Wednesday, 3 February 2016
Publish and be Damned! - Part the Second....
OK. Here we go with the other extracts......
"For years I have searched far and wide for real justification for despoliation of Scottish uplands and mountains. I have found very little. In the absence of true rationality and logic, I have had to conclude - reluctantly - that factors less objective are at work. 'Ideology', in my book at least, is a dirty word. We can associate it with its horrendous consequences, as with Fascism, Stalinism, Islamic fundamentalism. Ideology essentially comprises a system of beliefs supposedly cohering into an entire, consistent worldview. Adopting such an ideology makes life easy, since we no longer need to approach each new situation with fresh eyes. We don't need to think. A ready-made answer is at hand, provided by interpretation of events based upon our adopted system of beliefs. One size fits all. There is also the comfort of self-identity: I know who I am: I'm a ........ist. Now I can sleep soundly at night.
The ideology I am referring to here can best be termed, I suggest, extreme environmentalism. A dogmatic approach to environmentalism suffers from the same blindness that other ideologies are prone to. Blanket answers to complex situations. In this case, fossil fuels are bad, renewable energy is good, so it follows that a bunch of wind turbines in a mountain landscape is no different from, just as vital as, a windfarm project anywhere else.
What I have written here is not fashionable, especially since the environmentalists are the good guys and gals, aren't they? Sometimes well-intentioned, I suggest, but unconscious of the blinding and toxic nature of ideology, whatever its shape or form. In my less charitable moments, I conceive of ideology as a kind of mind virus, warping ordinary decent people into inhuman fanatics blind to the wider realities surrounding them. Most politicians, in fear of appearing politically incorrect, will readily go along with whatever the environmental bandwagon tells them to promote.
So why bother? Why not just give up? What is it that causes people to sweat, curse, and toil into the hills each year? A few to die? Why do MCofS office bearers continue to work tirelessly against yet another lunatic proposal? This is, I submit, a most thankless task, and the MCofS folk engaged in this are among my greatest heroes. Literally. My eternal gratitude goes out to them. Why, indeed, do I bother to write yet another tedious letter of objection to some faceless bureaucracy miles away?
Having already ventured into the unorthodox and the unfashionable, I now propose a brief excursion into the life and work of J.R.R.Tolkien. There is a chapter near the end of 'Lord of the Rings' which is omitted from the celebrated film version, presumably because it spoils the notion of a simple happy ending. This chapter is called 'Scouring of the Shire', and is most relevant to our current plight. In this final section of the tale, our hobbit heroes return from their adventures to their native land, the Shire, only to find it has been despoiled beyond recognition during their absence. The green agrarian landscape has been transformed into an industrial wasteland dominated by outsiders (sound familiar?!).
Tolkien himself was reared in the English Midlands, and lived to see the progressive industrialisation of the region with its attendant destruction of the land. His dismay at this change, not just in the Midlands but as a recurrent theme in human affairs, forms a kind of subtext to much of his work. His concern has been referred to as that with the loss of the power of the land. 'The power of the land': a phrase that resonated with me deeply when I first heard it. It seemed to encapsulate what we most wish to protect and maintain better than any other words I have come across. Like love, power of the land does not lend itself to precise definition, but we know it when we are in its presence. We don't need to attend a leyline workshop at Glastonbury, or venture into the woods at twilight in search of elven folk, to know it. Nan Shepherd's book 'The Living Mountain' drips power of the land from every page - as does Robert Macfarlane's magnificent introduction to the 2011 edition. The book is a wonderful testament to the living presence that is the mountains, in this instance the Cairngorms, and our personal interaction with it. All good mountain writing that succeeds in touching the visceral level of experience will exude this quality. Maybe we should talk here of 'power of the mountain' rather than 'power of the land'.
And here we arrive at an irony. In these tedious yet impassioned objections to 'inappropriate developments' in the mountains, it is this 'power' that is at the bottom of my pleas. It is not energy efficiency, damage to tourism and other business, subsidies to fat cats, carbon capture of peat bogs, not even aesthetic considerations strictly speaking. They all play their part, but the main mover and shaker is less tangible, and inadmissable as valid evidence. Writing to Fergus Ewing about the power held by the mountains, and its necessity for the well-being of the nation, will not yield results!
The hill and mountain community, if we can speak of such, is a marvellous thing. We are a disparate bunch, sometimes with apparently little in common aside from the mountains. Yet there can be an openness between otherwise strangers that a psychotherapist will spend months trying to evoke. Coming off Ben Macdui, you meet a couple going up, and within five minutes major life events are being shared. Back at the hostel in the evening you get into conversation with someone about recent adventures in the mountains. There is a look in the eye, as if a secret is being shared. We know something, though that something is rarely brought into full awareness, rarely given voice or coherence. It provides a mutual understanding and respect, and is what I am referring to here as the power of the mountain.
Meanwhile, the attack on these places of mental and spiritual refreshment continues unabated. As Tolkien suggests, it is an ever-recurrent theme in the tide of modern humanity. Last June I was on the South Glen Shiel ridge when suddenly I heard a loud mechanical din issuing from far below. Non-natural sounds are not unusual hereabouts, since the A87 is a favourite route for bikers, especially at weekends. But this noise was coming from the other side of the ridge! Peering down, I could make out a scene straight out of 'Scouring of the Shire'. Diggers and other mechanical plant, bare earth and peat, vehicles, scruffy little cabins and the rest, spread out over a considerable area. If it was Romany gypsies or young people enjoying themselves making such a mess, there would be a media frenzy. As it is, this was clearly another officially-sanctioned project going its ugly way. Looking harder, I could make out pipes. Long, black, and lots of them. A micro-hydro electric scheme, in existence courtesy of generous government subsidies, the kind which, according to an ecologist I once bumped into, create puny quantities of electricity. I shuddered, then made a firm decision not to allow this to spoil the day. On to the summit of Maol Chinn-Dearg, and silence. Powerful silence."
The good news is that several high-profile windfarm proposals in wild and mountain areas have been refused permission in recent months by government authorities national and local. A good deal of upland Scotland has already been trashed, but this is something. It is in good part a result of the agreement of 'core wild areas' in Scotland, a project spearheaded by the John Muir Trust. Many thanks to them for their hard work and persistence. Like the MCofS, the John Muir trust is, in my view, far from perfect. But these are the two organisations tirelessly working to give some protection to the mountains of Scotland. Nobody else is doing it. So they deserve our support and gratitude.