Recently in Conservation Category

Put up a parking lot.

| | Comments (0)
herbkohler.jpgNote to The Donald: if your proposals can't even win over golf-obsessed American plumbing millionaires, just give up now.

The Scotsman asked Herb Kohler if he'd been following the Trump saga: 

"Only to the extent that Donald makes his interest known. I think there have been some setbacks recently and, on the one hand, that might make him more determined to see this through. On the other, he might just say there are other things I can do. He always keeps quite a number of irons in the fire.

"I've seen around the proposed site and part of the problem is that it is so lovely. Everyone gets upset when someone wants to change something so good and put all that concrete around it."

What would John Muir do?

| | Comments (3)
OceanWindTurbines.jpgThe recent much-delayed and much-caveated approval given to the Beauly-Denny grid upgrade was met with many predictable responses. The renewables crowd are delighted, and the Ramblers are appalled. So far so obvious. The environmental movement is generally supportive too, as you'd expect, with one glaring exception.

The John Muir Trust. They didn't welcome the unlocking of Scotland's clean energy potential, or breathe a sigh of public relief for the contribution this scheme would make to tackling climate change. 

No, they condemned the announcement in very clear terms. Previously they have even implied that a judicial review might be in the offing

Don't get me wrong, the failures of administrations north and south of the border have made me very fond of judicial review, but is this a consistent position for the JMT to have adopted? Specifically, is it the position John Muir himself would have taken?

The Sierra Club, founded by Muir and friends, has posted a decent concise biography if you want to find out more about this remarkable man, born in East Lothian but who is rightly recognised as the grandfather of the American environmental movement.

Earlier this week I got into reading some of John Muir's works for the first time. Many of them are freely available here. Amongst them is "The Cruise of the Corwin", a colourful set of tales from a voyage Muir took through the Arctic in 1881. It's pretty rude about some of the local people, especially the Aleuts, but is fascinating and well worth a read.

One of the Corwin's stops was on Wrangel Island, claimed by the Corwin's captain for America but more logically now one of Russia's most northerly possessions. While there, Muir speculated that "perhaps the ice does not leave the shore free more than once in ten years." 

He also commented on the opportunities scientists have to study "the magnificent polar bear among the ice - the master animal of the north", and noted that "no portion of the world is so barren as not to yield a rich and precious harvest of divine truth".

Far to the east of Wrangel, the Corwin subsequently visited Unalaska, part of the Aleutian chain. There, while considering the mountains in the area, Muir observed the following before going on to consider the changes to glaciation since the Ice Age:

"The noblest of them all was Makushin, about nine thousand feet high and laden with glaciers, a grand sight, far surpassing what I had been led to expect. There is a spot on its summit which is said to smoke, probably mostly steam and vapor from the infiltration of water into the heated cavities of the old volcano. The extreme summit of Makushin was wrapped in white clouds, and from beneath these the glaciers were seen descending impressively into the sunshine to within a thousand or fifteen hundred feet of sea-level. This fine mountain, glittering in its showy mail of snow and ice, together with a hundred other peaks dipping into the blue sky, and every one of them telling the work of ice or fire in their forms and sculpture - these, and the sparkling sea, and long inreaching fiords, are a noble picture to add to the thousand others which have enriched our lives this summer in the great Northland."

It's clear to me that this was an environment he cared about, a harsh but important place he would have fought to defend if it had been threatened in his day as it is in ours. If he had lived in a world where the choice was climate change or radical changes to our energy supply, where pylons would bring clean energy to the grid and help preserve all the world's vulnerable places, I'm sure he'd have seen the bigger picture and have been on the same side as the Greens, as WWF, and as Friends of the Earth

I challenged the JMT on Twitter about this as the Beauly-Denny upgrade was being announced, and got a response from their official account. It read:

"@twodoctors Two words, Hetch Hetchy"

Hetch Hetchy, a valley in Yosemite, was threatened during Muir's lifetime with being dammed to provide water for San Francisco. His trenchant views on the issue are here and here, and although his campaign was lost, others have still not given up. If they win, as I hope they do, they estimate it will take fifty years before the valley becomes an "established, relatively mature ecosystem."

