As the lead guitarist and singer of punk band Anti-Flag, Justin Sane is known for advocating against war overseas. But in the band’s latest release, the war Sane wants to stop is happening on the borders of his own hometown.
“They sit inside the kitchen, broken, in despair, their livestock sick or dead, their water a toxic cocktail,” Sane sings on “Gasland Terror,” his depiction of the fracking boom in Western Pennsylvania. A Pittsburgh native, Sane sees the sudden influx of natural gas drilling as poison, an infiltration of what he calls “criminal corporations.”
“When they’ve made the money and there’s nothing else to take, they’re going to leave,” he said, drawing a parallel to the fall of Pittsburgh’s steel industry in the early 1980s. “They’re going to leave us with broken communities, with pollution, with all the kinds of problems that fracking brings in.”
Gasland Terror is not a new song, but it is part of a new album called Buy This Fracking Album, an anti-fracking compilation featuring tracks from wildly unsimilar artists like Bonnie Raitt, Michael Franti, and Natalie Merchant. Released Tuesday, the album also features the last-known live recording of Pete Seeger before his death in 2014.
In a phone interview with ThinkProgress, Anti-Flag’s Sane talked about the new album, along with his personal experiences with the fracking boom; his opinion on Pennsylvania politicians and President Obama; and, naturally, his views on the Confederate flag.
EA: You guys have been playing music for 20 years. But for the un-initiated ClimateProgress reader, could you tell me a little bit about Anti-Flag and the political statements you’ve made in the past?
JS: We came out of a punk rock scene and community that really stresses empathy, really stresses caring about more than just yourself. That includes people, that includes the planet — from my perspective that includes all living things.
Part of that point of view is looking around and seeing that the economic system of capitalism is completely unjust. It seems pretty obvious that we don’t live in a democracy. We live in a corporatocracy. We have corporations and a billionaire class that have pretty much bought our government. And that’s something that, particularly with this record, we were really rallying against.
EA: There are a ton of environmental issues out there. There’s vegetarianism, climate change, Arctic drilling — fracking seems to be the one that’s got celebrities up in arms. Why do you think that is?
JS: Fracking for me is a no-brainer. It’s another dirty source of energy. Our oceans are becoming acidic because of human-made environmental waste. It’s so obvious that we have alternatives out there that are clean. That’s the direction we need to move in. And fracking is just taking us from one dirty source of energy to another source. That is the polar opposite direction that humans need to be moving.
For me, that’s the main reason. Let’s get away from this dirty source of energy. It’s literally destroying our planet. There will come a time when the planet will not be able to take any more pollution, and people are going to have to decide: Do we want future generations to actually be able to live? Or are we okay with having this toxic world where eventually we’re going to kill off all the life out of it?
EA: To play devil’s advocate, there are people who say that, at least fracking helps us get away from dirtier sources of energy like coal. It’s lower carbon emitting. It’s a way to transition away from dirtier fuels.
JS: But it’s not clean. Whether it’s global warming, or polluting our water sources, or the oceans: There is a negative that comes out of oil, out of fracking, out of burning coal. There’s always going to be a negative with these dirty sources. Fracking is just a different negative. We’re stealing from Peter to pay Paul.
We don’t need any more transitional dirty fuels — we just need to go clean. Germany is a great example of a company that’s doing that. It’s a huge country. The United States has more resources than any other country in the world. It’s incredible what we could do — there just has to be a political will. And it has to be a will that comes from the people.
EA: There are a bunch of different tones on the album. For example, Michael Franti’s song talks about wanting to see the “flowers blooming” and “boom boxes booming” …
JS: I have to interrupt and say Michael Franti is the coolest dude in the world. I have such a man crush on Michael Franti. He is so cool. And he is a huge human being. He’s a giant guy! He’s got these big feet and his personality is massive, and he’s got this incredible, radiant glow about the guy. He’s just so posi-core. I want to hang out around that guy all day. Like, man, we need more Michael Frantis in the world.
EA: That’s awesome! I loved him when I was in college. Anyway, his song: Flowers blooming. Boombox booming. Yours, the tone is a little more … damning. Why?
JS: Well, we’re from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We’re located in the heart of the Marcellus Shale world. And I’ve just seen it — I’ve seen the environmental devastation that [fracking] creates. And I’ve seen how it harms people. And it’s completely unnecessary.
Anti-Flag started as an anti-war band more than anything. We get a lot of veterans come to our shows who served overseas, and they’re disillusioned. They realize that the people they were sent to fight and kill have much more in common with them than the politicians who sent them to do the fighting and killing. They feel like suckers.
I feel the same way about the issue of fracking, and that’s why the song is damning. I consider these corporations who pollute our planet, who literally ruin people’s lives, I consider them criminal. And that’s why the song has a feel of condemnation. Because I really believe that these people are criminals. I’m really hopeful that someday there will be a day when corporations and CEOs will be held criminally responsible for the actions they’ve taken that knowingly destroy the planet.
EA: Can you talk a little more about being from an area where fracking is prolific?
JS: Because I live in that area, I know guys who are welders working on the rigs. I know guys who operate heavy machinery, manufacturing the pads that they put the wells on.
Those people are just average working class people trying to put a dime in their pocket. I know some of them struggle with the fact that the work they do has the potential to lead to some environmental damage that could harm human life. I think a lot of people care about that.
But they’re living in the reality of the world, where they’re trying to feed their kids and put a roof over their heads. I’m not talking about those people [in the song]. The people I’m talking about are those who have the capacity to put enough resources in place that the whole industry can exist. The reality is, those same workers could be in the green industry. They could be working out in solar fields.
EA: The oil industry makes the morality and empathy arguments too, though. That fracking in Western Pennsylvania is helping farming communities that previously hadn’t been able to make money.
JS: I think you could make the same argument by saying they would much more welcome green energy on their land. They would more welcome a well that is not going to catch on fire, or pollute their water table and effectively destroy their home.
And again, that could be possible. That’s why we have to look, especially in Pennsylvania, at people like Ed Rendell, the former governor. We have to look at Tom Corbett, the former governor. We have to look at our current governor, Tom Wolf.
These people are owned by the fracking industry. They’re just a bunch of whores.
EA: Even Wolf?
JS: He supports it. He’s not against it. In New York state, the governor outlawed fracking. In Pennsylvania, Wolf’s not talking about that. He’s talking about maybe putting a little more of a tax on them. So, from my perspective, if they’re not against it, they’re for it.
You can’t only look at industry executives. You have to look at the politicians who support them as well. You know how I talked about the idea that some of these people I believe should be brought up on criminal charges — I would include those politicians right along with them.
EA: How do you feel President Obama has been handling these issues?
JS: It’s pretty painful. I don’t know if President Obama is well-intentioned or not. He might be. But I think he’s in the pockets of the corporations, and that’s who he represents. Look at this trade negotiation — what he wants, what’s in that.
When I look at Obama, I just see a corporate whore. What else can I say. He’s another corporate-bought politician, put into office by bankers on Wall Street and big money donors.