When the spires of churches, abbeys and cathedrals rose against the backdrop of the pristine rural landscape of medieval Britain, no one complained about how the tall monuments to the Christian god polluted the hills and the valleys. Nobody said in desperate anguish,
Well, probably not, as any medieval church nimby who dared to complain would likely be on the receiving end of medieval Christian love: your property confiscated by the church and a burning at the stake. Fortunately, these days such complainants wouldn’t be at the vicious mercy of lords and clerics. At worst they get ridicule.
So step up Rt Revd Martin Wharton, the Bishop of Newcastle.
In a sermon against wind farms he somehow managed to imply that wind turbines are un-Christian, claiming the demonic wind turbines are turning the North East countryside into a “disfigured industrial landscape”:
“It is a basic Christian truth that we all have a duty and a responsibility to care for and exercise wise stewardship over God’s creation, which has been entrusted to us.”
The ‘basic truth’ is that our modern society needs energy. Lots of it. We also need to produce energy whilst at the same time reducing our carbon emissions to try and minimise the inevitable effects of climate change. Wind, along with solar energy, ground source heat and other renewable and low carbon energy sources each need to form part of mixed energy solution.
Wharton, along with many wind turbine objectors, seem to hold a vague romantic view of the rural landscape, putting it on a mythic pastoral pedestal. The reality is different; our rural landscape is home to the industry of providing food, a landscape designed, shaped and developed over a thousand years to feed people and maximise profits for landowners. Enjoying the benefits of the latest in agricultural technology: materials, machinery and an arsenal of chemicals to squeeze out every ounce of productivity, a environment equally moulded by technology as it is by social change. Underground, the mines of the North East provided the lead, iron and coal to fuel the industrial revolution. Electricity pylons and telephone lines carry electricity and words, roads and railways carrying people, all have had a criss-crossing visual impact on the countryside. It’s a landscape which has been evolving for thousands of years, and we’ve become so accustomed to many of these “blots on our landscape” that they have become part of it. It’s a delicious irony that many of those who object to wind farms in Northumberland also want to see the very same countryside slashed with a dual carriageway all the way through the county.
Much of the wealth of the Church of England has been from it’s massive property holdings, so the church holds some responsibility for the current appearance of much of Britain’s landscape. Hypocrisy? You betcha. Inclosure acts took land from communities and handed it over to landowners, changing rural society forever, with open land sliced away in a thousand pen strokes, the church often profiting from such acts. Here in South Tyneside, the Church Commissioners’ vision of a “wise stewardship over God’s creation” included a plan to build a ‘business park’ and housing over the green belt at Fellgate in Jarrow. In Gateshead the “wise stewardship” gave us the Metrocentre, ushering in out of town shopping, increased car use and the near death of many town centres. Even now it looks like the Church Commissioners are seeking to claim mineral rights using ancient laws, looking forward to mammonic feast at the fracking trough.
The church cannot pretend to be protectors of our landscape or our environment.
Now, with wind farms, we are seeing the next step in the evolution of our northern landscapes (and seascapes), producing energy for an ever power hungry nation. As an industrial scale technology, the second wind energy revolution is still in it’s infancy, and many detractors like Wharton use this to imply that the technology is unproven or unable to provide energy adequately:
“There is no evidence that I have seen that suggests that wind farms will ever provide the reliable, controllable energy that is required by our society, however many there might be.
“Furthermore some studies have even suggested that far from reducing CO2 emissions, wind farms actually increase them.”
Go back a mere hundred and twenty years, and many people with a similarly Luddite bent would be saying something eerily similar about electricity.
It shouldn’t really be surprising that a cleric would try to justify his opinion using an ancient holy book – the same holy book which also gives valuable nuggets of advice about how you should beat your wife and slave, and stone children for giving you lip. However, when claiming a lack of evidence for an emerging technology, Wharton should realise that his glass house of god doesn’t stand up to the rocks of evidence at all.
The Journal Editorial’s bald support for waste incineration (Journal, 9th August) raises the fiction that technology has miraculously made waste burning safe. Those who ran the Byker incinerator may have made similar claims.
There is no such thing as safe waste incineration, and there is no such thing as a safe level of pollution. Killer chemicals known as dioxins are produced by waste incineration and have been linked to breast and testicular cancers. An US Environmental Protection Agency study estimated that as many as 7% of all cancers are caused by dioxins, and British research has linked dioxins to the rapid rise of the painful disease endometriosis among women.