There's next to nothing in common between Hetch Hetchy and the Beauly-Denny line as far as I can see. In one case a beautiful natural environment was unnecessarily flooded, erased, wiped off the map. In the other, some pylons will come down and some pylons will go up, but with no permanent ecological damage. 

If the best way to transmit power changes, or our energy network becomes more decentralised, the pylons will come down and the only mark they will leave will be a stub of concrete, soon covered over, plus some photos of what they looked like. It wouldn't take fifty years like Hetch Hetchy - within fifty days you wouldn't know the Beauly-Denny line had ever been there unless you knew exactly what you were looking for.

The logic of the comparison, as I understand it, is therefore as follows:

John Muir was against the Hetch Hetchy development. Beauly-Denny is also a development. Therefore John Muir would have opposed it.

No, he wouldn't have, not unless he came back as a climate change denier. It's false logic. There's a massive and irreversible threat to Scotland's wild spaces, but it's not from renewables, it's from climate change

The John Muir Trust do plenty of other admirable work, including conservation work parties and all the rest, sure. Sadly this work is undermined by their opposition to Beauly-Denny, as it is by their regular opposition to wind turbine applications. These misguided campaigns no doubt bring in the donations, but they also betray a deep disregard for the defining environmental issue of our age, as it affects both Scotland and the planet.
The BBC website's environment correspondent keeps a well-informed and well-written blog, which I commend to you, especially on conservation matters. Having said that, I couldn't agree with the conclusion of this piece: Does climate cloud the bigger picture?

In it, he looks at the relationships between some key environmental threats, including climate change, to ask if our priorities are wrong. There's an (unannotated) version of this chart to illustrate the links as he sees them: 

The centre of it all, for Richard, is population growth, the third rail of environmental campaigns for decades. As a simple mathematical fact, humanity's environmental footprint can be considered as a per capita impact multiplied by the population, but that tells us so little, not least because of local differences and local opportunities.

Scotland could, for instance, have a much lower environmental impact by putting science first on fisheries, not the SNP's short-termism. This country could actually start to lead on climate change if Ministers delivered a universal insulation programme, or if they funded better public transport instead of all their motorway building projects. We could be facing a lower level of habitat loss if Ministers hadn't backed Trump in Aberdeenshire. 

None of those changes would require a draconian population policy, but I also disagree with Charles Moore on this: choosing to have a smaller family is certainly anything but irresponsible.
martinford.jpgFour months after he resigned from the Liberal Democrats, and a bit more than eighteen months after his casting vote saw Donald Trump's daft golf scheme temporarily hit the rough, Martin Ford has joined the Greens.

Here's his statement in full, released today:

"I believe we need a more liberal and democratic society, one where power and wealth are more equally shared.

"Fairer distribution implies a reduction in the use of natural resources and waste generation to sustainable levels, so future generations are not unfairly penalised. We have to recognise that there are absolute limits to the planet's capacity to cope with human activity. Creating a society that respects planetary limits - for example, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions - is the biggest challenge we face.

"I have been involved in politics for most of my adult life. I got involved in order to further the liberal, democratic and environmental ideals I believe in. I have stood for election and been elected to Aberdeenshire Council three times on a commitment to support those ideals on the Council.

"After a period in which I have not been a member of any political party, I am joining the Scottish Green Party to further those same liberal, democratic and environmental principles.

"In decisions ranging from road building to airport expansion, all of the four main parties are still pursuing policies that will significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions while promising to reduce them. No wonder there is a serious problem of public trust in politicians.

"I have concluded that only the Green Party can be relied upon to consistently support policies that will prevent climate change emissions reaching dangerous levels. That alone is more than enough reason to join."

A lot of people in Scotland think protecting our natural assets is more important than sucking up to Donald Trump. Plenty of people think gouging the Aberdeen Western Peripheral through rural Aberdeenshire is a crazy idea. 

Even more want real action on climate change, constructive policies to make a real difference, not more hot air. It's more clear than ever that the Tories, Labour, the Nats and the Liberal Demcrats cannot be trusted on these issues. 

I'm personally delighted that Martin's joined us. He's both calm and passionate on the issues that matter. He's an outstanding campaigner, someone who put his clear principles ahead of personal advantage. In short, he's a Green.

