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‘Fracking’: Promoter and destroyer of ‘the good life’

Evensen, Darrick, Stedman, Rich
Journal of rural studies 2018 v.59 pp. 142-152
Canadians, development projects, employment, environmental impact, humans, industry, interviews, issues and policy, roads, rural communities, water quality, United States
When discussing the effects of resource extraction in rural communities, academics commonly focus on specific and concrete impacts that fall nicely into the categories of environmental, economic, and social – for example, effects on water quality, jobs, and roads. A less common way of conceptualising effects of extractive industries, but more akin to the way in which rural residents discuss and experience the complex set of effects, is changes to way of life. A growing literature explores effects on ‘wellbeing’ and ‘the good life’ as important determinants of responses to development projects, and as necessary considerations for policies regulating such development. One approach to conceptualising the good life – Aristotle's ideas of eudaimonia (human flourishing) and the pursuit of eudaimonia (perfectionism) – remains underdeveloped as a means for characterising how rural residents respond to natural resource extraction. We use the example of unconventional gas development (UGD) to illustrate how definitions of human flourishing – and perfectionist pursuit of that flourishing – strongly motivate support for and opposition to a contentious extractive industry in the rural communities where development is occurring or is likely to occur. This occurs through commitments to: a rural way of life, retaining local population, beauty, peace, and/or quiet. Approximately fifty interviews across six US and three Canadian communities support this vital role for conceptions of human flourishing. The import of human flourishing to members of the public, and of them pursuing that flourishing through perfectionism, has crucial implications for communication and policy related to extractive development. Policy makers need to consider how the public's definitions for flourishing shape their support/opposition, and not just to focus on the economic and environmental impacts commonly discussed in policy discourse.