Schools Debate Day on Fracking

I had a very enjoyable few hours taking part in this debate on fracking aimed a Science and Technology students ranging from GCSE to undergraduates.

My adversary was a Geology lecturer from Cardiff University, Norwegian born Dr Ake Fagereng.

There was a straw poll taken at the beginning to see where the audience were staring from.
The question posed was “Should the Wales Government allow fracking to happen in Wales?”

As you will see below, the students have been working on the topic before this event, but that made me even more taken aback at the initial poll that showed that exactly 70% of them were in favour of fracking and 30% against. Ake was similarly surprised at this. It was going to be a tougher gig than I had anticipated!

Ake and I then had 10 minutes each to present our cases. Ake opened with his case ‘for’ – which seemed largely based on ‘it will all be fine if it is properly regulated and monitored’. My 10 minutes was basically a simplified synopsis of my paper on the Scientific and Technical Evidence Against Hydraulic Fracturing presented to Welsh Government on behalf of the Green Party a year or so ago.

There followed a 30 min session where the students debated amongst themselves and composed questions to fire at me and Ake. We were impressed with the range and quality of questions that emerged, and they certainly allowed me to explore more of the economic and political dimensions of the issue. I certainly had a lot more to say on many of these points than Ake.

There then followed the concluding vote. The official vote taken scored it at 61% in favour of allowing fracking in Wales, and 39% against, giving me a 9% swing in my favour.
However, one school group had started with all but one student against fracking, and had swung entirely to the pro fracking side, in complete contradiction to the clear swing in my favour with the rest of the audience. I think the fact that they were holding up green cards to vote FOR fracking confused them at the end – which if so would actually have been enough to give me a narrow 51/49 overall victory. But hey!

The overall feeling that I came away with was that there is scepticism that we can switch to a renewables based energy system quickly enough to not have to rely on fracking as a short term way of keeping the lights on. This is, of course, exactly the spin we get all the time from the neoliberals and the right wing media. We have to find ways of countering this more effectively, although all the time the neoliberals remain in government they can make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

For these youngsters, fuel bills are not their problem, and property prices are an irrelevance as it is rapidly becoming a pipe dream for young people to own their own homes. But the thought of power supplies being interrupted in their gadget filled world horrifies them. Probably the most telling line of argument was the health issues associated with the industry. This is pertinent and a worry for anybody and everybody. It is therefore a pity I didn’t get round to citing to the report in last Friday’s Guardian that sees fracking as potentially as harmful as thalidomide, asbestos, smoking, lead in petrol etc.
I think I will make this my starting point next time around!

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