Peoples Hearing on Fracking
Buffalo State College
Buffalo, New York
June 2, 2012
Address given by Stephen Cleghorn
Good morning. I have some remarks regarding Nature’s Justice.
My name is Stephen Cleghorn. I live and farm in a place called Paradise. Paradise is about 160 miles south of Buffalo in the southeast corner of Jefferson County, Pennsylvania. It is an unincorporated area of such beauty in the Allegheny Plateau that it exists in the oral history of at least five generations of people who live there as “the Paradise community.” I am new to this place, having arrived there in 2005 with my wife Lucinda to establish a 50-acre organic farm and build a goat creamery business. Last November I lost my wife to lung cancer, so I am there by myself now.
Just over three weeks ago, on May 10th, in the presence of more than 40 people who are fighting fracking, I spread some of Lucinda’s ashes at the top of our highest pasture, as she had requested. From that pasture Lucinda and I would gaze upon rolling fields of crops, alternating green and brown. We could see our neighbor’s cows, gorgeous Jerseys with their big soulful eyes, framed against their emerald pasture. We would smile at our dairy goats lazing away a summer’s afternoon in the shade of maple trees as they chew their boluses of cud from the sweet grass
As I dropped my wife’s ashes onto that field, I invoked her name and spirit three times. I asked that she partner with me again – and do so forever as I live and stand – to protect this small piece of Paradise from unnatural gas extraction. I asked her to take new spiritual action as guardian of this farm that she loved, to be present in her ashes to mingle with earth and water below our feet, to protect that soil and water and all the organic lives which they sustain; to speak with her ashes words of peace and ongoing healing for her beloved farm. And in her name I declared our farm forever inviolate of shale gas drilling or any other attack upon it as a living system. I declared a new right of love on the surface and below this farm that no gas drill will ever penetrate, a right rooted in the Rights of Nature. A right that declares null and void any “law” of private property that facilitates and allows the destruction of Nature and its ecology that sustains us.
And now, more so than ever, more so than when I first got involved in this fight against fracking – now when I go up to that hill to the Eastern Pine tree we planted on May 12, three weeks ago today, in Lucinda’s memory, her ashes mixed into its roots, now I recall those terrific words from a Wendell Berry poem called “On a Hill Late at Night” which ends like this:
I am wholly willing to be here
between the bright silent thousands of stars
and the life of the grass pouring out of the ground.
The hill has grown to me like a foot.
Until I lift the earth I cannot move.
Now I am rooted to my place that I call Paradise Gardens and Farm. Now I have stories to tell about it. Now I can see the faces of new and old friends who gathered with me on May 10 to declare my farm forever inviolate of shale gas drilling. They will stand with me again when the big rig moves my way. I can feel in my sense-memory Jenny and Carol and Briget, Doug and Aaron and Ben and Ken, Iris and Dana and Elizabeth and Loretta and Julie, Bill and Mary, Diane and Denise and so many other wonderful people who stood with me that day. I can also see the faces of family and neighbors who stood with me on May 12 to plant that tree at the highest point of my farm. My brothers and Lucinda’s sister Enid and her daughters Analiese and Carla, and all my children and grandchildren who shoveled in the dirt, now they know where my heart resides and how the one we all loved continues to protect me.
I am placed there. It is my place in Paradise. And I will defend it with my life if need be
Why do I mention all this to you? Because it speaks to what we are up against. The enemy we face is a marauding army of rootless gas companies that do not give a damn about my place, per se, nor any other place of human and animal habitation except as something they can exploit. The “shale army” has declared war on my piece of Paradise – which is but a piece of the Good Earth, in my view a piece of God’s Very Own Creation, for which I am responsible. Their attack on me is but as part of a wider war for cheap energy that casts a shadow over our planet and its future habitability. The gas companies cannot even see me or my place memories, because they are sanctioned by law to plunder and destroy my place and its memories to service the rapacious energy appetite we have all unfortunately developed in the era of cheap fossil fuels.
Their power is everywhere. Multinational energy companies are dictating the laws of Pennsylvania such as the recently passed Act 13. Act 13 is nothing less than a corporate-sponsored form of organized crime perpetrated upon the people and democracy of Pennsylvania, written by politicians purchased for that purpose by lubricious campaign contributions that exceeded $4.4 million in the 2010 election cycle. We are being systematically colonized by multinational corporations who give no quarter. Wendell Berry in his poem “Look Out” speaks of the shadow of energy wars without end that has fallen upon us all:
Come to your windows, people of the world,
look out at whatever you see wherever you are,
and you will see dancing upon it that shadow.
