Christine’s Brilliant Idea

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The letters pages of local newspapers are the places to go if you want something to blog about. This morning, I didn’t particularly want something to blog about, but because I read the letters page of a local newspaper, I now have something to blog about. That thing is a letter from Christine Durell (no relation) from Montagu – and most specifically her brilliant idea.

Christine has written an open letter to Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, the President of the Republic of South Africa, about Shell and their plans to explore for natural gas in the Karoo (see this blog and every bunnyhugger (sorry) site in SA, ad nauseum). JZ probably won’t read her letter, because he’s flying to China today and they’re not big on people writing letters to the media in China.

Anyway, Ladies and Gentlespoons; without further ado, I give you Christine Durell (no relation)!
[smattering of applause from assembled readers]

Dear Mr Zuma,

The more I hear and read about the diabolical things Shell has planned for our beloved Karoo, the more worrisome it becomes.

If I might just interject here, Christine?
Sorry – that was lovely so far: passionate, full of emotion, lovely.

I can’t help but notice, though, that you used the word “diabolical” there, after the latin root diabolus, “pertaining to, of, or characteristic of the Devil; Satanic”. Do you really mean this? It begs questions regarding the things you’ve heard and read.
What Satanic plans do you think Shell have in mind, exactly? Sacrificing virgins within a pentacle? Calling forth the demons of Hades and then asking them if they smelt any methane on the way up? Because I thought that the exploratory work in question was more about digging a few holes and having a quick look around 6km down. It sounds like you might have Shell confused with Hell.
Or… something.

Not only the process itself, but the fact that our country could be sold piecemeal to the highest bidder for a filthy short-term project which will make some people very rich indeed, is worrying.

Sorry, Christine. Me again. Are you perhaps suggesting that you would be appeased if we sold our country piecemeal to one of the lower bidders, thus making some people slightly less rich? Would that cause you less worry? I’m just asking because I can’t help but think that your approach would cause chaos in the property and general retail sectors. Have you considered this rather concerning side-effect?

It would be my dearest wish that our president could just stand up, be a man…

Hang on a sec, Chrissy love. You’re talking about a bloke who has 3 wives, 2 ex-wives, 20 kids and sings about wanting his machine gun. I think he’s “man” enough already thank you very much.

…and be remembered as the best president this country would ever have had, by just saying: “No.”

So, putting this in perspective, Christine, you think that if Jacob Zuma says “No.” to Shell, then he would automatically overtake, say… just for example, Nelson Mandela, as “the best president this country would ever have had”?
Has anyone told JZ about this?

Come to think of it, has anyone told Mandela about this?

I also noticed that you “would have had” used the past perfect conditional tense (or some form of it) there as well, Christine. Are you perhaps holding out for a future president to say “No.” to some other company and therefore leapfrog JZ into top spot.
I’m thinking that you’re thinking Julius Malema, right? Yes?
Meaning that the Christine Durell (no relation) list of all-time great South African presidents (post-Apartheid obviously, because none of them were that great before 1994) would read like this:

  1. Julius Malema
  2. Jacob Zuma
  3. Nelson Mandela

That looks awesome. But haven’t we forgotten someone…?
No. No, I don’t think we have.

Moving on – what if JZ does say “No.” to Shell and does become the best president this country would ever have had?

After that, he could probably get away with almost anything.

Once again, Christine, I am left wondering what you have heard and read. I don’t think that your conditional promise will cut much ice with Mr Zuma, because, you see, he already kinda does have those privileges. You’re offering him nothing new here. You’re essentially wanting something for nothing. Is this somehow related to your “don’t sell to the highest bidder” plan? Can you now see the confusion that it’s causing already?

But I have been so very disparaging about your letter thus far when really, all it has been is a lead up to the best and most original brilliant idea ever. Ever ever. An idea so brilliant that if it was ever to become president of South Africa, it would make Julius settle for silver and knock Madiba right out of the medals. Boom.

Bring it, Christine. Bring your brilliant idea on:

And in the meantime, to all those who continually use the four letter “F” word, let’s change it to the five letter one. As in, “frack off”, “no fracking way”, etc.

I’m lost. Incredulous. Bewildered. Blown. Away. Because if they say that the simplest ideas are the best ideas, then this is Sheer “fracking” Genius! (see what I did there?).

How – and I ask this question from my current position seated on the floor, because I was unsure that my legs would still hold me given the effect that your brilliantly simple, brilliantly original, brilliantly brilliant plan would have has had on me – how has no-one come up with this before?

I, for one, Christine, think that rather than placing that sort of idea in an open letter to the president of the republic in a regional newspaper, you should perhaps get some sort of trademark on it and use this as a filthy short-term project to make yourself very rich indeed.  Maybe get some placards and posters made up with “Frack off, Shell” or “Not in my fracking Karoo”.
Perhaps charge journalists a royalty each time they used it in a headline – I have a feeling that if they had thought of your brilliant idea, they’d probably use it as a headline in most (if not all) of the stories they wrote on this issue. Probably.

But these are just my humble suggestions – I recognise that a great mind such as yours will probably have some other brilliant ideas in mind for your brilliant idea.

If nothing else, when Shell see what you have done here, they will surely be forced to immediately shelve their plans to explore the Karoo for natural gas and go and find some other remote wilderness to destroy.

Christine Durell (no relation), we salute you.

Do some fracking reading

I generally have no issue with people having opinions.

