Na­ture pay­ing price of de­vel­op­ment

Dr James Fen­ton is aghast at the way we are dam­ag­ing the planet, while those do­ing it are rak­ing in the money with­out thought for the gen­er­a­tions who come af­ter us

The Scotsman - - The Scotsman 200 -

e have only one planet and, as the Amer­i­can poet Gary Sny­der says, “this liv­ing, flow­ing world is all we have – for­ever”.

Why, then, do we not stand up for it more, in­stead of al­low­ing de­vel­op­ers to trash it, or, to use more mea­sured lan­guage, cause con­tin­ual at­tri­tion of its wild­ness?

Why are we re­duc­ing the rich­ness of the planet by forc­ing the an­i­mals and plants with which we share it into smaller and smaller cor­ners, un­til they have nowhere left to go? In­deed, why do we al­low de­vel­op­ment ev­ery­where, leav­ing no places where our grand­chil­dren can ex­pe­ri­ence na­ture in the raw?

Re­cently, the John Muir Trust con­ser­va­tion char­ity had to pay £50,000 to Scot­tish & South­ern En­ergy for up­hold­ing the govern­ment’s own pol­icy of keep­ing wild ar­eas wild. The RSPB may have to pay sim­i­lar costs for de­fend­ing seabirds against wind farm de­vel­op­ment: 45 per cent of all Euro­pean seabirds nest here, so pre­sum­ably Scot­land has some in­ter­na­tional re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Why do we let rich cor­po­ra­tions with highly-paid ex­ec­u­tives ex­tract cash from con­ser­va­tion char­i­ties who are al­ways scrap­ing around for money and most of whose staff are paid peanuts in com­par­i­son? Do the chief ex­ec­u­tives and share­hold­ers not re­alise their de­scen­dants will have to live on the same planet, soon, through their own ac­tion, to be im­pov­er­ished in wildlife and in­dus­tri­alised all over?

There was a time of hope in the 1970s and 80s when en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion rose high up the po­lit­i­cal agenda and rules and reg­u­la­tions were in­tro­duced. These are the same reg­u­la­tions that politi­cians now ar­gue are too re­stric­tive and a bar­rier to growth.

While global warm­ing has risen up the agenda, some of this re­lates to the eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties brought by cli­mate change mit­i­ga­tion. How­ever, wildlife con­ser­va­tion has dropped off the agenda.

The lack of im­port given to wildlife is, to some ex­tent, re­flected in how dif­fer­ent pro­fes­sions are re­warded. We will pay, al­beit grudg­ingly, a high fee to a lawyer, and we also ac­cept that peo­ple who look af­ter our money are al­lowed to cream off a high pro­por­tion for them­selves.

How­ever, those work­ing in en­vi­ron­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion and pro­tec­tion are, in many cases, ex­pected to be paid salaries not too far dis­tant from the liv­ing wage. This gives the mes­sage that look­ing af­ter wildlife is a frill that so­ci­ety can­not af­ford.

Per­haps it is only when the whole planet is in­dus­tri­alised and wildlife is re­stricted to a few re­main­ing pock­ets, that we will have re­alised too late that we had our val­ues all skewed. Our grand­chil­dren will be left ask­ing: ‘What was a lion, were there re­ally wild­cats in Scot­land?’, ‘You mean there re­ally were places with­out roads and masts which you had to walk to?’, ‘What is a seabird’?, ‘Was there re­ally a peat bog out­side Ed­in­burgh?’

Surely we should not be pay­ing those dam­ag­ing the planet more than those try­ing to de­fend it? ● Dr James Fen­ton was Na­tional Trust for Scot­land’s first ecol­o­gist and worked on land­scape pol­icy with Scot­tish Nat­u­ral Her­itage. He is also for­mer CEO of Falk­lands Con­ser­va­tion and an ecology con­sul­tant. He lives in Oban.

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