air have been bought by corporate power.

I am from upstate New York. In recent years, when I’ve been driving around the rural parts of the state, I’ve noticed signs on people’s lawns against “Fracking”. I was curious about this, so I looked it up. It seems, oddly, that in this conservative place, the people have become what Rick Santorum might call “radical environmentalists”. I suppose that in this world, to want clean water to drink makes one a radical.

Fracking is a process by which rock is fractured in order to release gas that can be used for energy. The effects on the communities in which fracking occurs is devastating. And the truly devastating is often simple. In this case, water is rendered undrinkable. There are widespread reports of tap water catching fire. In other cases, water can be converted to plastic, so prevalent are certain chemicals. When there is no water, a community can no longer exist. Indeed, if it continues to happen on a widespread scale, life can no longer exist.

So how does this happen? How could the government allow a corporation to poison a community’s water?

For a while now, I have been doing an activity with my students on environmental racism. My students are asked to respond to a series of questions about how their communities have been toxified. Whenever someone from an affluent, White neighborhood is present, they are amazed at how many kids from poor neighborhoods where mostly brown people live are exposed to pollution from factories, a lack of healthy food, etc. While pollution ultimately affects us all, it immediately affects the poor and the brown-skinned disproportionately. Fracking, on the other hand, targets the country poor, a group that, although primarily White and less discriminated against than many others, has been frequently the victim of what Wendell Berry calls the prejudice against country people.

What has not been adequately reflected on in all this are the political ramifications of this campaign. The prejudice against country people has frequently been used to instill in them a resentment of the urban elites and a fear of the darker-skinned peoples commonly associated with the political Left. The truth is that these people who are being poisoned largely voted for the very people doing the poisoning, or at least allowing it to happen.

If, for a moment, we could ignore racialized politics and the deliberate manipulation of the electorate by the rich, we will see that at the core of most Right Wing politics lies the quintessentially American concept of freedom. Whatever protections and benefits the rural poor might receive from the government, an ideology that a greater degree of government involvement leads to less freedom results in Right Wing politicians receiving most of the votes among the rural poor. I suppose that there is some truth to this notion–it seems obvious, of course, that the more the government is involved the less free we are to do what we want. But what the libertarian fails to realize is that, in reality–that is, in the capitalist reality that American is–freedom is bought and sold. Even if our freedom were slightly less restricted by the government with Right Wing policies (a highly debatable assertion), the corporations who “frack” the earth, because they have more money and power, are more free–free to destroy our ecosystems and the lives of the country poor. Indeed, if corporations are free enough to buy the lives of those impoverished by corporate destruction, the cry of freedom is rendered meaningless.

There is perhaps, a deeper problem with American freedom. And it is condescending and myopic to think that poor, rural Republicans are the only ones who suffer from the problem of American freedom. Look to our cities, to our young people. We are all fighting to be free: free from being part of a community, part of a ecology, part of a cosmos. We all want to be independent, thinking it will make us free; but independence is different from freedom.

Freedom, you see, when taken to the absurd extreme, is loneliness.

To tell the government to stop allowing the poisoning of our water, go to Stop Fracking Now.



  1. Thank you Theodore for putting this out there…for regulating Fracking here in IL (SB 3280) folks should contact their reps. or better yet join us on
    Illinois Environmental Council lobby day on Thursday, March 29. Buses depart this year from River Forest and the South Side of Chicago and there are policy workshops this weekend to learn more:

    • Thanks, Kati. Great to hear from you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: