Too much FUD and too little facts about fracking

Fracking equipment

If there’s one major issue of significant public interest today that’s shrouded in fear, uncertainty and doubt, it’s fracking.

If you believe the supporters of this mining process to extract natural gas and petroleum deposits from shale rock – formally known as “hydraulic fracturing” – it could be the salvation of our energy needs for the foreseeable future, maybe for the next forty years or more.

If you believe the opponents of fracking, it’s a major threat to the environment and to public health, causes earth tremors if not actual quakes and is not the answer to meeting our energy needs.

In the midst of all this FUD are governments looking for that political and economic Holy Grail of meeting energy needs that is low cost to do so, will create jobs, stimulate the economy and doesn’t have significant environmental impact, among other things. And might get the political party in government re-elected at the next election.

Who to believe? When trying to find some facts about fracking itself and the consequences of employing the techniques to extract the energy resources from the ground, what confidence can you have that the information you do find is trustworthy? Or rather, those who curate that content can be trusted?

For instance:

A few reports from the mainstream media (plus opinion in one blog post). But is it all just so much propaganda?

Seeing TV news reports of the recent protests surrounding the Balcombe site in southern England and the plans by Cuadrilla, an oil and gas exploration and production company, to carry out exploratory drilling to determine suitability of the site for actual fracking, I’m left befuddled and not knowing who to believe.

Even though the Balcombe protests look far too organized to be purely concerned local citizens – to me, it smacks of professional protesters parachuted in, so to speak, by a serious and well-financed organization, one with a big political agenda and little transparency in who’s behind it all – I’m also left with increasing alarm:  what if the anti-frackers are right?

Now take a look at this video I came across the other day, via Robert Llewellyn. I have no idea who the producer “Millie Thedog” is, what axe he or she may be grinding (or not), nor whether he or she is an information source I can trust. I have no information on that.

Yet this six-minute video presents a calm but disturbing assessment of the alleged impact of fracking in southern England if it actually happens, especially on the scale the video claims.

(If you don’t see the video embedded above, watch it at YouTube.)

After watching the video for the first time, I asked myself: “Just because we could, does it mean that we should?”

Where’s the truth? Is it out there?

(Image at top of page via Cuadrilla Resources)

Tuning in to Hurricane Sandy

sandygoesThe ability for people to be connected via the internet is no more valuable when it comes to crises and disasters of one type or another, natural or otherwise.

Hurricane Sandy – the super #Frankenstorm on track to hit the US East Coast today – is a perfect example.

The latest advisory from the US National Hurricane Center is sobering:

..SANDY STRENGTHENS…EXPECTED TO BRING LIFE-THREATENING STORM SURGE…COASTAL HURRICANE WINDS AND HEAVY APPALACHIAN SNOWS…

Being able to find out what’s happening, how it affects you, your loved ones and your community can be the difference between risk and safety, even life or death. It provides those in government and public safety organizations with multiple communication channels and tools that enable them to offer information to anyone who wants it and can connect to get it.

It also enables anyone with ideas and purpose to provide valuable information via those same channels. Here are just two illustrative examples:

Google Crisis Response Hurricane Sandy Map

sandygooglemap

The interactive map gives you a wide range of emergency preparedness information:

Google adds:

We’ve also launched a map specific to New York City, featuring evacuation zone information from NYC Open Data, open shelters, weather information and live webcams.

These resources are the latest from the Google Crisis Response initiative, which has a clear mission:

[…] When disaster strikes, people turn to the internet for information. We help ensure the right information is there in these times of need by building tools to collect and share emergency information, and by supporting first responders in using technology to help improve and save lives.

Sandycam Live 24/7

sandycamlive

Speaking of live webcams, live video-streaming event company Livestream has created Sandycam Live 24/7, a "live event" you can watch as long as you (and they) have an internet connection:

Watch the Livestream Storm Cam located on top of Livestream’s World Headquarters in Chelsea, Manhattan, New York City. The camera is mounted on the roof facing south towards the Financial District. Any shaking of the image is caused by high winds as the camera is mounted outside.

Livestream also has apps for mobile devices which you can use to record and contribute your own Hurricane Sandy video.

