Why it makes sense to leave some stones unturned
People are breaking bread and their silence on this issue of fracking. This month Bulgaria told Chevron that it can’t frack—not anywhere, not in the waters off Bulgaria, not anytime in the foreseeable future—by a vote of 166 to 6, and all in response to wide-spread public opposition. They marched across Bulgaria and Europe. They marched until their government declared an outright, no-compromises and absolute ban. They sang. And whistled. They beat drums and chanted.
Bulgaria is the second nation, after France, to decide together that fracking is not in their long-term interests, despite vast natural gas reserves beneath them.
Fracking, my colleague Dr. Sandra Steingraber writes, is “the environmental issue of our time,” part and parcel of the twin ecological and environmental health crises before us. It is short for hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, a resource- and chemically-intensive technology for coaxing natural gas from the shale formations buried deep within the Earth.
Farmland across the globe is surrounded by land leased to or drilled by energy companies. The ability of places to feed themselves, the whole ideal of local foods and farm-to-table eating, will be jeopardized by fracking, Steingraber argued in expert testimony on the public health effects of hydrofracking by the NY Committee on Environmental Conversation and Health. Eight minutes into her talk, she offered the Committee a loaf of local bread and a bag of local flour as testimony.
This week, a wheat farmer, a miller and a baker distributed two hundred hand-made, hand-milled, home-grown loaves amongst the estimated 600 people gathered at the New York Capitol.
Buoyed by the people of Bulgaria, the assembled crowd processed through the Legislative Office Building with their parade of loaves, and placed them on a white cloth spread before the office of Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose administration is considering whether to lift the temporary moratorium on fracking within the State. “Break bread, not shale,” they chanted. They, too, spoke for nothing short of an absolute ban.
The symbolic meaning of the bread is no more eloquently detailed than by the baker himself, Stefan Senders, who runs the Wide Awake Bakery in upstate New York.
Bread, to him, symbolizes more than the vitality of water and wheat, and by extension the soil; bread symbolizes an intact community, unfractured by the cascade of socioeconomic changes thrust upon communities by energy booms, and by the vacuum left after the bust. It symbolizes a way of life and interconnected livelihood that creates the foundation for health; that economic progress needn’t happen at the expense of people; that whole communities and whole ecosystems make for healthy people. As poet and farmer Wendell Berry wrote: health, after all, is a fundamental property of communities. In that spirit, Senders asks, if we are to break anything, why not “break bread”? You can read his speech—and I recommend you do—on the blog that accompanies his bakery.
Even if we see no rigs out our windows, we are nevertheless tied to places where dozens of rigs will or now populate the otherwise rural and rolling landscape. We are all part of the system in which this gas boom—this grand experiment in biological, geologic and ecological integrity—unfolds.
We are tied together by foodsheds and food systems. And watersheds and water cycles. By networks of pipelines and energy grids. By our humanity.
And while people in New York and Bulgaria break bread together, others are breaking their silence. Here are just a snippet of what’s being spoken, and sung, and rapped for you to enjoy.
Here are two:
From Ireland, this striking juxtaposition of image and testimony:
This rap, My Water is on Fire Tonight, a product of Studio 20 NYU in collaboration with ProPublica, who has published extensively on the public health consequences of fracking. The film is ranked by Time Magazine as one of the “most creative” films of 2011.
My Facebook friends suggested these as well:
By Rebecca Altman
For more information about the public health concerns about fracking, I encourage you to explore presentations delivered at this recent gathering of scientists, energineers and doctors in Washington, D.C. Slides and presentations are publicly available.
Photo: Marcellus Protest via Flickr