Environment and Energy

In the marquee scene from the 2010 documentary Gasland, nominated earlier this year for an Academy Award, a man is shown warily holding a lighter underneath his running kitchen faucet. The flame quickly ignites the tapwater, briefly producing a fireball in the sink. Something appears to have gone wrong—and the culprit, the film inveighs, is the sinister local shale gas industry. Gasland’s incredulous depiction of flammable drinking water is but one expression of the anti-shale gas sentiment that is increasingly permeating American popular consciousness.

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In 1986, the then-editor of The New Republic, Michael Kinsley, famously asked whether anyone could find a headline more boring than “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative,” which had recently appeared on the Times op-ed page. The jibe was really a backhanded compliment, of course—Canada’s virtue was so automatic it could just be assumed. It was big news in Canada when, in 2008, the country slipped from the top-ten list of the world’s most peaceful countries (all the way to eleventh). By this year, it was back in eighth, 74 places above the U.S. and, when liberals in the U.S.

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