Such is the panic caused by climate change that politicians and planners are in danger of creating a bigger global problem than they set out to resolve. The rush to biofuels is taking so much land out of agricultural production that some experts are now predicting imminent global famine. Likewise, vast tracts of the Amazonian and Indonesian rain forests are being torn up to make way for biofuel and food crops, releasing millions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere and threatening to destroy our global air-conditioning system. Deforestation now accounts for around 18 per cent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions and highlights the insanity of current policies.
Meanwhile the mad dash to wind energy in Scotland has been accelerated by a lunatic government subsidy scheme that has attracted hundreds of proposals for on-shore windfarms. Now 73 per cent of all income earned from each giant turbine erected in Scotland is subsidy and landowners and the power companies are making a killing. But no coherent planning strategy has been developed by the Scottish Government and no guidance to developers has been provided over which sites are appropriate and which are clearly inappropriate.
Greed instead of care for the environment has become the defining feature of these haphazard developments as has been particularly evident in the case of sites like Edinbane in Skye, Dava Moor in Grantown on Spey, Kergord Valley in Shetland and Gordonbush in Sutherland, where, by erecting giant turbines on deep peat, more CO2 will be released into the atmosphere than will be saved over the lifetime of the windfarm. Peat is a global carbon sump and any disturbance to deep peat causes the release of thousands of tonnes of CO2. The whole hydrology of the area is changed forever and once damaged, peat can never be replaced – a terrible legacy to leave to future generations and a loss of a critical carbon sink. The construction of the steel towers themselves and the huge concrete bases under each turbine, together with the associated access roads, borrow pits, pylons, overhead lines and other infrastructure, will ensure that the carbon footprint at many of these sites tramples on any potential carbon savings they could have hoped to achieve. So Scotland, hellbent on destroying huge tracts of its unique peatland, is in danger of echoing rainforest destruction, by exacerbating global warming rather than helping to reduce it.
Of course any renewable energy strategy requires wind power and Scotland is well placed to exploit the high winds which often blow across our beautiful hills and glens. But we must ensure that wind energy takes its rightful place in our strategy to tackle climate change by contributing positively to CO2 reduction, rather than by adding to it. In any case we should be looking to build more of our windfarms offshore.
It is now clear that wind parks can be constructed in remote and distant parts of the North Sea, where constant wind speeds can be guaranteed and where the turbines can be relied upon to generate electricity without the attendant environmental damage that is created on land. This is an abject lesson to the Scottish Government and to Scotland’s planners. Rather than desecrate our unique Scottish landscape with giant turbines, overhead lines and pylons and rather than risk the release of massive quantities of CO2 through the destruction of peatland, we could become a world leader in offshore wind generation where environmental impact would be negligible.
Meanwhile the race to biofuels is potentially threatening the lives of millions of people as the global population soars from its present 6 billion to an estimated 9 billion by 2050. An extra 6 million people are born every month. That’s like adding the population of Scotland every four weeks to the global tally. By 2030 the world population will have expanded by such an extent that we will require a 50 per cent increase in food production to meet anticipated demand. By 2080 global food production would need to double. But the reality is that an area the size of the Ukraine is being taken out of agricultural food production every year due to drought and as a direct consequence of climate change. Global food production is declining rather than expanding.
At the same time, EU biofuel targets are forcing more and more land to be taken out of food production across the world so that vast tracts can be dedicated to growing crops for energy. UK targets alone require 10 per cent of all fuel sold to be derived from plants within 12 years. Already the strains are showing in escalating food prices, but soon we will not have enough food or water to meet the needs of our citizens. The spectre of empty supermarket shelves, even in the West, must now be considered a real possibility. Only genetically modified foods offer a potential way out of this looming crisis, but the tabloid press and their ‘Frankenstein Food’ headlines have scared us into banning GM foods, without due cause, across the EU. Already we have seen food shortage riots in Africa, consumer protests against rising prices in Europe and significant falls in rice production in Asia. Food security is now top of the political agenda.
We need to take stock of the situation and develop a precautionary approach to climate change with the creation of a massive public/private/NGO partnership which places a value on the world’s forests and pays those countries where the forests are located for the global services they provide. Huge sums of money will have to be transferred to these countries if we are to persuade them to stop deforestation. Meanwhile, we need to revisit our attitude to GM foods and accept that scientific advances in biotechnology offer the only way to avoid a global famine.
Scientists say that we have only around 18 months left to find a solution to this problem. The doomsday clock is ticking fast towards midnight.
Struan Stevenson MEP
18 March 2008
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