The plastic bag queen.

| | Comments (0)
turtleplasticbag.jpgToday's relatively consensual debate on the Climate Change Bill (Robin's fierce speech will hopefully appear here soon) included the odd sour note. The oddest came from Angela Constance, normally part of the ultra-loyal SNP aspirational backbench group. 

She spoke up against the section of her government's Bill which would (or would not, it's that kind of legislation) reduce plastic bag usage. And she's got form, too. I refer you to a curious exchange from November last year.

If you're too busy to click that last link, here's the summary. AC claims a 90% reduction in plastic bags would lead to a 13,700 tonne increase in our waste levels. The Minister vaguely humours her. AC then claims that a 50% reduction in plastic bags would lead to a mere 4,000 reduction in our waste levels. The Minister makes some sensible comments about towns going plastic bag free.

Can anyone explain the bizarre and contradictory maths in that last question, or give me any idea why she's taken up a crusade Don Quixote would have blanched at? After all, we regularly find out that the consequences of our plastic bag habits are even worse than we thought.

Touchy Trump.

| | Comments (1)
Thumbnail image for trumphaircheckinfo.jpgDebra Storr's posted a letter from The Donald Himself on her blog following her detention on his land, and it's fascinating stuff. 

From it one can learn that he:
  • Is opposed to the use of PR and the media: "It is disturbing that you chose to voice these concerns through a Glasgow based public relations firm instead of the proper and customary channels."
  • Has just worked out that she's against his project altogether: "It is clear that your intentions are not constructive.."
  • Remains unaware of his own financial difficulties: "Our many supporters realize that during these difficult economic times, while other developers have been forced to cancel projects, the Trump International Golf Links - Scotland development is moving forward.."
  • Isn't familiar with the work of the RSPB and others, nor the fact that you don't save a wild space by building on top of it, nor indeed the concept of a split infinitive: ".. we are the only organization that has studied the land at Menie and created a viable program to responsibly manage the site, stabilize the dunes and preserve them for many generations to enjoy."
If you wish to discuss the project and its many shortcomings with him, or perhaps how inappropriate it is for him to try to bully our elected councillors, his phone number is at the bottom of the letter. I'll call later in the week and let you know how I get on.

Also, if you want to emulate his hairdo, the Mail has a guide.

"Post-Trump syndrome."

| | Comments (1)
donaldtrumpcalm.jpgA lot of people have lashed themselves to the mast of the Trump empire, from the First Minister and his predecessor to, most divisively, the upper echelons of the Aberdeenshire Liberals. His golf course and holiday chalets will apparently bring £1bn to the area, 6,000 jobs, and extend the very tourist season itself. Never mind the protected status of the site, this scheme would secure the international glamour (left) other sand dunes can only dream about.

It's lucky for all these brave cheerleaders for Mr Trump that he's such a reliable businessman. Otherwise, one might wonder whether the whole thing is what geeks call vapourware. 

You can ignore his casino business, which has filed for bankruptcy over and over again, because he quit the company last month. Presumably he jumped before he could have his catchphrase used against him. I'm sure these guys are wrong about why that might be, so let's look only at his construction projects.

The $790m Nakheel project in Dubai: suspended. The Trump International Hotel and Tower: loan default, blamed by Trump on the "act of God" known to everyone else as the recession, unfinished, with lawsuit. Trump Tower in New Orleans: on hold. Trump Parc in Stamford: falling debris. Trump Soho condos: breached planning regulations, being nimbied to death.

The list goes on and on, but a particularly scandalous example popped up today. A scheme he was running in Baja California has collapsed, leaving some very angry people who've lost millions in deposits. That article has some extraordinary elements, worth quoting at length.

  • Ivanka assured buyers in an October 2007 newsletter that all Trump projects were immune to a slowdown.
  • All that remains of Trump Baja is a highway billboard with a large photo of Donald Trump that advertises condos for sale.
  • Admiration for the celebrity developer and star of "The Apprentice" has now turned into anger and disbelief as Trump's luxury hotel-condo plan collapsed, leaving little more than a hole in the ground and investors out of their deposits, which totaled $32.2 million.
  • "I can't even stand to see Trump's face on TV."
  • Homeowners and brokers in Baja welcomed the publicity and higher prices that Trump brought. Now they wish he never came.
  • "Everybody is shellshocked. I call it post-Trump syndrome."

