On Thursday 13th September, Friends of the Earth Scotland & Biofuelwatch organised a discussion on Bioenergy in the Scottish Parliament, outlining the weaknesses of the current approach adopted by trans-nationals such as Eon (who run the large-scale biomass near in Lockerbie). Alison Johnstone (Green Party) MSP sponsored the event.
Three speakers made it abundantly clear that subsidy of large-scale biomass and biofuels by the Scottish Government cannot be counted as a green solution, and should not be classed as ‘renewable’ energy. Building infrastructure and dependence on large-scale biomass and biofuels is damaging and not a way forward to meet Scotland’s target to reduce greenhouse gasses – with substantial impacts on environment and human rights impacts in UK and elsewhere. There will, however, be immediate financial profits to those companies who take advantage of governmental subsidy, using loopholes that it seems more than likely the Scottish Parliament’s new resolution will allow.
This message needs emphasising: Scotland can only produce a fraction of wood products needed for large-scale biomass developments. Large-scale biomass negatively distorts land-use in UK and elsewhere, and internationally will deprive communities of forest resources for the long-term future.
Almuth Ernsting, Biofuelwatch Co-Director, made it clear that adequate regulatory systems that guarantee sustainability and social justice are NOT in place, and thus are unable to guarantee that the biomass used meets sustainability criteria. Effectively the current regulatory systems that ‘promise’ sustainability amount to the wood industry’s self-regulation and she gave numerous examples of how certification processes for biomass products shipped in from abroad, certified as ‘sustainable, had allowed landgrabbing, human rights abuses and major environmental damage . Biofuelwatch produce very thoroughly researched information – and will shortly be commenting on measures put through the Scottish Parliament, see http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/
Mark Haldane, Community Campaigner, Grangemouth Community Council, gave a local perspective on Biomass as renewable energy – living in the centre of Grangemouth, the prospect of a 110 metre chimney a mere 200 metres from his house galvanised community council action. Even at this height, the pollution impact would not be solved. Mark Haldane noted the lack of support available to community councils to take on well-funded transnationals (who hire the best lawyers), and made a plea for the Scottish Government to level the playing field. Mark Haldane negotiated a Public Enquiry on plans for large-scale biomass plant in Grangemouth, and the final report is awaited.
Scale is a key concept. Local production and consumption of forest products on a small scale has much to offer. This is something that Scotland can take forward. But feeding the proposed biomass power stations means consuming wood imported from elsewhere – including North America, Europe, Asia. This is a heavy industry, oil-based, and depending on exploitation of soil, destroying forest structure and having a huge, often hidden, impact on local communities. The UK already exceeds its own forest footprint just in terms of paper use, while Scotland currently uses at least FIVE TIMES as much forest products as Scotland could possibly produce (it already has to import 4/5ths of the forest products it uses). Any development of industrial scale biomass energy will only add to that imbalance.
Time is a second issue. If you use wood for construction, the carbon is locked up. If it is burnt, it is released immediately, substantially adding to our carbon footprint in the short term, not reducing it. Trees take at least a generation to grow, and current industry plans are to replace bio-diverse old forests with biodiversity-poor mono-cultures that have far less capacity for locking up carbon
Maggie Haggith, poet/activist gave an excellent presentation: ‘What and who will be squashed underfoot if we increase our forest footprint on the rest of the world?’ Maggie showed the power of reasoning both through knowledge and emotion, creating stories and examples making the issues accessible. Her poem Forest contained many memorable lines, including:
a bud - becomes a soul, a whole, breathing planet.
Maggie Haggith scrutinised the language used – replanting? Replacing an ancient tree in old growth woodland with three tiny monocultured saplings? Industry-favoured alien species are quick-growing, but can have unintended consequences; for example, replacing native forests with thirsty eucalyptus in Indonesia has had extremely damaging impacts on local peatlands by drying them out, thereby increasing CO2 emissions. Unproductive wasteland? These can be weasel words for land-grabbing, and may involve evicting local people from ancestral lands. Forest products as low-carbon? About as good as an aeroplane!
This event equipped me to question both language and policy regarding the commodification of ‘forests’ – ‘forests’ are becoming a system of industrial scale wood production for short-term profit in distant places with little real regard to overall carbon emissions, sustainability or human rights
Over the summer of 2012, I a concentrating my blog activity on this site - working with others to develop a network for creative environments in the Scottish Borders. Keep an eye out for its message board, discussion, and for notices of meetings.
Nora Bateson, daughter of Gregory Bateson, is touring with a film she herself made, about her father’s ideas. As she said in her introduction, his ideas are shown through the lens of a father-daughter relationship, it is her own viewpoint. She uses tapes made by Bateson near his death, and the film combines footage from different epsiodes in his life to illustrate some themes, continuity in his academic career as he moved between social anthropology, systems theory, psychology. You learn that, throughout, he sought patterns that connected things and had the ability to turn things to new angles, indicating relationships between things that would escape a more partial view. Apart from this capacity of recontextualisation, he also sought the ‘difference that made a difference’ – asking what makes something distinct.
I have not read his books: I can but comment on the film as a non-specialist. On one hand I was impressed, and became curious about details of his work. On the other, I was bothered not to learn about Batesons’s own context – how were others thinking at that time, and how did he relate to them? And how does his work now look, from the disciplines in which he worked? For example, the double-bind theory of schizophrenia, I believe, has not stood the test of time. Had the film been made by contemporary anthropologists say, it might well have been a different account - of the history of ideas and how they are reviewed by empirical work and critical attention.We were not given Bateson in dialogue, but rather a monologue. For example, at one point in the film, the response by a Jungian analyst with whom he was in conversation was cut.