Not only do incinerators spew out poisonous clouds, but once the waste is burned the remaining toxic slag still has to be buried in a landfill, presenting further risk to public health.
Added to this is the rising threat of climate change. Incinerators, no matter how green you try to paint them with cynical euphemisms about ‘energy recovery’, produce CO2 – and tons of it. There are safer and cheaper methods of recovering value from waste without burning it.
Incineration is outdated, dangerous and unsustainable – it must be stopped.
Councillor Castle (Voice of the North, March 11) asks me why the “Highways Agency blocked business expansion”. It’s a mischievous question, since I can’t speak for the Highways Agency – perhaps he should speak to them?
It is, however, reasonable for the Agency to ask developers to think about, and try to mitigate, the impact their projects will have on the road network and existing road users. In transport planning terms it’s common sense.
Far from being Coun Castle’s “obvious connection” between more roads and economic growth, it seems like a rather disingenuous attempt to link two separate issues.
We can’t continue to concrete our landscape in a vain effort to find a way out of what are perceived as road problems. As John Bagley of the Highways Agency said in the Journal, “Building more and more road space…is not a sustainable long-term solution”.
Coun Castle is correct that our response to climate change won’t be without some growing pains, but in terms of our economy it needn’t have a negative impact – and won’t cost the Earth.
Councillor Gordon Castle’s accusation of my “economic illiteracy” only serves to further the sense that the A1 dualling debate generates more heat than light. His response simply repeats the myth that more road space will bring regional economic growth, whilst failing to provide any convincing supporting evidence.
There seems to be a lazy shorthand, symptomatic of Northumberland politics, that suggests that the A1 is to blame for the area’s economic woes.
Cllr Castle also claims that the “global warming card” “muddies the waters”. Quite the contrary, it puts road building clearly into its environmental context, both locally and globally. Putting more cars onto the roads is unsustainable, and building more road space contributes to increasing car usage. Is Cllr Gordon suggesting that we bury our heads in the sand with the environmentally oblivious minority that hope climate change will go away?
So, far from being “obviously crucial”, no clear need has yet been proven for dualling the A1 in terms of economic growth, safety or sustainability.
It’s ironic that in Northumberland, where many are campaigning against the alleged visual blight of wind turbines, the image of a motorway cutting through the countryside is considered perfectly acceptable.
By quoting two extreme organisations whilst ignoring fact and differing opinion, the Journal’s article ‘Police, Camera, Crash’ (Journal, 6th March) implies that the paper has it’s own anti speed camera agenda.
Describing the Association of British Drivers as ‘a leading motoring group’ is odd, as it isn’t clear in which field the lobby group is leading. It certainly isn’t membership as the ABD has less than 5,000 paid up members – a tiny proportion of the UK’s 31 million drivers. It can’t be in common sense as the ABD portrays climate change as a conspiracy. It isn’t road safety as it campaigns to increase speed limits and classifies 20 mile per hour Home Zones as having “unreasonably low speed limits”. The ABD is so bizarre that it praised the prosecution of a nine-year-old road accident victim in Switzerland. (Sensibly, the case was dismissed.)
Quoting Paul Smith isn’t such a master-stroke either, as his ironically named “Safe Speed” (affiliated with the ABD) has squandered years seeking in vain for proof that speed cameras make roads more dangerous.
Perhaps next time, in the interest of balance, the Journal could also speak to Transport 2000 or Road Block and present an unbiased picture.
Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn’s complaints about the A1 (Journal, 3rd March) are inconsistent with reality. He implies that between Newcastle and Edinburgh the A1 is exceptionally dangerous. However, the North of Newcastle Multi-Modal study concluded that the A1’s “…accident record is no worse than the national average for rural trunk roads”. Studies by the AA support this, rating the A1 as a ‘medium risk’ road, with not even a mention on the AA’s list of Britain’s most dangerous. Whilst this is no consolation for accident victims, Mr Hepburn should note that all roads are dangerous.
The suggestion that the A1’s single carriageway hampers economic growth is equally specious. The same multi-modal study found that “no evidence has been found to suggest wider economic development benefits would arise” from dualling the A1, and the Regional Assembly’s consultants Steer Davies Gleave reported that there is “…virtually no evidence that transport investment on its own can generate economic development”.
What is clear is that building more roads encourages more car use, bringing rising carbon dioxide emissions. On a planet facing the threat of climate change, building more roads is unsustainable and irresponsible.