Sunday, December 13, 2015

Tim Farron and the floods: Drowning in ignorance!

Liberal leader Tim Farron:More Sheep Please!

Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats appears an amenable soul. Self deprecating and always offering a smile. A devout Christian who nevertheless voted for the Syria bombing campaign-how would Jesus have voted!- Tim 'Nice but Dim' might have trouble separating his 'Prince of Peace' from his 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' but when it comes to getting a handle on the cause and effect of the recent Cumbrian floods, he appears to have even less of a grasp on reality.

His comments that the decline in upland sheep farming has contributed to flooding in places like Glenridding, Cockermouth, Appleby and Carlisle is so far from the truth you would have say that his eco compass requires a sharp tap and resetting. It's hard to understand how Farron could  fail to equate the intensive grazing of the fells by sheep with the inundation of the Cumbrian villages? Before intensive sheep farming took hold in the last century, tree cover extended far up the fellsides. Typically, birch, rowan, holly, hazel, Scots pine, sessile oak and aspen served a valuable ecological service by binding the soil, reducing water run off and preventing the worst excessive of seasonal cloud bursts.
On top of this of course, the woodland was a rich habitat for all manner of wildlife. From mammals to rare bird species, lizards to insects. Rare plants and shrubs were protected within a this arboreal environment and the woodland provided a renewable source of fuel and building materials for the indigenous populations.

How things have changed and a thousand times not for the better! Despite the glib 'Countryfile' view of farmers as 'creating the countryside we know and love', in truth, the countryside they have created is a sheep cropped, manicured desert. 'Sheepwrecked' as George Monbiot puts it. The fellsides in Cumbria-as in Wales and Scotland-have been grazed to the bone by these desertmaking ruminants who will eat any vegetation which breaks the surface. Trees, shrubs, wildflowers, herbs....nothing stands a chance, hence the bare closely cropped fields allows heavy rainfall to run off and overwhelm the watercourses which in turn delivers an uncontrollable volume of water into the rivers below.

By this stage the rivers themselves do not have the capacity to take up water in the volume it is pouring down from the hillsides  and consequentially bursts over the river banks with predictable consequences. Unfortunately, despite only contributing a miserly amount to the nation's GDP, farmers and the agribusiness corporations enjoy an unprecedented amount of government influence. Politicians like Tim Farron simply buy into the great con. Sheep farmers bravely battling against the odds for little reward. Selflessly creating a pastoral rural heaven by dint of their farming practices.

The irony is that our recent governments-both Labour and Conservative- have operated a neo liberal market economy where Laissez faire rules apply. 'Lame Duck' industries like coal, shipbuilding, car manufacture and heavy industry have been allowed to go to the wall, yet farming remains outside the free market rules of supply and demand and sheepfarming in particular, exists as a subsidized industry where farmers are paid to over produce and the product is sold to consumers at an inflated price. Have you seen the price of lamb in a supermarket or butcher's shop!!!

Pooley Bridge...gone! What we need now is even barer hillsides to allow the rain to run off even faster!
Floods that we have seen in Somerset, Cumbria and here in Wales will continue as long as politicians like Farron buy into the 'farmers as heroes' myth. By continuing to subsidize ecologically disastrous farming practices which have negatively impacted on the upland ecosystems and refusing to consider positive ideas like 'rewilding' the countryside, promoting agricultural diversity, alternative business ventures and actually paying farmers not to farm, but to plant native trees instead, then you can put your money on the fact that in future, 'a hard rain's gonna fall!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Carnage to Patagonia: The Eco Warriors who lost their way!

I was depressed to read in the Guardian the other day about plans to build a huge dam in Patagonia. To quote......the presidency of Argentina’s Cristina Fern├índez de Kirchner enters its final days, her greatest – and arguably most controversial – legacy project is just getting under way in the remote grasslands of Patagonia. Here, amid herds of wild guanacos, condor nests and the occasional rhea, a Chinese-financed team of engineers will soon be dynamiting hillsides and pouring millions of tonnes of concrete for two giant hydroelectric dams that will flood an area the size of Buenos Aires'.

