AC Students Debate Fracking

 Chris Saltmarsh (UWCAC, United Kingdom '12-’14)

“Fracking as an issue has been over-politicised and problems have come out of both sides ‘muddying the water’ of the debate.”

UWC Atlantic College Students Visit the Rational Parliament to Debate Fracking


On Tuesday (26th), 9 Atlantic College students did something relatively crazy, relatively impulsive and definitely awesome; we left AC at 1pm (missing only one code!) and made our way to London, getting back at 3:14am the following morning! Second year students Hana (USA), Lindey (Canada), and Chris (UK) along with first years Pia (Canada/Norway), Katherine (UK), Valeria (USA/Italy), Sankalp (Norway) and Avia (Israel) went.

Why? To debate fracking of course!

The Rational Parliament, organised by the Rationalist Association, is a very new “experimental debating society” which (as the name may suggest) places strong emphasis on rationalism in debate. Science, evidence and research are given prominence alongside personal values and morals in order to facilitate debate that is constructive, factual and (you guessed it!) rational.

A number of quirks are employed by the RP, one of which being the presence of a Rhetoric Officer whose job it was, throughout proceedings, to give an overview of the language/linguistic techniques being used by speakers in the debate and to make the members aware of how rhetoric could be used to influence others or enhance argument. Additionally, each member received an ‘evidence please’ placard which could be held up when a member felt that a speaker made a claim without adequate evidence, which they were asked to provide if enough placards were raised.

Also in attendance were a couple of experts in the topic of fracking who had been involved in relevant research. Their insights were definitely valuable to the debate. But as well as the scientists, researchers, PhDs, writers and bloggers, the best part was that anybody could go and engage and take part in a really refreshing kind of debate, that I think more institutions should aspire to.

Fracking as an issue has been over-politicised and problems have come out of both sides ‘muddying the water’ of the debate (a metaphor I managed to slip into one of my contributions at the RP). Many members of the public  across the UK and in communities local to AC, where this issue could potentially have big implications for them, environmentally and economically, have relatively little knowledge about fracking, the arguments for and against it and sometimes even of its existence as an issue at all. Recognising this, we, at AC, have decided to start a ‘fracking awareness’ group with the aim to be an impartial and informative voice in the often highly charged and arguably alienating debate around fracking.

Visiting the Rational Parliament and engaging in the issue through their style of debate was of great benefit to the AC students that came as it gave us a chance to get a real impression of where the debate stands, what arguments are being used, which aren’t being used and the genuine complexity of the issue. Many of our students left the debate with more uncertainty about their position on fracking, which from our perspective, as we begin to set up an impartial education group, was definitely a positive thing in allowing us to consider just how difficult an issue this will be to resolve.

I hope that this is an example of the RP’s aims coming to fruition and it certainly affirmed my belief that argument and debate can be a force to change minds and inspire further exploration of a topic rather than to just perpetuate partisan allegiances to one idea, as we see far too often in our society’s debating forums.

Just a word on the outcome of the RP debate; a number of motions were proposed, some of which were passed, others weren’t, but it was difficult to gauge the position of the house on the issue of fracking in general. There were moments when I thought that we were overwhelmingly anti-fracking and then there were times when I could have easily imagined the house voting in its favour. Unfortunately, the final motion was voted on by standing along a spectrum, which whilst it gave a very interesting impression of how wide ranging views on this issue are and how yes/no votes can be flawed ways to establish the feeling of a house, it left me wondering what our final conclusion was.

Overall, it was a great experience from getting the coach to London from Cardiff and back in 14 hours, walking for an hour through the lit-up central London (and back again) on a random Tuesday evening and debating an issue that definitely needs to be debated in a way that I, unfortunately, don’t think many has been conducted.

Thanks a lot to the organisers; I hope we can come again sometime!

-The United Words Team-

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