A few hundreds of years ago we were picking coal off beaches, while right now we're drilling for oil at deeper and deeper depths, blowing the tops of mountains, wrecking whole ecosystems for tar sands and fracturing our rocks thousands of feet deep for shale gas. Welcome to the time of extreme energy.
"Extreme energy isn't a collection of methods," says Joy Welsch from grassroots group Frack Off (www.frack-off.org.uk). "It's a process. A process where energy extraction methods grow increasingly more intense over time, as easier to extract resources are depleted. More and more energy is needed to access energy to run our societies."
Driven by unsustainable energy consumption, the increased extraction effort is resulting in growing destruction of both communities and the environment. The local and global environmental impacts are growing at a frightening rate and are also accessing fossil fuels, which would be previously left in the ground. A number of new extraction methods threaten to devastate our countryside, while increasing our contribution to the global ecological crisis.
Extreme energy methods include bio-energy, new nuclear, opencast coal mining, fracking for shale gas/oil and coal bed methane (CBM), tar sands and underground coal gasification (UCG). Campaigners resisting these developments are coming together at the end of this month for the first national Extreme Energy Gathering (extreme-energy-gathering.org.uk).
Taking place in Manchester on the 27-28th April, the Gathering aims to be a space for all these different campaigns to explore the extreme energy narrative and what it means for their communities. Instead of being a platform for campaigns to plug their issues and seek to recruit energy from already busy campaigners, the gathering seeks to share skills and tactics and create a culture of solidarity that looks at the systemic drivers of all of these extraction methods.
A recent run-up event, the South West Extreme Energy Gathering, which took place in Bristol over Easter weekend was a taster to the potential. More than 45 people came together from across the South West who have been organising against fracking in Somerset and South Wales, biofuel plants in Avonmouth and Dorset, Hinkley C nuclear campaigns and more.
Surfacing in the campaign go-round were a lot of questions about alternatives with "What are we for? Not just against?"
"People want to make this a debate about renewables vs. nuclear, fracking vs. coal and so on and so on. Everyone is arguing over capacity to meet the UK's energy needs while no one is talking about the big white elephant in the room - that we need to massively re-design our society to use less energy!" says Anne Watts from Frack Free Somerset who attended the event.
"We live in an energy insane culture, where our access to resources has increased exponentially more than any time in history. People focus on small consumer reforms, like fitting low energy lightbulbs, when all of our current dominant systems need a major change. Our civilisation sustains itself through the extraction of fossil fuels and this pattern is only going to get more extreme, with companies going to greater socially and environmentally damaging lengths to sustain their income streams."
The gathering isn't just about resisting extreme energy developments in the here and now, it is about the long haul, and how we can divert the runaway train of extreme energy and re-design our societies from the bottom up.
For more information about the gathering, including the travel bursaries available visit: extreme-energy-gathering.org.uk
The Gathering is taking place at Bridge 5 Mill run by MERCi, the Manchester Environmental Resource Centre. MERCi is an independent charity that runs a number of sustainability projects.
For more about Nicole Vosper see www.wildheartpermaculture.co.uk