  • [Update @ 2.30pm] Mashable reports that Livestream is updating its Android app with live video broadcasting capabilities:

    […] Called Livestream for Producers, the app’s latest version includes a live video streaming option and live blogging, by posting real-time text, photos and video clips, said Livestream CEO Max Haot. Previous versions offered in Google Play did not include live video. […] “The Android live broadcasting option is ideal to cover any event when you don’t have the time, the equipment or the budget to cover it with traditional cameras.”

    The updated free app is already available on Google Play.

    Now you will be able to live-stream video of anything you see – Hurricane Sandy activity, for example – wherever you are, assuming you have internet connectivity. Livestream says the app works over cellular networks as well as wifi.

And of course, there’s plenty of real-time mainstream media content.

To everyone in the "Sandy cone," good luck!

TFL’s stop-start approach to combating vehicle pollution

switchoffyourengine

As someone who drives into and out of central London quite frequently, I’m as conscious as any road user of the huge traffic congestion that’s a feature of a typical journey, along with consequential environment issues like exhaust emissions and air quality.

So many vehicles, an overloaded transport infrastructure – these are points to ponder as you sit in a rush-hour traffic jam with engine idling, windows shut to insulate you from all that stuff out there, and probably with the climate control set to recirculation.

Although I don’t often suffer the serious jams that are a fixture of the rush-hour traffic reports on Twitter (and on the TV and radio) – I try not to travel during the rush hours so, yes, I’m the luckiest person on the motorways! – whenever I am in one, I’m increasingly thinking of the probable negative environmental impact from vehicle emissions.

You don’t need statistics to tell you that traffic jams + engines idling = something not good for the environment as well as all the creatures that live in it.

So an email the other day from Keith Gardner, Strategy Director at Transport for London, was a timely attention-getter on this subject with a clear call to action:

If you know you are going to be stationary for more than a minute, turning off your engine will reduce harmful emissions. This small change can have a big impact so please help by turning off your vehicle’s engine whilst parked or waiting at the roadside. By doing this we can all breathe cleaner air.

A link in the email leads to a section on the TFL website that contains an infographic, displayed in sections so you can read each element (see the full infographic at the bottom of this page).

A number of things caught my attention about this communication approach to an issue that needs broader awareness:

  • It’s timely and addresses the matter in a way that encourages you to at least take a look at the attractively-designed infographic, and then download a copy yourself or share it with your online networks via the social web including Twitter and Facebook.
  • It talks about a driver-behaviour change – turning off your engine if you’ll be stationary for more than about a minute, addressing some popular myths (stop-start doesn’t damage the starter motor in a modern car, for instance).
  • It presents statistics that will reinforce what you’ve already likely seen elsewhere about the consequences of exhaust emissions, pollution, etc.

Although not mentioned, the TFL’s communication highlights new automotive technology that’s now coming into the mainstream of car offerings – automatic stop-start systems where your engine automatically switches off in specific circumstances and restarts itself when you press in the clutch on a manual-transmission car (I’m not sure how, or even if, that works on an automatic). First introduced some years ago, the tech is being embraced by premium-brand cars (Audi, for example), and is making its way down the pricing chain.

But most people still drive vehicles that don’t have such features, requiring you do it all manually. And that requires a big commitment from drivers to actually do it. Imagine the reaction if you’re the only driver, or one of very few motorists, who has turned off your engine in a traffic jam and it takes you just an extra second or two to get the engine started, into gear and move off. Add road rage to the environmental impact!

Still, communication exercises such as TFL’s must be a good thing as an integral part of other communication and awareness-raising activities if they help raise awareness of the big-picture issue, link it to the local impact of your car’s emissions, and give you an easy solution to actually do something that can make an environmental difference (think of your wallet, too). Whether the TFL’s call to action will be heeded in sufficient numbers to make a measurable difference is another matter.

But what a good (stop-)start!

See the full infographic:

[Read more…]

Communicators: Here’s how to support famine relief in East Africa

droughtinthehornofafricaYou’ve seen the news reports about the humanitarian disaster in East Africa. Famine and drought on a massive scale. Millions could die in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya.

As communicators, what can we do to help? Well, how about supporting the call to action from our friends at Communicate Magazine and #CommsChat:

This week’s #CommsChat was scheduled to be on measurement. But something came up that we felt was more important. Amid the anger of News International and the vacillations of the Euro crisis one story this past week seemed to have been pushed to the sidelines – the story of ten millions lives at risk due to the crisis in East Africa.

