Incoming freshmen, welcome to Ithaca. I wish I could use this space to give a few friendly pieces of advice regarding the perils and delights of the journey before you. Time is brief, however, and right now, you need to hear a few facts on the war currently being fought across America, and Ithaca’s place in that war.
This summer, which some have dubbed the Summer of Solidarity, saw unprecedented acts of grassroots non-violent resistance across the country against the coal, oil and natural gas industries. For a long time now, these industries have been at war with the people of this land and with the land itself. The New York front of this ongoing war is very likely going to escalate in the next few weeks, and I write this column in part to try to lay out what the front lines can look like when the people show the solidarity and strength to stand up and fight back.
I use the word war quite deliberately in describing the fossil fuel industry’s relationship to the people and to the planet. I hope my reasons for doing so will become clear as I highlight just a few of the countless non-violent actions taken by a wide spectrum of Americans over the course of the Summer of Solidarity.
On July 28, warriors in West Virginia working with the Radical Action for Mountain People’s Survival campaign walked onto the Hobet coal mine, the largest Mountaintop Removal site in Appalachia, and shut it down with several lock-downs to mining equipment and one tree-sit.
The Hobet Mine blockade was only one of many battles fought throughout the Summer of Solidarity by the people of Appalachia against the process of Mountaintop Removal. Mountaintop Removal quite literally obliterates mountain ecologies and poisons the air and water of whoever and whatever lives nearby. The blasts used in Mountaintop Removal in Appalachia over one week are equivalent in destructive force to the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, according to the documentary The Last Mountain. The people of Appalachia live in a war zone, and they are fighting for their survival.
Meanwhile, warriors in Texas attended trainings in non-violent direct action, in preparation for blockades against the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. As some of you may remember, a massive grassroots civil disobedience campaign previously pressured Obama into rejecting TransCanada’s permit for the portion of the pipeline crossing the border into Canada. Since then, however, Obama has bowed to industry, and construction on the Texas portions of the pipeline began on August 16. The many warriors resisting the construction ranged from environmentalists, aware that tar sands oil extraction is three times dirtier than conventional oil, to Tea Party Conservatives, outraged at a foreign corporation’s efforts to muscle its way onto the property of unconsenting landowners. In oil as in coal, the industry is at war both with the people and with the land.
Warriors in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, fighting on a different front of the same war, spent this summer fighting hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a method of extracting natural gas by pumping a cocktail of sand, water and chemicals into the earth at high pressure, thus fracturing shale formations and releasing natural gas.
Advocates of fracking will tell you that the cement casing lining the well prevents any contamination of the groundwater during the fracking process. What they won’t tell you is that 6 percent of all well casings fail immediately upon being installed, and 50 percent fail over the first thirty years of the well’s life. When casings fail, the groundwater is contaminated with toxic fracking chemicalsand methane. The resulting water is not only poisonous to all life (crops, livestock, humans, etc.): It is often flammable.
Groundwater contamination is only the tip of the iceberg. The fracking process releases 40-60 percent more methane than conventional gas drilling, according to research by Cornell professors Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea. Natural gas obtained by fracking is thus at least as bad as coal and oil in terms of its effects on climate change. In a testimony he gave before Congress in May, Howarth cited cases of major local air pollution, acute ozone pollution and massive contamination of the drinking water supply, and argued that much more research is needed on the health risks and environmental risks of fracking.
While groups like the Ithaca-based Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy have been working to publicize the dangers inherent to the process of fracking, members of affected communities already all too familiar with those dangers have been rising up and making their own voices heard. Just a few examples: On July 8, Earth First! activists blockaded an active fracking site in Pennsylvania’s Moshannon State Forest and shut it down. On the 28th, over 5,000 warriors gathered at the Stop the Frack Attack in Washington, D.C., the first ever national rally against fracking. Most recently, and closest to home, on August 11, a group of warriors from across New York and Pennsylvania, myself and many other Ithacans included, blockaded the Northeast Regional Headquarters of Schlumberger, shutting down operations for the day.
Until now, New York State has had a moratorium on fracking, pending further research. Governor Cuomo is due to make a decision on whether to lift the moratorium by the end of the month. Over 1,700 New Yorkers have already signed a pledge to resist fracking with the sort of non-violent direct action we’ve been seeing across the country all through the Summer of Solidarity. On August 25-27, we will descend on Albany for an event entitled Don’t Frack New York, one last reminder to Cuomo of the mass insurrection he will have on his hands if he tries to frack New York.
The war which is waging all across America, the war against climate change, against water and air contamination, against ecosystem devastation, against corporate exploitation of the rural poor, is coming to our back yard, whether we like it or not. Members of the Cornell and Ithaca communities have been on the front lines all summer. We are organized, we are peaceful, and we are really, really pissed off. If you are ready to stand in solidarity with the warriors I have described above and the countless others I lacked the space to mention, I hope to see you in Albany this weekend.
Tom Moore is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. What Even Is All This? appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.