A worthless desert in South Africa, largely inhabited by drought-stricken sheep and a handful of marginal farmers, turns out to contain rich natural gas reserves that could bring a new wave of economic growth to South Africa and provide huge numbers of well paying jobs for poorly educated workers.The New York Times, of course, is wringing its elegantly manicured hands. And why not? The soil of the Karoo desert is “fragile,” and the extraction of the natural gas will involve fracking. What will happen to the sheep?The Times finds a local farmer who is worried about exactly that.
“If our government lets these companies touch even a drop of our water,” [the farmer] said, “we’re ruined.”
Ruined! By wicked natural gas companies feeding the world’s hydrocarbon addiction. The farmer in question has a herd of 1400 sheep. (It was 2000 last year before a drought forced the slaughter of 600.) One somehow suspects that the farmer will find some other way to make money when the district becomes a major gas producing center. And, worst case, roughnecks eat a lot of meat.That the Times chooses the lonesome shepherd to lead off one of the best good news stories around these days speaks volumes about the gloomy Gus mindset at the Paper of Record. Why can’t this be a good news story? Will a gas boom save South African democracy, for example? Will new economic opportunities transform the lives of tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of poor black South Africans? Will the huge increase in South Africa’s natural gas supply reduce the country’s carbon footprint? Is there anything in the geology to suggest that other poverty stricken parts of Africa might also be similarly blessed? How are local leaders planning the spend the windfall: better schools? better hospitals?Dig deep enough into the story, and there is so much good news that even the Times can’t spend the whole piece mourning the sheep. South Africa, it turns out is only one of a large number of countries, many poor and in the Third World, where new technological breakthroughs — mostly by US companies — now offer the hope of substantial energy discoveries. This isn’t just going to bring jobs, prosperity and electric power to desperately poor people all over the world; it is going to reduce the ability of countries like Russia and Iran to throw their weight around the natural gas markets. Once the obligatory green dues have been paid and the Times reporter can actually get down to some information, the diligent reader can, with enough fracking, extract some valuable news out of the shale.But, moans the Times, the good news is complicated! Yes, sad to say, there are many logistical problems to be solved before the gas can be extracted, and there will be environmental consequences that, unless properly handled, could be serious. Worse, the US government (almost as hostile to fracking at home as is the New York Times, which judging by its editorial page would rather see upstate New York turn into an empty Buffalo Commons than suffer the indignity of resource extraction), is encouraging Third World countries to exploit this treacherous new resource. It is promoting efforts of US corporations, shudder, to get contracts based on their unrivaled expertise. One of these corporations is the dreaded Halliburton. So warns the only ‘energy expert’ cited in the story, Professor Michael Klare of Hampshire College. As the defense correspondent of The Nation magazine, he can be trusted to give a completely accurate and unbiased picture of American strategic and economic interests around the world. As the author of The Race For What’s Left: The Global Scramble For The World’s Last Resources, Professor Klare may not be the best person to consult about a new energy bonanza, but no matter.The Times wanted a doom and gloom merchant to enhance its downer take on the gas boom, and, with the vast resources of the world’s largest and richest print news organization at its command, it found one! And people say investigative reporting is dead. Here is Amazon’s description of Professor Klare’s latest book:
The world is facing an unprecedented crisis of resource depletion—a crisis that goes beyond “peak oil” to encompass shortages of coal and natural gas, copper and cobalt, water and arable land. With all of the Earth’s habitable areas already in use, the desperate hunt for supplies has now reached the final frontiers. The Race for What’s Left takes us from the Arctic to war zones to deep ocean floors, from a Russian submarine planting the country’s flag under the North Pole to the large-scale buying up of African farmland by Saudi Arabia and other nations.As Michael T. Klare explains, this frenzy of extreme exploration and acquisition carries grave consequences. With resource extraction growing more complex, the environmental risks are becoming increasingly severe: the Deepwater Horizon disaster is only a preview of the dangers to come. At the same time, the intense search for dwindling supplies is igniting new border disputes, raising the likelihood of military confrontation. The only way out, Klare argues, will be to alter our consumption patterns altogether—a crucial task that will be the greatest challenge of the coming century.
Of course, having found a source thousands of miles from the gas fields in question who was guaranteed to say all the right, doom-laden things, the Times saw no need whatever to quote any other independent experts with positive views. When it came to more positive quotes, the Times went to oil company employees, immediately countered by green NGO staff.Obvious, isn’t it: the independent experts and the environmentalists are in a brave alliance with the elves, the Riders of Rohan and the New York Times against Mordor, Halliburton, and the corporate shills. Live is very simple if you work for the Times. Nobody asks hard questions about stories that the editors intuitively know must be true.Now maybe the Times made a good faith effort to find independent experts who disagree with Professor Klare. Maybe there aren’t any experts anywhere on the planet who think a natural gas bonanza is a good thing. Maybe there is no controversy on this topic at all. Maybe Michael Klare speaks for the consensus of world energy science. And maybe I am the Queen of Romania.A shepherd and a confirmed leftie Malthusian doomster: those are the Times‘ leading guides for what could be one of the most important economic and geopolitical stories of the decade. We should just be glad the discoveries involve natural gas, the least-hated fossil fuel source for most greens. If the South Africans had found oil or, worse, more coal, the wailing and weeping and rending of garments would be almost too much to bear.Meanwhile, there’s a much more interesting story much closer to hand to report. The Times seems to be suggesting that abroad the Obama administration is the chief global cheerleader for fracking, putting on the full court press to get poor innocent third world countries to let Halliburton pollute the purity of their last precious aquifers. Yet at home the administration is fighting the fracksters.If this is true, there’s a story. Is the administration cynically pressing foreign countries to adopt a desolating technology as part of its corporatist alliance with big oil, or is it pandering to delusional greens by blocking a perfectly safe and acceptable procedure at home? Inquiring minds want to know.