The discussion with the panel and the audience, led by Nora Bateson herself, left the impression that Bateson is being revived as a guru. It would seem confusing to become a disciple however, as he was adept at averting and circumnavigating the ‘point’ that others might seek. There is a seduction in this, an appealing possibility. As someone who finds it hard to see and observe disciplinary constraints, I could be tempted to claim that my approach is a step towards ecological thinking, and to present this virtuously. But – to step back – what specifically, were we talking about? Nora Bateson insisted that the pursuit of knowledge has become terribly fractured, that the problem is that atomised knowledge is not reinserted into its context. The discussion took a turn to Buddhism and the idea of oneness. More prosaically, I am not convinced by a generalisation that scientific expertise is blinkered. Instead, I believe that – with climate science at least – there is a tendency to shoot the messenger.
This is not to say that I disagreed with Bateson (that would be hard) but I this film alone gives a partial and possibly misleading picture. A maverick, ahead of his time, maybe. But what does this add to contemporary discussion? and – even more importantly – what considered action might his ideas lead to?
Acknowledgements and thanks to Perdita Phillips for making these very helpful ideas available in an early form. For further info on Perdy’s work see www.perditaphillips.com
Perdita Phillips is an Australian environmental artist who grounds her practice with a thorough understanding of ecology as a science. Current written work in development includes reflection on ecosystem complexity and adaptive art practices: asking what makes good environmental art? and what kinds of possibilities are there for changing situations?
Perdy makes it clear we need to scrutinise preconceptions, and let go of the idea that nature is balanced. Rather nature is in flux, and natural processes have no single goal. Humans are a fundamental component of ecosystems, we are living animals after all. We should be wary of concepts of ‘wilderness’, that we have fallen from Eden, that Nature is benign. Instead, we should understand ourselves within complex adaptive systems – characterised by connectivity and interdependence, uncertainty and risk. Resilience rather than balance becomes a key principle – capacity to absorb disturbance, without transforming structure.
“ The capacity of an ecosystem to tolerate disturbance without collapsing into a qualitatively different state that is controlled by a different set of processes. A resilient ecosystem can withstand shocks and rebuild itself when necessary. Resilience in social systems has the added capacity of humans to anticipate and plan for the future.”http://www.resalliance.org/564.php
So, Perdy asks, what is a complexity / resilience aesthetic? Sacha Kagan is an academic making a contribution here.
“The systems sensibility will be like that of the musical ear which perceives the competitions, symbioses, interferences, overlaps of themes in one same symphonic stream, where the brutal mind will only recognise one single theme surrounded by noise.’ (Sacha Kagan, 2010, p17 quoting Edgar Morin)
Thinking of artwork, Perdy suggests the following possibilities:
• Works that explore ecological processes rather than focus on single objects
• Works that revisit place as belonging-in-flux
• Works that think at different scales of time and space
• Works that create complex adaptive systems
Artists may engage in a process of questioning, be conversationalists or catalysts, agents for interruptions or change. We might initiate thinking and working across boundaries, towards transdisciplinarity – doing things that sociologists, scientists and environmental managers might not initially understand or want. Artists can have the value of putting complexity/uncertainty into the mix.
* Kagan, S (2010) Cultures of sustainability and the aesthetics of the pattern that connects, Futures, 42 (10) 1094-1101.
* Haley D (2011) Art, Ecology and Reality: the potential for Transdisciplinarity. Paper presented at the V Mediterranean Congress of Aesthetics, 2011. Art Emotion and Value, Cartagena, Spain http://www.um.es/vmca/download/docs/david-haley.pdf
Extract from a document from Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, in preparation for Durban Climate Talks (attached below):
Recent developments regarding climate science
There have been two deeply concerning developments in climate change science over the past few months. Firstly, a recent U.S. Department of Energy report highlighted that global greenhouse gas emissions have increased so significantly – even during a period of global recession – that they now exceed even the „worst-case scenario‟ that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had projected in their last main report in 2007.
Secondly, the International Energy Agency, has given its starkest warning yet about global energy consumption patterns. Its World Energy Outlook 2011 report concluded that “the door to 2°C is closing”, referring to the agreement reached at the UN climate change talks in Cancun last year to keep global temperatures no more than 2°C higher than they were in 1990. Their report continues by saying that, assuming that recent government policy commitments are implemented „in a cautious manner‟, „the world is on a trajectory that results in a level of emissions consistent with a long-term average temperature increase of more than 3.5°C. Without these new policies, we are on an even more dangerous track, for a temperature increase of 6°C or more.‟
See the Guardian environment blog for Stephan Lewandowsky’s forceful argument that climate scientists’ emails are not a scandal but the attacks on those scientists and a growing anti-science movement are.
he reviews the lack of eveidence that any previous charges levelled at climate scientists were justified:
‘These real climategates are the tip of an iceberg of venality enveloping anti-science interests and their enablers.
And just a few hours ago, another illegal release of personal emails among scientists was dumped on to the world in the lead-up to the next climate conference in Durban. First Copenhagen, now Durban. When the science is so rock solid that it can no longer be reasonably doubted, all that is left is to steal private correspondence in a desperate attempt to disparage those who are trying to protect the world from the risks it is facing.’