The Future’s Bright, the Future’s Green
As Doug Parr (Chief Scientist and Policy Director at Greenpeace UK) pointed out of George Osborne’s budget: “My list of winners so far in Budget 2014: coal industry & importers, big energy users, fossil fuel extraction, drivers, aviation industry.” Oh well, he had told us it was time to “ditch the green crap”.
He was of course quite right and the biggest event of the week wasn’t Ed’s content-free speech in Perth, or Labour’s Devolution Commission report, or the Tories coming to Edinburgh, or even the Budget. The biggest event of the week was largely ignored by the media and the politicos, and for very good reason. It was about our future, and nobody’s really that interested. While Scotland was unveiling a massive opportunity for our long term future instead, both sides are still just obsessed by oil.
For the SNP “its Scotland’s oil” still rings down the decades as the most powerful slogan of our time. Simple, compelling, true. For the No campaign it’s a trigger to disprove the entire case for independence. The No campaign’s case that, uniquely, oil would make us poor, is a farce, and their ‘narrow shoulders’ argument, widely ridiculed.
It’s part of the Punch and Judy routine of the binary debate that we would be – instantly – either a financially stricken outcast of the globe – or a veritable utopia.
But a better argument would be, what is the ecological case for fossil fuel extraction and how does it fit with Scotland’s (rightly) much flaunted world-leading climate change targets? Or at least, what is the plan for using the immeasurable power of oil revenue as part of the transition?
The biggest event of the week – lost in the constitutional scrum – was the announcement of the world’s third largest offshore wind farm, with up to 326 wind turbines on the Moray Firth. The developments, sited off the Caithness coast, are capable of generating up to 1,866 MW of electricity, that’s enough to power over one million homes, and will be worth up to £2.5 billion to the Scottish economy.
While the press bleat about potential loss of Faslane jobs (probably around 500) or redundancies in Britain’s militarised economy, this project could sustain up to 4,600 jobs during peak construction and up to 580 once in operation creating clean renewable energy, without a NIMBY or Bernard Ingham backed front campaign in sight.
This is a huge boost to Scotland’s sustainable economy, it’s energy resilience, it’s entire infrastructure. For a change the project has widespread support amongst the environmental movement with near consensus breaking out. Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, described the consents as “great news for renewable energy in Scotland” adding “These two schemes alone could provide 40% of Scotland’s peak power needs on a windy day.” There’s backing from WWF Scotland, with only the RSPB opposing.
This is an absolutely massive project, but it’s like the media is stuck in the dark ages, oblivious to climate issues and fixated on the oil agenda. The plans announced this week will potentially contribute to Scotland’s goal of 100% renewable energy by 2020 and need to be part of the indy vision for an energy descent plan and a transition to a low carbon economy. The best coverage the announcement got was Fergus Ewing managing to counter Ed Davey’s ridiculous scare whilst in Edinburgh and explain that England’s lights would go out without Scotland’s large and growing supply of renewable energy.
Our energy plan needs to be based on publicly owned and community-controlled entities running our energy needs. More about Fintry, Eigg and Gigha than Lockheed Martin. But as we begin to waken up to an entirely new dimension to independence debate – there’s a cost benefit too: Sellafield No More – and while we’re divvying up the debts and assets, what’s our share of £100 billion?
One million homes powered by our renewable energy? That’s an energy source that’s never going away and has a minimal impact. That’s incredible. Can we combine that with a housing policy that is about providing well-insulated affordable homes? Can we capture the construction and maintenance work to produce long-term employment prospects and transferable skills from military engineering to renewables? Of course we can.
Green energy isn’t some mythical prospect for the future, it’s about creating environmental justice now. Let’s make it part of the debate about what kind of Scotland we want to create.