Articles from 2013
To my friends in France
- Written by Nick Grealy
- Published: 14 October 2013
Once upon a time, in the nineteen seventies, I was a student in Paris. Today, I’m at the age where I often forget words in my mother tongue, so I hope readers of the French version of this will understand what I’m about to say.
By way of introduction, I have always had the highest respect for France, a respect often lacking among the two ethnic groups I belong to, the British and Americans. I actually have Irish nationality, but that may complicate this narrative.
But ever since I first started studying France’s language, history and culture, I’ve always been attracted to it because of the fundamental bedrock of rationality. Long before the world changing ideas of a society based on liberty, equality and fraternity, there were Descartes and Pascal followed by Voltaire and Rousseau. They provided the basis for science as much as Isaac Newton and although Pasteur, Fourier and Curie are well known French scientists, it was Henry Darcy who gave his name to the darcy, the unit of fluid permeability still in use today by the geologists who developed hydraulic fracturing.
Today, Henry Darcy, father of hydrogeology, and other Sages of the past, would be horrified at the science behind the current French debate on hydraulic fracturing.
Anglo-Saxons, and perhaps some French themselves, may see the upholding of the Jacob law banning hydraulic fracturing, as simply another example of French exceptionalism. Here, I note again that I think France is exceptional. I would be more than happy to spend more time in France engaging on the subject resources allowing.But this is more than the sometimes inexplicable things that separate France and anglophones, such as a love of Jerry Lewis, 35 hour weeks and hundreds of varieties of cheese.
I’ve written extensively before to try and explain how the Jacob Law was born out of the Sarkozy/Borloo feud politically combined with the arrival of Gasland and even a plot line out of soap opera.
But the reality is that France is damaging themselves by refusing to even explore what former Prime Minster Rocard , a Socialiste like Francois Hollande, has described as a blessing from the gods.
France is in a mess economically, with the rate of growth lowered downwards again only this week. This is the time when instead of importing oil and gas, producing it at home would be even more strategically important. Instead, we have the insane situation where companies such as Total, Solvay, Vallourec, Veolia and Lafarge, are investing billions in shale gas and shale oil, not in France but overseas. Anyone who collects a private pension in France is exposed to the CAC40 index. That includes the very comfortable old hippies of the Midi including Jose Bove himself. As a result, they get a direct financial benefit from overseas investments in shale energy which they deny to the working class of the Paris Basin. The argument in France has been about shale gas, but the true prize is the 4 billion barrels of oil in the Paris Basin. The Paris Basin is considered as an analogue by many geologists to the Bakken Shale of North Dakota. This basin, which literally lies under some of the most deprived suburbs in France and Europe, is a resource which could transform both France and Europe.
The involvement of GDFSuez's investment in shale energy, perhaps even in the UK, which is even more illogical. The French state has a 30% share in GDFSuez.
Not to even explore for the resources is irresponsible, illogical and perhaps immoral. Many French people are in a dangerous economic state. Yet, not at least looking for shale energy, is like starving to death in a bakery.
Is it rational, logical, or most especially moral, for the French state to invest overseas using what they consider a dangerous and poisonous method at home? There would be an almighty scandal if a French company was found supplying nerve gas to Syria or poisonous food to the developing world. How would supporting hydraulic fracturing overseas but not at home be any different?
The science behind the safety of hydraulic fracturing is as inarguable as the science proving anthropogenic climate change. Yet, Hollande and Minister Martin insist that they know more than scientists. Even worse, Hollande and Martin, insist that they know more than Barack Obama or David Cameron and even as we saw this week, the next President of the United States Hillary Clinton.
What do Holland and Martin know that GDFSuez, Total, Obama, Cameron and Clinton may have missed?
The answer, based on a rational study of science, is not much.
In the future, France’s international reputation is only going to get worse. As I recently noted, Paris will be the site of the negotiations for the next World Climate Treaty in 2015.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the worlds’s two great powers and two great carbon producers, the US and China, are likely to produce a bilateral agreement on reducing emissions that includes a variety of technologies. But the treaty will also very much depend on the same reality France is denying: the sudden emergence and global ubiquity of natural gas as enabler of a clean, cheap and scalable lower carbon future.
France’s power has always been founded on liberty, equality, fraternity and rationality. In Paris 2015, the host President runs the risk of being marginalised at best or simply appearing ridiculous. The President of the Republic, and opponents of shale gas worldwide may see this week’s ruling as a vindication. It’s not. It’s a self-imposed isolation from the rest of the planet they are allegedly wish to save. To pretend that the world will now wake up and reject shale gas is only a sign of isolation.The key battle of our time is against global warming - not local warming. By 2030, the entire EU will have less than four percent of world CO2 emissions.The people of France need to decide if they that want be marginal, ridiculous or simply happy to lose another couple of decades of progress.