STANDS SCOTLAND WHERE IT DID?
The article that follows is written by Fiona Sinclair to mark the passing of World Environment Day. Fiona has had articles published before on this site which were very well received by my readers. World Environment Day, 2022 – Stands Scotland where it did? On World Environment Day, where does Scotland stand? Looking back overContinue reading "STANDS SCOTLAND WHERE IT DID?"
The article that follows is written by Fiona Sinclair to mark the passing of World Environment Day. Fiona has had articles published before on this site which were very well received by my readers.
World Environment Day, 2022 – Stands Scotland where it did?
On World Environment Day, where does Scotland stand? Looking back over the past 30 or more years, very little has changed for the better, and much is a great deal worse, in terms of Scotland’s environment and, especially, the global environment.
In the early 90s, there seemed to be a turning point in environmental politics. As with many historical turning points, it’s turned out to be a whole series of missed opportunities, brought about through the active undermining of needed change by sectional interests and because of the acquiescence of those who could have done much more to bring about that change.
In 1991, I was completing my research and interviews for the Scottish chapters of a book on community campaigns against the incineration and dumping of toxic waste. I ran my own campaign, with a small group of people, against a toxic waste incinerator next to Inverness Airport.
Although the company running my local toxic waste incinerator – counter-intuitively called
Nontox – persuaded the Scottish Office Reporter to give them retrospective planning permission for an incinerator that had been running for two and a half years, they chose to close the incinerator, citing
local opposition as their reason for doing so. We had thought we’d lost. Other campaigns around the country were also successful, most of them stressing the potential effects on health and the environment – even though these were nothing like as well understood as they are now. One of my fellow campaigners took over the co-ordinating role for Communities Against Toxics across the UK. His campaigning emphasis was on human health effects and damage to the environment. However, in spite of the success of this approach, in fending off waste incineration and inculcating understanding of environmental matters at grassroots level, the funding for co-ordinating and supporting community campaigns dried up. It was a massive missed opportunity for the environmental movement in communicating its message, because starting with the self-interest of protecting health got people’s attention in a way that nothing else did. They were then receptive to other environmental information.
So, 30 years on, there are now a tranche of waste incinerators in Scotland because, although I helped to raise awareness of another batch of planning applications over a decade ago, there is a limit to what unfunded individuals can do. As a full-time carer, I don’t have the time to continually monitor and campaign against such developments, however much I know about the damage they do to human health and the wider environment. If, however, even one political party or major environmental organisation had used this issue as a starting point for educating the public about environmental issues, I am certain that, not only would the planning applications have been defeated but, as a country, we would be much further along the road to a clean environment, with better health and a more prosperous future. We would also be using our resources appropriately, not only to benefit Scotland, but the world as a whole, because our natural resources hold the key to many of the interlocking problems that beset the world today.
In the early 90s, I was also a member of the SNP’s Environment Policy Review Group, having been nominated because of my activism on toxic waste and wider knowledge of environmental issues. The group used the Brundtland Report as the basis for constructing the party’s environment policy, on the recommendation of two of its members, Ron Greer and Derek Pretswell. Ron is the author of this article, hosted on the Yours for Scotland blog:- https://yoursforscotlandcom.wordpress.com/2020/06/22/land-reform-crucial-to-scotland/
World Environment Day, 2022 – Stands Scotland where it did?
When I was sent the names of my fellow members of the review group, I was excited to see the names of Greer and Pretswell, as I had read about their work with the Loch Garry Tree Group in an excellent magazine called
Environment Now which, sadly, ceased publication some years ago. Their work in practical ecology mirrored another article in the same publication around the same time, about a farmer in the Pentland Hills, who was buying huge quantities of earthworms and making seemingly eccentric choices of blackcurrant bushes in his woodland planting regime. He reckoned that the problem on his farm was down to poor soil fertility, not drainage.
Thirty years later, this approach would at least roughly fit the definition of Regenerative Agriculture, just as Greer and Pretswell’s could be described as Restoration Ecology. Whereas Greer and Pretswell’s philosophy and ideas, based on that of earlier Scottish ecologists and contemporary ecologists from the Nordic countries, was not given the official stamp of approval in their homeland, the very same principles have been applied with huge success in other parts of the world*. Most particularly, just as the main association of organic growers in the UK is called the Soil Association, Greer and Pretswell put soil right at the heart of their thinking on ecology, as can be seen in this blog entry:- http://www.andywightman.com/archives/329 – Eroding the Mountains of
Thirty years later, that focus is now becoming mainstream.
In essence, both Regenerative Agriculture and Restoration Ecology involve working with nature, rather than against it, because many current practices in agriculture and land management are deeply damaging and unsustainable, reducing the overall productivity of land over the longer term. The UK is now waking up to the possibilities of soil and biomass not just as carbon stores, but also by creating and maintaining that biomass, in the form of trees and other plants, being able to prevent flooding, soil erosion and to increase soil fertility which, in the light of climate change, is a pressing concern,.
