Wherein I come out like Dee Snider on the PMRC…but it’s about fracking.

I really want fracking to end. We should put a moratorium on it in Pennsylvania. It perpetuates fossil fuel dependence. It’s still more GHGs entering the atmosphere from methane and CO2 (use this Google Scholar search). I co-organized Marcellus Protest 2011, signed God-knows-how-many petitions, mailed letters, given speeches in classes, pressed state and federal legislators, ridden my bike as a protest vehicle, helped to pass the Community and Environmental Bill of Rights in State College, PA and just voted with our local Sierra Club Moshannon Group to provide $1,000 in matching funds for an anti-fracking initiative. I’ve written, “As far as I am concerned, fracking is a symptom of a disease [called] biophobia.”

But this entry is going to be one of those things where you will either think, “Peter’s being sensible” or “He’s about to say something that undermines everything he’s done to fight fracking.” So be it.

If there’s something I hate at the same level as climate disruption and its abetting industries, it’s censorship. Some of my most formative political moments came when Dee Snider of Twisted Sister ripping Tipper Gore and the PMRC in front of a Senate Subcommittee that was investigating decency in music. And Snider doesn’t do such a great job at times. But the point is clear: censorship is problematic.

There’s a MoveOn petition that Karen Feridun (who I’ve met and whose commitment to stopping this industry from running roughshod over our state are very admirable) has put up to get Penn State Reads to drop The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World. The petition reads:

We, the undersigned, believe it is unacceptable that you have selected Russell Gold’s pro-fracking book, “The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World”, as compulsory reading for all incoming freshmen as part of this year’s Penn State Reads program. While other academic institutions are correctly divesting of fossil fuel investments, you are glorifying an extractive technology that is contributing to climate change and harming Pennsylvanians and our environment in the process. We demand that you remove “The Boom” from this year’s Penn State Reads program and break your ties with the filthy fossil fuel industry once and for all.

Having read the book (which I doubt many of the signers have), watched and listened to interviews with Russel Gold, helped design some (forthcoming) curriculum around the book and know the people who selected it, this blows my mind. Believe me, Gold and I have different risk assessments. He ignores or underplays some issues with fracking that are pretty serious. There’s little time spent on the disruption of communities, health impacts, animal mortality, radiation risks, road spraying and more. He also takes carbon very seriously and meaningfully discusses the problem with investing so deeply in natural gas at the potential expense of renewable energy. He digs into Aubrey McClendon, the former CEO of Chesapeake Energy. Some think the book is balanced and some think it underplays risks. I think it’s the latter.

What is so disturbing about this petition is that it takes into account NOTHING about what the conversations around this book actually are, what is being contextualized in classes, with Russel Gold or by the Penn State Reads program. This petition is an absolutely misguided attempt to control a conversation and censor. It’s as bad as the coal-fronted groups that tried to get Michael Mann’s President’s Club address to be stopped. Instead of using this as an opportunity to develop people’s ACTUAL understanding they’ve taken it upon themselves to be the high priests and priestesses of what people should and shouldn’t learn, what ideas they should entertain and what knowledge is good.

By all means, let’s call out the unethical and ecologically damaging practice that is fracking. But attacking an author and the people who are using this book to develop exactly the kind of awareness the petitioners hope for is worse than pointless. It’s counter-productive.

I’ll end by quoting Christopher Hithcens, that bull dog for free speech.

Bear in mind, ladies and gentlemen, that every time you violate or propose to violate the free speech of someone else, in potencia, you’re making a rod for own back. Because the other question raised by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes is simply this: who’s going to decide?

To whom do you award the right to decide which speech is harmful or who is the harmful speaker? Or determine in advance what are the harmful consequences going to be, that we know enough about in advance to prevent? To whom would you give this job? To whom are you going to award the job of being the censor? Isn’t it a famous old story that the man who has to read all the pornography, in order to decide what’s fit to be passed and what’s fit not to be, is the man most likely to be debauched?

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