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The Not So Free Molecule


Ah, freedom. America’s favourite word. It’s unclear what they mean by freedom, but we know they want it. Freedom is that tantalising, intangible thing that must be found and then never taken away. Whatever it is.

Well, apparently freedom now comes in the form of fossil gas: gas exported from the USA to the rest of the world, that is.

Yep, that’s right - the Trump administration have rebranded fossil gas as ‘freedom gas’, presumably in the hopes that this shiny new image will boost their profits. No, we’re not joking. While this may seem like the latest ridiculous idea in a string of ridiculous ideas coming out of Trump’s butt mouth, we’d argue that it actually goes further than that.

Over the years the US has raised controversy through their misuse of freedom of speech in the constitution, the introduction of freedom fries, and now this. But it all began in the 1800s, when America named itself ‘the land of the free’ in their national anthem. Back then, democracy was still new, and the country saw itself as leading the charge in the race towards democratic rule. And in some respects, they were doing pretty well - human rights kind of existed, and the elected government was set to protect these rights - but all good things come at a cost.

America built its empire on competition, exploitation and racism. Indigenous peoples were almost completely wiped out in a brutal colonial intrusion to make way for the privileged, the wealthy, and the white. And these people founded a nation where those at the top thrived on the work of those at the bottom - justifying it all under the notion of ‘economic security’. As the USA grew in size, military power, and economic dominance, they locked themselves into a polarised world that profited off the gap between the rich and the poor, the native and the immigrant, the white and the black, the employed and the unemployed. While the rich got richer, the poor got poorer, and facism, racism and injustice followed.

The USA became a country with its roots in capitalism - in other words, profit first, people second - and its taken far too long for the privileged to wake up and realise that this is not what freedom looks like.    

The "Freedom Molecule"

Now you might be wondering how this is all related to fossil gas?

It’s no secret that much of America’s great wealth was built on oil and coal and while the rest of the world is starting to recognise the damage these energy sources do to our planet, the US has taken a rather different approach. The USA has the largest network of fossil gas pipelines in the world, and has profited from exhaustive gas resources for years. Using conventional and unconventional (fracking) methods of extraction they have been draining the earth for all the gas they can get.

Recently, the US has decided to go global and ship their polluting activities overseas, offloading their climate impact. When the country initially discovered their huge shale reserves, they extracted all the oil they could to be shipped across the country for use as energy. At the time this oil released by-products which were deemed useless and burned, but eventually it was recognised that these products could be used for the production of virgin plastics. Yes. They want to use fracked gas to create plastic [insert outrage here]. As such, America has opened up an entirely new market for the petrochemicals industry and has begun shipping gas to Europe and beyond.

But here is the problem. Gas extraction impacts local communities significantly, through air pollution, water contamination and degradation of the environment.

And who are the most impacted? Those who cannot afford to relocate: the poor, the marginalised and those already struggling.

This disregard for people in the race to sell gas is going beyond American borders too. The USA recently signed a deal with the EU to make it easier for them to export LNG (liquified fossil gas) to Europe. Great news: Jim Ratcliffe, the UK’s richest man has now tapped into a whole new set of resources for his plastics empire. More exploitation and environmental destruction? You betcha. And this isn’t just impacting Europe. While American oil and coal companies continue to colonise the Global South, their gas companies are no exception.

The fossil gas industry proves yet again just what kind of “freedom” the USA is talking about.

What have we got to do with it?

It would be incredibly hypocritical of us to suggest that America’s exploitation game is a one-horse race. Britain has just as dirty a history: as the coloniser of the world, we took countries and peoples as we pleased and abandoned ship when the resources ran dry.

And since the 1940s, we have been in cahoots with the US, rebranding colonialism as ‘globalisation’. We continued all the exploitation, just with less of the societal uproar.

It’s suited us well so far - we’ve experienced more development than perhaps anyone in the 1940s could have imagined. Sure, we’re dealing with the aftershocks of the financial crisis, rising inequality, the rebirth of fascism, exploding house prices, insecure work, the extinction of millions of species and the potentially irreversible warming of the atmosphere - but someone will invent a piece of technology to fix all that, right?

We shouldn’t just talk about first world problems either. The global south have been exploited in the name of globalisation for decades by the likes of Britain and America - we take their resources, and they receive our waste. Literally. Even worse, it is the countries with the least global power who are already experiencing the first effects of climate change. Trump doesn’t like migration now? Wait until he sees what happens when half of the world becomes uninhabitable.

‘Freedom gas’ is one more ridiculous idea from a string of ridiculous ideas, but that string didn’t start with Trump.

Trump is a symptom of the broken system we live in based on the exploitation of people and land for unlimited growth.

It has been crafted over centuries by, granted, a whole bunch of rich white men. And most importantly, it has nothing to do with freedom. True freedom is living without fearing what our future might look like. It’s about having the freedom to throw away a system that is doing more harm than good.

Systems change, not climate change

With all this in mind, UKYCC have decided that it’s about time we throw our full weight behind calling for systems change, and join those already fighting the good fight. Our Gas working group have been campaigning for a ban on fracking in the UK and the end of new gas infrastructure internationally for over a year. Over the next year, they will be acting as our new Systems Change working group. We will be talking more about Systems Change and what it means in a blog series coming soon.


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