The only issue that I occasionally have is when those opinions are poorly considered. When people have simply chosen one side of an argument to be on simply because they think it’s the cool side to be on or because they have read or been told something, somewhere that suggests that perhaps the other side of the argument is wrong. I’m not necessarily saying that they are not allowed to do that, but when they are unable to back up their stance with some reasonable rational, they lose my respect and with it, my support.

Thou shall think for yourselves

Because the environment is such an emotive issue (you only have to look at the hysterical reactions to a tongue-in-cheek blog post about whales), there tends to be only one side that these poorly-read individuals come down upon. And that’s because it is deeply uncool to not automatically and vehemently oppose anything that may remotely harm the environment.
Yep. Apparently, no matter where you get your “facts” from, if they support “the environment”, then they must be indisputably correct.
Pah.

I am, therefore, deeply uncool for even considering that the plans to consider starting exploratory work in the Karoo to consider whether there are shale gas reserves there which are worth considering, could be considered, in any way shape or form, to be a good idea.

Not that I am saying that they are a good idea, of course. Because before I began this post, I felt that I probably didn’t actually have enough knowledge or information on the technicalities of the “fracking” process to commit myself. So here I’m really not arguing for Shell et al here; I’m arguing against those who are arguing against Shell et al just because they automatically assume that Shell et al are bad people intent on destroying the Karoo.

I’m not the only one calling for a little forethought though, thank goodness. Moneyweb’s David Carte has stuck his head above the metaphorical parapet and into the direct line of fire of the full-time bunnyhuggers and their kneejerk, bandwagon-jumping associates with a piece emphasising something as radical as er… the need for consideration instead of immediate condemnation of the exploratory plans:

The moral of the story is that the project should be assessed coolly and rationally and we should beware of hot heads, scare mongers and people with vested interests.

Carte cites SA’s need for lower cost, cleaner energy and addresses some of the dichotomies that exist in people’s thoughts of the Karoo as a protected area with reference to the planned SKA project there. He also compares the alleged “vast” water usage in fracking with that of Eskom (6 million litres vs 300 billion litres). Yet because he chooses to quote actual Shell executives rather than biased (and often hysterical) green-leaning or anti-corporate websites, he is accused in the comments of writing “a PR piece for Shell”.
As I said, it’s not nice to be seen to apparently support something that has the possibility of harming the environment, even when you state perfectly logic reason for your statements.

Of course, we all drive cars. We all use petrol and petroleum products. We all use electricity and we all complain bitterly about the price increases that we’ve seen in the past. So there’s a certain amount of NIMBYism and hypocrisy in the complaints of potential environmental damage.
And you can add billionaire Johann Rupert to the hypocritical throng. Quite how a man whose $3.8billion fortune was based on the sales of cigarettes can protest about the potential risk of carcinogen exposure is beyond me.

Those calling (usually in CAPITAL LETTERS and with plenty of punctuation!!!!!!!!!!) for us all to Boycott Shell!!!!!!! are asking a lot of the apathetic South African public. Not everyone would agree with the reasoning behind the boycott nor with the method of protest. And even if, by some twist of fate the remainder were actually to turn away from Shell’s forecourts in SA, it would only be a drop in the ocean for them (perhaps a poor analogy, given BP’s recent trials and tribulations).

Lewis Pugh’s desperately emotional speech at last night’s Cape Town meeting in Newlands, telling us of the dreams of Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Oliver Tambo was pitifully theatrical and contained these lines:

If we damage our limited water supply – and fracking will do just that – we will have conflict again in South Africa.
Fellow South Africans, we have had enough conflict in this land – now is the time for peace.

Wait. What?
Firstly – again – where is your evidence that “fracking will do just that”? Because now having read around the subject fairly widely, I have yet to find objective evidence that this is the case. Certainly, there have been a few instances where fracking has damaged the environment, but then equally, there have been many thousands of cases where it hasn’t. So why the certainty over the damage to the Karoo?
And then the conflict thing: is there really any way that the suggestion that by allowing these exploratory operations we will return to the troubles of the apartheid era can be described as anything more than shameful scare-mongering?

For a man with a law degree from UCT & Cambridge, it’s utterly pathetic. It’s a speech appealing to the very lowest common denominator of the audience. It’s full of wonderful soundbites but has nothing of substance. It would be laughed out of any court of law – institutions based on fact, logic and reason and not on hearsay, misinformation and emotion. However, for the purpose of generating support for his cause – for adding more unthinking sheep to the Karoo flock – it’s perfect.
And of course it will be (and already has been) widely circulated and celebrated by those very people that I am complaining about here.
On twitter, I see “South Africans, you HAVE to read @LewisPugh’s speech about Shell tonight. It’s really important.” and on facebook: “amazing speech by Louis Pugh at antifracking meeting …standing ovation.” (That one evidently didn’t even know where she was this evening. Shame.)

I recognise that I’m unlikely to change the general consensus on this matter. And even if I did, there would be something else tomorrow: dolphins, perhaps or something about rhinos and then we’d have to go through the whole thing again.

All I’m asking is that people to look at both sides of any argument – especially those where emotions run high – before making up their minds.
Read around the issue, check your sources, strain for objectivity.
Maybe you’ll find something that will make you think again; make you change direction instead of simply trotting after the other sheep in the flock.
And if you don’t see things differently when you’ve considered the other viewpoint(s), well just that’s fine as well and you’ll be able to argue your case far more logically and coherently, meaning that you stand more chance of making a difference.

And isn’t that what you want to do?

UPDATE: Please also see my follow-up post on this subject.