More and more research is revealing the importance of biological systems in both the health of the land and its people. The importance of soil organisms and the microbiome in the human gut are almost analogous. The pity is, that we are now finding out just how much damage has been done to both, not least because of synthetic chemicals and plastics, which are now ubiquitous in our environment. Micro and nano plastics are found in all the oceans of the world, are present in the air we breathe, the water we drink and the soil we grow our food crops in. They are even in tree fruits, such as apples. Fish have so little to eat in a depleted and degraded marine environment, caused by human over-exploitation and pollution, that they are eating plastic. Microplastics are found within human cells and the damage these cause is now a hot topic for research. The initial findings include cell death and allergic reactions.
Single-use plastics, which are a large part of packaging materials, have increased exponentially over the past 30 years. The
developing countries have suffered disproportionately from the export of waste plastics, but we are hardly immune to the damage that they cause, especially given government plans to persist with incineration as a means of waste disposal. The Scottish Government’s review of incineration ruled out any in-depth study of the effects of incineration on human health, but I took some time off to submit my response to their consultation, which included a substantial number of references on this very matter.
So much of the environmental damage that has been done, in Scotland and around the world, has been completely unnecessary. The full costs are unquantifiable, not least because of the synergistic and combined effects of pollutants. We don’t live in a laboratory.
Without any consideration of environmental costs, synthetic textiles are cheaper and more profitable for the clothing industry, but the massive increase in their production, in combination with cheap imports, has been responsible for the near collapse of the Scottish woollens industry, which has had to shift to high-end fashion, to survive the onslaught. Wool is not the only fibre that could make a comeback, but there needs to be an economic incentive to shear sheep and to rear breeds that produce the quality of fleece needed for textiles.
There have always been alternative ways to use resources and to live. Hemp is much touted as a crop – for food, paper, textiles and construction (as
hempcrete) and for its capacity to absorb carbon. New crops are being researched and developed from plants with old roots as crops. These can bring an economic return on what is currently less than productive land;-
• The nettle, on record as the oldest plant textile in Europe, and processed into
Scotch cloth as late as the eighteenth century in Scotland, is now being subsidised as a crop in Schleswig- Holstein. The Italians spin it into a thread, mixed with wool, as nettle fibre has a high tensile strength and, as such, makes a good natural substitute for nylon. The French appreciate nettle cloth for its appearance, which is similar in lustre to silk. The Germans used nettles to make their uniforms during the First World War because, unlike the British, they didn’t have access to Irish linen (which, like nettle, is processed by
retting). Interest in nettle as a textile has been revived because of the environmental problems associated with cotton, which needs a lot of water, but cannot grow in northern climates. Cotton is usually grown with a hefty amount of pesticides, too.
• A recent research report on gorse by the Hutton Institute revealed that this shrub has excellent nutritional properties, and claimed that gorse alone could feed the entire
population of Scotland. Gorse was once used as animal fodder – indeed, there is a gorse mill, which was used to process this spiny shrub, at the National Folk Museum of Wales. When large tracts of the Amazon rainforest are being burnt down to grow soya beans for animal feed, surely with modern processing, gorse could replace some of that feedstock?
ecological slum (to use Ron Greer’s description) that is Scotland’s degraded land will not be restored to health by taxpayers handing over large sums of money to landowner lairds –
green or otherwise – to pay minimum wages for planting trees. The potential productive capacity of land that has suffered from over 300 years of deforestation, overgrazing, muirburn and an absence of human stewardship, is far greater than this. In a pandemic world, where the priorities of a globalised world are being pulled apart, resilience and self-sufficiency are of paramount importance. We need that land for ourselves, not for a playground and
green investment for the rich.
My thanks to Fiona for this article. There is a lot of sense here. Fiona does not complain in a negative way, she makes constructive suggestions about alternative routes. I was particularly pleased that she recognises the excellent work of both Ron Greer snd Derek Pretswell and highlighting that while being recognised in other countries these long term Independence stalwarts they have been largely ignored by the SNP, to Scotland’s undoubted loss.
I am, as always
YOURS FOR SCOTLAND.
- For a before and after photo of the restoration of the Loess Plateau in China, go to:-
https://regenerationinternational.org/2016/06/07/what-massive-land- rehabilitation-project-teaches-us-about-ecological-health-poverty-and-our- prospects-for-the-future/
better still, a couple of film versions of the story:- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLdNhZ6kAzo
- Hope in a Changing Climate – by John D. Liu (2009) – originally televised on the BBC in the UK.
you only need to watch the first 10 minutes, to get the picture. This transformation took just 15 years. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQBeYffZ_SI
- shorter version
Definitions https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological- sciences/restoration-ecology
BEAT THE CENSORS
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