I wonder if John Swinney will end up feeling like Guadalupe Mendoza when his unimpeachable decision to clear the Menie plans starts to unravel. Describing her purchase, Mendoza told AP: "I did it in less than a minute. I remember my head was hurting and thinking, 'My God, what was that?' I was thinking maybe I should have asked questions. It was like a roller-coaster ride." 

Martin Ford was right: this obscene scheme should never have gone ahead. The silver lining is obvious, though. The markets and Trump's own incompetence now seem so likely to scupper it that we shouldn't even need the fallback plan.

An actual scandal.

| | Comments (1)
trumpdogagain.jpgWhen the Trump proposal was approved, part of the deal was that it would include affordable houses for local people. This was crucial to the PR, and the local authority even gave him £5m worth of land to build them on. As the Scotsman put it:

"Under current Aberdeenshire Council policy, developers are asked to provide housing for low-income families in return for being granted permission to work on major developments."

Now the planned homes, the affordable and the presumably unaffordable, have all been put on hold, or potentially even scrapped. If the overall planning permission is really dependent on the housing, as local policy demands, has that permission been withdrawn? Fat chance. If the land given was just for this purpose, has it been given back? Unlikely, to say the least. Did hard-up Aberdeenshire even put any terms on that shameless bung? I doubt it.

The Trump plan was always for hotels, chalets and golf only: the homes were just a sweetener, something to help the SSSI-destroying medicine go down, and they were only needed until formal permission was granted less than two weeks ago. The period between Christmas and New Year is also a great time to sneak out one's bad news and avoid Parliamentary criticism.

The only consolation is that the whole thing may now unravel, and just perhaps we could be free of his half bullying, half bribing approach to development. Scotland deserves better.

The Scottish Climate Change Bill.

| | Comments (0)
floodedcars.jpgWell, it's not the Bill I feared, but nor is it the Bill we need. Some areas are better than I expected, others worse, but Parliament has the structure it needs in order to improve the final legislation. 

I'm in a hurry, so all I'll add here are our six recommendations:

i. Accountability. The Bill currently contains no consequences for Ministers who miss their targets. Given that they are responsible for their success or failure, Ministers need to know what will happen if they fail.

ii. Urgency. The current proposal for annual targets suggests a very relaxed start, with very low reductions in emissions until 2020. Earlier shifts will make the biggest difference to Scotland's overall contribution to climate change and provide better opportunities to gain the competitive advantages a low carbon economy will bring. A stronger start is therefore needed. 

iii. Domestic action. The draft Bill contains no limit set on the proportion of Scotland's emissions reductions which can be "bought in" through international credits. It is vital that all or almost all of these reductions are actually achieved here in Scotland. Support for emissions reductions in developing countries is vitally important, but it not a substitute for putting our own house in order.

iv. Scientific independence. The Bill proposes to use the UK Climate Change Committee to provide scientific advice, and to allow Ministers to create a Scottish version if they see fit. However, the Scottish Committee would, if the Bill is unamended, be appointed by Scottish Ministers, not Parliament, which reduces its independence and credibility, not least because Ministers do not always have a working majority in Parliament.

v. Scale. The Bill proposes a long term 2050 target of 80% reductions in Scotland's emissions, but the evidence from the internationally-respected Tyndall Centre and others is that a 90% reduction will be required over this same period.

vi. Policy shift. The Scottish Government's policies as currently designed will aggravate climate change, especially in the areas of transport, energy and demand reduction. Ministers cannot promote airport expansion and a massive road-building programme and simultaneously deliver a credible policy on climate change. The Bill does move towards discussion of the implications for each sector of the economy, but does not mandate sector by sector targets and an action plan to deliver them.

Anything else you'd add? 

And what marks would you give the SNP? I give it a B+, could try harder. It's certainly better than the B- I'd expected.

Give in to your anger.

| | Comments (0)
darthsquirrel.jpgI have mixed feelings about grey squirrels. They're dire news for the reds, and it would be far better if they'd not arrived here from the US. On the other hand, they are still very cute.