The truth is, dams are ALWAYS bad news for the environment. By trying to interfere with the natural world and tame it to suit our consumer needs, ecosystems, unique cultural sites of historical significance and indigenous populations inevitably suffer. From the Glen Canyon dam which destroyed much of the magnificent Colorado in Arizona to the Three Gorges dam in China which saw entire towns and villages submerged and a rare species of fresh water dolphin declared extinct. From The Planning Institute of Australia...

The Three Gorges Dam, a giant hydroelectric dam located along China's Yangtze River, has the biggest installed capacity of any power station in the world. But the project, finished in 2012, hasn't exactly been a triumph over dirtier forms of energy like coal power. Concerns about pollution, landslides, earthquakes, and biodiversity abound. And for about 4 million people, the dam project was mostly a disaster, as it flooded 13 cities, 140 towns, and 1,352 villages. (Everyone was relocated to new settlements built on higher ground, which in an Orwellian feat, were given the same names as their former communities.

Here in Wales, we've had our own controversial developments. Most notably the Llyn Celyn dam which in the 1960's destroyed an entire valley including an historic  100% Welsh speaking village. See The Drowning Season. In the 19th century, the Lake Vyrnwy development saw the village of Llanwddyn destroyed. Both projects  driven to supply water to Liverpool. Similarly, Alfred Wainwright's 'most beautiful valley in Lakeland' Mardale in the north Lakes was destroyed to provide water for Manchester.

In a way, the damming of natural rivers to create hydro power of water sources conveniently highlights the growing schism in the environmental movement between Conservationsts like myself and the new breed of Technophile 'Greens' who dominate organisations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.These Technophile greens see science and technology as the answer to the big issues of the day like energy production and climate change. 

The wilderness and ecosystems can be sacrificed for the greater good of humanity. Who needs freshwater dolphins or red squirrels when industry needs power and domestic users demand the right to leave their houses lit up like Xmas trees 24 hours a day! These shrill voices can be heard in liberal newspapers like The Guardian. Berating the conservationists and rural dwellers as 'Ruddy Cheeked Tories' more concerned with their aspect and house prices than global warming.

It's a message defined by the term 'Green Fascist'. I have an image of these Greenpeace Guardianistas. Thirty something metropoles, flying around the capital on their £2k mountain bikes, courier bag flapping in their wake.  Careful not to spill out their expensive iPhones and iPads as they wheel their way to a local FOE meeting  in the Mung Bean Eatery and Meditation Centre. Inevitably white, male and middle class, these humourless emaciated geeks are the fundementalists of the movement.  Zealous proselytisers who have chosen the one true way to salvation and woe betide anyone who challenges their essentially right wing orthodoxy.

Yes..right wing! -for these Technophile Greens embrace an imperialstic philosophy which is every bit as reactionary as its Victorian Empire building variant. The wild places, rare species, indigenous populations and natural resources exist to be exploited in the interests of the common good. Except the common good  is conveniently served by large corporate interests who make billions out of these so called green projects. 

The Three gorge Dam Project in China which literally unleashed hell!
Calling a massive dam project ' Renewable Hydro Power' is the 'get out of jail card' for corrupt national and regional governments and the private companies who exploit the powerlessness of native populations and the natural environment which they call home. For the global corporations, the politicians and the  Green Technophiles who act as the willing footsoldiers for these nefarious shysters, its not enough to call youself 'Green'. Actions speak louder than words and as the man said, ...You're no Green Bruv!'

Sadly, within hours of posting this piece, I learned of the death of Doug Tompkins in a kayaking accident in Chile. Doug is probably best known as a bold outdoor pioneer and founder of the outdoor clothing brand-North Face. However, in the context of the above piece, he was more importantly an outstanding conservationist. A committed eco philanthropist who put his millions into buying vast tracts of Patagonian wilderness to protect the land and the species that inhabit it from disastrous developments like the Patagonia dam project above. 
Thankfully through his wife and the foundation he established, his ideals will live on and the tracts of protected wilderness will be a fitting memorial to his life and times.
  Tompkins Conservation