Protester: Time Person of the Year

I see that Time has named the protester as their Person of the Year.    I get that, however; I would separate the protests in the Middle East from Tea Parties, Occupy Movements or “Get the Frack out of my town” activities.

However, while not as meaningful the latter are valid forms of protest.

I continue to get haranguing emails about my stance on shale gas development – one person this week going so far as to ask me to show my wife the web page of a lady in Alberta who is suing the government for $3 million.  For him, I guess, that constitutes some form of proof of the evils of shale gas development.   Unfortunately, I had to inform him that my wife is even more supportive of shale gas than I am.  She doesn’t go for hype – she tends to be pragmatic.

But I continue to maintain that social license matters.  If the people don’t want it, you can be sure it won’t happen.  Even if the Tories continue, the Liberals will use it as their toll highway, or HydroQuebec wedge issue to get elected next time and then shut it down.

If you read Wilbur’s book on NB history since the 1960s, there were serious protests on a wide variety of environmental issues but they tended to be localized.  In the age of Facebook , Twitter and in this case – especially YouTube – you get widespread outrage in nanoseconds.   See Gladwell’s Blink for details.

But as Mr. Spock said, “as a matter of cosmic history it is more easy to destroy than create”.

You can get thousands of signatures on an anti-shale gas petition and the last time I looked the pro-shale gas Facebook site had a couple of hundred poor souls that like it.

If you step outside shale gas, I think this is a new kind of politics and social interaction.    These same techniques will be used to cut down other mining, municipal reform, toll highways, tax rises, health care reform, education reform – any of the big policy issues will be subject to this effect where thousands of angry people will mobilize against and there will not be an equivalent ‘for’ side.

But, that’s democracy.

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5 Responses to Protester: Time Person of the Year

  1. Chris Baker says:

    David –

    A diversity of voices is needed to have a satisactory public debate on the important issues of the day. However, demogogery seems to have taken the place of dialogue, which alienates the vast majority of NBers who want to know what is really going on.

    You continue to provide a sane, reasonable, evidence-based approach to the issues you discuss on your blog. Even though there seems to be little appeal in sanity, reason or evidence in public discourse these days, your ongoing effort IS appreciated.

  2. Chris, don’t you find things have changed in a more fundamental way? There is a hard edge to debate these days – the more angry – the more exaggerated your claims – that seems to reinforce your legitimacy and the strength of argument. I have talked about a NB Power/HQ debate I was involved in – my opponent was just shaking/seething mad “How dare the government….” while I was spouting off statistics and ‘evidence’. The crowd gave him far more legitimacy.

    I think it is important to think of this outside the context of shale gas – take any big policy issue. Remember death panels in the U.S. health care debate? There are still dozens and dozens of references to that term “death panels” in the U.S. media every month (Google News).

    Maybe these days the loudest and most outrageous wins the day.

  3. 4themargins says:

    To be clear, I am for responsible shale gas exploration and development. I am going to go join that FB group for what its worth. My view seems to have softened a bit with regards to the protesters because I have come to see that people have some legitimate reasons for concern (and yes, some no so legitimate). The protesters have achieved certain things by shaming the government into them, unfortunately that is how it works sometimes. They have resulted in better legislation, quashed the “let’s figure it out as we go” attitude, and they have also forced the development companies into establishing a fund to recover damages in case of a mishap. These are things that the government should have done…shoulda, woulda, coulda, whatever. Loud protest forces debate and the louder the protest the more serious the debate which will eventually lead to better facts and better discussions. The social media aspect is interesting and can be used by both sides but one side seems better motivated. I like seeing presentation by Dr. Park on you tube. This is the type of stuff we need to see. It’s not propaganda, it’s fact. And this would not be on youtube if the protesters were not pushing the issue…so good on them for our sake I guess.

  4. Chris Baker says:

    You ask a very good question that I will attempt to answer. I don’t think that people are more angry these days, they just have more outlets for their anger. And, with fewer reporters and fewer resources for reporting, I believe that editors and producers have found that controversy and extreme points of view are easy to cover – and can become self-sustaining as over-reaction follows over-reaction.

    The true downside is that people of good will become sidelined in the rush to cover the cranks and crazies. As a friend recently said to me, “Don’t get into an argument with an idiot, an observer might not be able to tell the difference.” @David Campbell

  5. I think people would be more willing to accept the risks (however large or small they may be) of things like fracking were they reasonably sure that the companies and governments involved would be responsible for any harm caused.

    What they actually see, however, is government and corporations operating for the benefit of each other, and in general a disregard for the well being of the individuals caught in the gears. And when companies can, say, ignore municipal or provincial law and walk away from their actions without consequence, public confidence is not increased.

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