If you're a peer, though, you may look at them rather differently. Today's Observer has a piece about the War On Squirrels conducted by Lord Redesdale, the Liberal spokesman on the environment in our absurd upper house. 

He's got it in for the greys, and his colleagues in the Lords reach for some familiar metaphors.

Lady Saltoun, for one, has got class war on her mind: "Red squirrels are rather like quiet, well-behaved people who do not make a nuisance or an exhibition of themselves, or commit crimes, and so do not get themselves into the papers in the vulgar way grey squirrels do."

Lord Chorley implied Godwin, inevitably: "There are three colonies, if that is the right word, in Italy. At least one of them is in the process of crossing the Alps. If they get to Germany there will be a complete invasion taking place."

Lord Inglewood continued in an even more explicit version of the same metaphor: "The red squirrels have had Chamberlains and not Churchills! But it is Churchills that they need!"

I'm not sure Lord Redesdale shooting a squirrel in the head from two inches away can be equated with Churchill's efforts, but it's a great read, with the superstitious pest controller, the dubious funding application, the enthusiastic old dears with blood on the patio, and the "spatchcocked" squirrel in the frying pan. Despite the bloodthirsty joy clearly experienced by our brave squirrel-hunters, you can see their logic. 

Like the squirrels this mob sell to restaurants, though, the House of Lords should clearly carry the standard warning: may contain nuts.

In praise of.. Ecuador.

| | Comments (1)
sealion.jpgIt sounds like tree-hugging taken to the next level - rights for forests, rivers, and even air? 

Yet this constitutional proposal before the Ecuadorian people promises exactly that (detailed wording here), to help Ecuador take on the multinationals who currently use the rivers as open sewers for their industrial waste, amongst other egregious behaviour.

Ecuador has extraordinary natural riches to protect, including the various iconic inhabitants of Galapagos (like the sealion cub pictured above). Constitutional rights might not be the most immediately obvious way to deliver those protections, but it's an interesting idea, and I hope we get a chance to see how well it works.

Don't eat tuna.

| | Comments (0)
tuna.pngThere's no excuse. Greenpeace have done a report (1.7Mb pdf) on Britain's tuna-eating habits, and it's truly appalling. 

I never understood the "but it's dolphin-friendly" argument when tuna themselves are so endangered. I may be a smug vegetarian, but surely, my meat-eating friends, there have to be some limits? Would you eat a rhino? A polar bear? A mountain gorilla?

The report's key findings include:

  • The UK is the second biggest tuna market in the world, consuming 700 million tins in 2006.
  • There are twenty-three tuna populations in the world, and nine are fully fished, four are over-exploited, three are critically endangered, three merely endangered, and three are vulnerable to extinction. 
  • 90% of the global population of predatory fish (like tuna and shark) has already been wiped out.
  • The use of long lines in the Pacific is one of the factors behind a 95% loss of leatherback turtles over the last three decades.
  • Between half a million and 1.4 million sharks die on long lines in the Western Pacific alone.
  • For every thousand tonnes of tuna caught in so-called Fish Aggregation Devices, one hundred and eleven thousand other animals were caught, including sharks, rays, marlins and sea turtles.
Even the Japanese, the biggest tuna consumers, are cutting down because of stock collapse, while here it's sold for cat food.

Commerce or conservation?

| | Comments (0)
pandawwf.jpgThe First Minister has admitted that the plan to bring Chinese pandas to Edinburgh Zoo is "primarily a commercial transaction", not conservation. We knew that already, of course. 

Pandas have been misused this way for centuries, as far back as the reign of Wu Zetian in the 7th century AD. Taiwan came under Panda Attack in 2006, and in 2007 the Chinese claimed they were giving up the habit, but actually they just started charging more.

Exactly what the Royal Bank of Scotland get out of it is unclear, but don't bet against some additional access to Chinese markets.

Your Links At Last


Other Politics



Friends and Stuff I Like

If I've forgotten to link to you, let me know. If I don't want to link to your blog I'll pretend I never got your email.

The party's site of which I am rather proud

Along with Jeff (formerly SNP Tactical Voting) and Malc (formerly In The Burgh), I now co-edit Better Nation, a group blog. Stuff will still appear here, but more will be there. Better Nation

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries in the Conservation category.

Campaigns is the previous category.

Culture is the next category.