You will see that your place, wherever it is,
your house, your garden, your shop, your forest, your farm,
bears the shadow of its destruction by war
which is the economy of greed which is plunder
which is the economy of wrath which is fire.
The Lords of War sell the earth to buy fire,
they sell the water and air of life to buy fire.
They are little men grown great by willingness
to drive whatever exists into its perfect absence.
Their intention to destroy any place is solidly founded
upon their willingness to destroy every place.
Every household of the world is at their mercy,
the households of the farmer and the otter and the owl
are at their mercy. They have no mercy.
It is not surprising to me that the corporate frackers are nomadic types such as Wallace Stegner mentions in his essay “The Sense of Place,” nor that they are having trouble setting up shop in a place like Pennsylvania or New York which many people know as an ancestral home, a real place where they would like to live out their lives peaceably in enjoyment of the land and their loved ones. The corporate frackers bring with them the lure of money and temptations of a better life elsewhere, or even some respite from poverty on the old home place, insinuating themselves into long-stable communities and blasting them apart as sure as the shale gets fracked. Community is weakened and a kind of “rights of property” without traditional community constraints becomes the order of the day, leading to a feeling expressed by a long-term resident of Bradford County, Pennsylvania as: “It’s like we’re losing our love.” Dr. Simona Perry, an ethnographer at Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute has reported that the people of Bradford County, Pennsylvania – the second most heavily drilled county in my state – are seized by anger, confusion, a deep sense of loss, and bitter divisions between neighbors.
If we are fighting a marauding army without mercy, then it becomes our job to have mercy enough for ourselves, for our divided and troubled neighbors, and even for our adversaries. We must get about building a nonviolent movement in the shale areas of Pennsylvania, New York and throughout the Americas and the world, to interfere with and stop fracking once and for all. We must join in solidarity with those who are fighting all forms of extreme fossil fuel extraction. We must transition to a sustainable energy future with joy of purpose and love for the struggle.
This fight forced upon us has that one tangible benefit: it puts us square in the middle of moving toward a new paradigm of how we live within nature, respectful of nature, apologetic to nature for how we are living now and have been living for centuries, and affirming and defending the “rights” of ecosystems that sustain all life. Through a combination of legal moves and nonviolent direct action we must find ways to move to sustainability of the living systems of this Good Earth in the places where we live that are now threatened.
Writes farmer-poet Berry, “We have reached a point at which we must either consciously desire and choose and determine the future of the earth, or submit to such an involvement in our destructiveness that the earth, and ourselves with it, must certainly be destroyed.”
If we have to be in a fight, this is a good one to take on. It must come from a people’s movement. Our political leaders at all levels, beholden to corporations to fund their campaigns, refuse to lead us out of a fossil fuel era that is warming our planet, and refuse to prevent the chemical contamination of our environment and food for corporate profits. The environment is becoming more and more toxic. Species are disappearing by the hundreds annually and many of our own human kind are finding themselves dealing more and more with the calamities of climate change
On May 10th at my farm as I declared it forever inviolate of drilling, I said to my friends – echoing the final words of our nation’s Declaration of Independence – that our liberty, our fortunes, our sacred honor and maybe even our lives will be required of us as we resist the shale army. But we are willing to pay those costs. We shall pledge all that to Nature and to our fellow human beings who are part of Nature, even those who perpetrate the harm. And we shall do so without any assurance of victory.
Our individual acts of resistance will become part of an ongoing organization to create a new foundation of law based on the Rights of Nature. In taking up this fight, we can do many things, including electoral politics. We can run for office. We can alter our land titles to incorporate an easement that gives us standing in law to defend the ecosystem against any and all attacks upon it. We can pass municipal bans on fracking. Many things we can do.
But in an era where our repeated petitions on behalf of Nature have been answered only by the repeated injuries of the tyrants Big Oil, Big Gas and King Coal, we must act and act swiftly. Our time is limited, as Wendell Berry warned all of us when he spoke to students at the College of the Atlantic in 1989: “Beware the justice of Nature. Understand that there can be no successful human economy apart from Nature or in defiance of Nature.”
In this fight now enjoined upon all of us, science and truth-force and the rigorous economy of Nature are on the side of we who call for a ban on fracking. Money and power and fat-n-easy living are on the side of those who would destroy Nature and its protectors. In the final analysis, it’s not really a fair fight. Even if we protectors of Nature do not stop the frackers, Nature will. Nature will not be made the fool by small-minded men and women who perpetrate the despoliation of living systems for short-term monetary profits. That is an economy doomed to fail. Nature will have its justice, and that justice – unfortunately – will be visited upon the guilty and innocent alike.
Thank you for having me.