We are postponing the measurement session to hear how comms teams from charities can get cut-through in a heavy news week and the other communication challenges that face the third sector.

Our guests will be Thomas Schultz-Jagow, director of communications for Oxfam, and Leigh Daynes, director of advocacy, campaigns and communications for Plan.

For once, however, we’d like everyone to participate in the next #CommsChat in a way beyond 140 characters. What is happening in Africa is truly terrible. We don’t often get the chance in life to make a difference.

Everyone who takes part in #CommsChat knows how entertaining it is. And it’s always been free (and will carry on so). But how much would you pay for an hour of entertainment? How much does half a play cost? Or a third of a dinner bill? Or two fifths of a ticket at the Brixton Academy.

This week we’d like those who take part in #CommsChat to donate what they’d normally pay for an hours entertainment. You don’t have to. It’s not obligatory. But its a nice thing to do. It’s the right thing to do.  We’ve created a JustGiving page: www.JustGiving.com/commschat

Head there, donate, then join in #CommsChat [on Monday]. Couldn’t be easier.

(Via Wadds.)

Local gestures can make global impacts

On Saturday March 26 at 8.30pm, we’ll be turning our lights out at home for about an hour as we support Earth Hour 2011.

It’s our small part in supporting a grassroots environmental campaign that aims to bring attention to climate change. From the Wikipedia description:

Earth Hour is a global event organized by WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature, also known as World Wildlife Fund) and is held on the last Saturday of March annually, asking households and businesses to turn off their non-essential lights and other electrical appliances for one hour to raise awareness towards the need to take action on climate change.

Gestures like ours can make a difference when you magnify individual action locally and look at the collective results globally. Watch the video (at YouTube if you don’t see it embedded above) and see what the collective actions of millions of individuals like you and me can achieve.

How about a gesture on Twitter if you can’t do the switch-off in real life?

eh2011banner

You can follow Earth Hour 2011 on Twitter and join the Facebook community.

Are you going to do your bit?

Grounded by the ash

icelandclouds

The mainstream media has been full of photos of the ash cloud from the Iceland volcano eruption that’s the cause of a complete shutdown of incoming and outgoing flights in the UK – and now nearly 20 European countries – since last Thursday.

Here’s one that I think epitomizes the scale of this natural phenomenon possible more majestically than other pics. Quite a dramatic photo, isn’t it? (It was posted to Twitpic by burritojustice who says “via an Icelandic friend of a German friend.”)

So there have now been four days of no aircraft movement in much of Europe: no commercial airline flights in to any airport, and no flights out, to anywhere. Hundreds of thousands of people are stranded in a situation that is very much global, either stuck in Europe awaiting to leave, or stuck somewhere else in the world waiting to get back here.

It’s a living nightmare, one that has no known end.

It’s affected me, too, although nowhere nearly as badly as people who are in the process of their travel. I haven’t started my trip yet and now won’t be making that trip at all.

955flightcancelled 

I was due to leave the UK on Monday morning for San Francisco and then to San Mateo to take part in NewComm Forum 2010, but my flight was cancelled this morning by United Airlines. I was due to deliver the closing keynote at the conference on Friday. There is also a board meeting of the SNCR of which I’m a founding fellow and board member, on Tuesday. Plus, I’d planned to record a live episode of FIR with Shel on Thursday.

I won’t be there now to take part in any of those things, more’s the pity.

Still, the conference will happen and will be a terrific event. (If you’re in the US and have been thinking about going, do go: take advantage of the price discounts.)

I’m a bit philosophical about not making it to California this time. I wasn’t too concerned about going to the US; its was whether we’d make it back or not (my wife was coming with me) without being stuck for days or even weeks, that was the major worry. Mind you, I now won’t be able to visit this store to get one of these (about which I suspect my wife is very philosophical).

Hopefully, the travel situation will improve very soon. Pressure is mounting from airlines and others to relax the severe restrictions, although the ash cloud prognosis is not good for the UK and parts of northern continental Europe for much of the coming week.

Naturally, the Iceland volcano jokes have started flying about already. Here’s just one:

Apparently this a communication problem, the message from money-strapped Europe had letter missing, it should have read “send us your CASH”

See also:

Plus: