Fracking is uncivilised

We have to learn how to become more civilised in our treatment of the planet and that means saying ‘no’ to fracking, says Wijnand Duyvendak.

We have discovered the presence of shale gas and it looks as if we can’t wait to get at it. The energy lobby is putting pressure on politicians and Labour’s erstwhile decisive ‘no’ is beginning to sound like a possible ‘maybe’.  The VVD has always been in favour of immediate exploitation.

Will we manage not to do it? Can we leave it alone?

Sociologist Norbert Elias sees history as a process of ever-increasing self-restraint. To him, civilisation is about learning to step back and control your impulses. With temptations becoming more numerous all the time we have learnt to resist them. We don’t touch someone else’s beautiful things and we don’t fondle alluringly dressed women. Our free and prosperous society is demanding a great deal of self-restraint. And we manage it through self-control, says Elias.


We are behaving according to a myriad of societal codes and we’re pretty good at it. Our society is more peaceful than ever and violence in our country is still going down. This is one of the reasons violent behaviour, such as the murders in Murcia or the disappearance of the two boys from Zeist, prompts such media attention and shock.

The self-restraint we are showing in human relationships is notably absent when it comes to how we treat the planet. We seem to be incapable of showing enough self-restraint to leave the shale gas where it is. Our money-making instinct is too difficult to control.

The debate surrounding shale gas has been focused on the effects on the local environment, like groundwater pollution, noise and landscape destruction. Not that these are minor problems. But the real problem is several sizes bigger: fracking causes more and more greenhouse gases to end up in the atmosphere. The earth’s crust contains a greater amount of fossil fuels than we can afford to burn if we want to avoid a dangerous increase in temperature.

Say ‘no’

We must learn not to use up everything there is, even if we have the technical means. If we want to avoid the complete collapse of our climate system we will have to show a lot of self-restraint, perhaps more than we are capable of.

Rich countries are putting pressure on the governments of Brazil and Indonesia to stop destroying their valuable tropical rain forests. But are we any better if we can’t even bring ourselves to leave our shale gas alone?

What it comes down to is learning to say ‘no’. Civilisation’s next step calls for self-restraint in our treatment of the earth.

Wijnand Duyvendak is a former GroenLinks MP.

This article appeared earlier in Trouw.

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