Thursday, May 6, 2021

Colin Jerolmack's "Up to Heaven and Down to Hell"

Colin Jerolmack is Associate Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies at New York University and the author of The Global Pigeon.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Up to Heaven and Down to Hell: Fracking, Freedom, and Community in an American Town, and reported the following:
Page 99 of the book begins a new section of the chapter called “My Land.” It begins, “Private land leasing, as it turned out, routinely violated the Lockean proviso by creating spillover effects that worsened the well-being of others in the community and infringed on their freedom to benefit from their own property. Just ask Scott McClain, who created a Facebook page to document how his ‘beautiful parcel of land’ was being damaged by petroleum companies operating on land leased by Poor Shot Hunting Camp.” The rest of the page details how Scott granted his neighbors up the mountain an easement to use his driveway, seeing it as the neighborly thing to do, but how this led to major problems when his neighbors leased their land for gas drilling: all the heavy truck traffic servicing the mountaintop gas wells rumbled right by his house, cracking its foundation and crumbling its chimney.

Page 99 is a strong candidate for one of the better pages to introduce readers to what the book is about. At the center of my book is the peculiar fact that America is the only country in the world where property rights commonly extend “up to heaven and down to hell.” I detail how American property law was influenced by John Locke, who believed that property rights should be unrestricted. The only caveat, in Locke’s perspective, is if exercising property rights undermines others’ ability to enjoy their own property. This is the so-called Lockean proviso. Landowners are granted the liberty to lease their mineral estate for fracking without seeking permission from neighbors, but I argue they should not be because leasing violates the Lockean proviso by producing spillover effects that harm neighbors’ ability to enjoy their own property. Readers of page 99 alone would not know what the Lockean proviso is, so context would be missing. But it is the moment where I link this central idea of the Lockean proviso to the argument of why mineral rights should be restricted, which is a central moment of the book. And the book tries to situate big ideas in narrative stories of people’s everyday experiences. This page does that.
Learn more about Up to Heaven and Down to Hell at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue