|The industrialisation of the Scottish Highlands: construction of the Beauly-Denny power line|
Nearly three years ago I wrote a piece called Global Warming, Wind Farms and the Wild that resulted in a long and sometimes acrimonious debate. Much more recently I’ve been involved in discussions and arguments on social networking sites that have also become very heated. Unsurprisingly, as this is a very emotive subject. It is with trepidation that I return to it. I am doing so because I want to expand on my original piece and make it absolutely clear where I stand as I’ve found that I can’t do this in short responses on social networking sites. I expect to be attacked for some, perhaps all, of my views. In the last few years I’ve been denounced as an enemy of the planet for opposing wind farms in wild places and also denounced for doing nothing about wind farms in wild places because I won’t say all wind farms are useless and a scam. To be able to say that every wind farm is essential, regardless of location, or that every wind farm is evil, regardless of location, would be nice and simple. Unfortunately I think the reality is much more complex.
I’ve changed the order of the three subjects from that in my three-year old piece to better reflect my view of their significance to my approach to these issues. So I’ll start with the heart of it all: wild land.
My primary concern is the protection, conservation and restoration of wild land. Here and now I am directly involved in campaigns for wild land in Scotland as I have been for many years but I also support campaigns and organisations in other countries. Having walked in many other places I have seen the threats to wild land from developments and exploitation in too many of them. Whether these threats come from renewable energy, carbon-based energy, mining, deforestation, tourist development or anything else doesn’t matter. They must be fought. With regard to wind turbines, the big threat to the Scottish hills, I’ll quote from what I wrote three years ago: “Environmentalists say that covering the hills in wind turbines, roads and power lines is necessary because otherwise the hills will suffer due to global warming. So destroying them now is okay because if we don’t they’ll be destroyed in the future? No, this is not okay. The price for combating global warming cannot be the trashing of wild places. To do so would be to so diminish the world that it would not be worth saving anyway. If wild places, the environment we come from and depend on, cannot be saved then what can? Wilderness, I truly believe, is essential to the human spirit. It’s not an add-on, not an option. We need it.” I stand by that.
My love of wild places came from direct experience that began in childhood when I explored the woods, fields and coast of Lancashire where I was brought up. Many, many years later when I became aware that wild places were not just there forever I read conservationists and outdoors people whose words guided my thoughts. Here are a few significant and important quotations from them:
“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” Aldo Leopold. A Sand County Almanac.
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.” John Muir
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.” Edward Abbey. Desert Solitaire.
“To find a wholly wild scene, unmarked by man’s building, one has to go ever farther into the hills. …… The tale of man’s activity in the Highlands has been one of ruthless exploitation, in which, with some rare exceptions, he has taken all and given little. It will not be easy to stem the tide.” W.H.Murray. Scotland’s Mountains.
“I suggest that we little men had no damned right even to consider such vandalism – for any reason at all.” Colin Fletcher on proposals to dam the Grand Canyon. The Man Who Walked Through Time.
In Scotland the current main threat to wild land comes from wind farms. Opponents of wind farms in the hills often argue that wind farms are useless, expensive and just a scam. The debate of how much or little energy they produce and whether it’s worth the cost is in my view irrelevant to their location on wild land. It really doesn’t matter. They shouldn’t be built there full stop. They shouldn’t be built there because they destroy the very properties that make wild land so valuable. And that applies to any other form of development. Long before wind farms were thought of W.H.Murray wrote “Intrusive structures, whether dams or construction yards for oil production platforms, or factory buildings, are essential to the nation. There is no need to do without them, for they could invariably be sited elsewhere than the regions of outstanding landscape quality, sometimes at a greater cost in money, which civilized man should be prepared to pay”. Murray was and is right.
As I wrote three years ago I am not a scientist. On science matters I accept the findings of the majority of scientists working in relevant fields. This seems to me the only logical approach. All the major scientific organisations and societies worldwide are in agreement that the evidence shows that the climate is warming at such a rate that it will cause major problems and that human activities, specifically the burning of fossil fuels, is at least partly responsible. Of course this isn’t and can’t be absolute – it wouldn’t be scientific if it was – and scientists don’t know everything about climate change by a long way. Further research is ongoing and is essential. Various models make different predictions about that is likely to happen. There are so many variables, some of which we are probably not even aware of, that there is no certainty about outcomes. But all the models suggest potential problems.
Given this, I think we should be trying to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and move to energy conservation and renewable energy. I think anyway that the pollution produced by fossil fuels both in their production and their use is a good reason to minimise their use. And wild places are not just threatened by wind farms. Oil exploration is a huge threat to the Arctic wilderness and tar sand exploitation is destroying vast areas of wild forests on the edge of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta.
A Few Final Thoughts
Edward Abbey wrote “I come more and more to the conclusion that wilderness, in America or anywhere else, is the only thing left that is worth saving.” (A Voice Crying In The Wilderness). At times I am tempted to agree with him. But then I remember everything that is positive about civilisation – books, malt whisky, music, health care, natural history, to name the first things that came into my head – and disagree. Wilderness is worth saving though. In fact it’s essential and it’s important not to be distracted from this. It’s also important to enjoy wild places too. Getting bogged down in endless urban meetings and papers and losing contact with the natural world can mean forgetting its worth defending (something a few environmental groups seem to have done). Here are John Muir and Edward Abbey again:
|In Abbey Country|
“Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” John Muir.
“One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am - a reluctant enthusiast....a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there. So get out there and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space.” Edward Abbey