Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Eco Zealots

I often wonder, if my Father was alive today, what would he have made of all the Eco-Zealots obsessing about Copenhagen. His article that appeared in the Observer back in 1991 sheds some light....

The Observer

January 6 1991

Eco-zealots are my deadliest foes



LENGTH: 1085 words

THE GREENS sometimes make me see red. And by the greens I mean not only the Green Party, which was always a non-starter, but the whole jack-pack of conservationists, preservationists, ecologists, environmentalists, organic food faddists, ozone layer loonies, and, of course, the Friends of the Earth, whose initials FOE can perhaps be used to describe them all.

My feelings have been provoked by the news that it is now an offence to break open Speyside mussels, catch Allis shad (a rare type of herring), or bring home an adder.

I have never fancied mussels, can survive on common-or-garden herrings, and have never been tempted to bring home an adder, but it does show the extent to which the FOEs have pushed the best of causes to the most ridiculous lengths.

The FOEs have, of course, been around a long time in one guise or another and their case was perhaps best made by Byron nearly 200 years ago: There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, There is a rapture on the lonely shore, There is society where none intrudes, By the deep sea, and music in its roar: I love not man the less but nature more. Except that the last line is no longer true, and the trouble with the Friends of the Earth is that they are enemies of man.

It is not that they have ever called for euthanasia or abortions though that will come but they regard people as a nuisance. There are too many of them and they are multiplying too fast. They crowd the lonely shore, pollute the deep sea, and beat paths through the pathless woods. Sometimes they destroy the woods altogether and build towns. They eat other animals. They emit foul odours. Their homes and schools and working places spoil the scenery.

One found such sentiments in the back-to-the-land movement of the inter-war years, but industry and industrialists were the villains then, and countrymen and farmers were the heroes. Now any man who makes two heads of corn grow where one grew before, or who plants any corn at all, is a public enemy and if the FOEs had their way, the country would be reduced to a society 'where none intrudes'. In other words, to a wilderness.

As a matter of fact there are few sights more lovely than a neatly ploughed field on a bleak winter's morning, or a waving field of corn on a summer's afternoon.

Some farmers are too greedy and go too far, and the removal of hedgerows is unforgivable, but there is a beauty to be found even in so-called prairies.

Last summer I was driving along the A120 (one of the most attractive routes in the country), when I saw three huge combine harvesters moving line-abreast, like galleons, through a sea of corn, and I was so arrested by the scene that I stopped there in fascination till they had consumed the field.

There is great beauty to be found even in industrial scenes. Late one afternoon I was walking near the banks of the Forth when I suddenly caught a glimpse of the Grangemouth oil refinery. It looked like an illuminated cathedral from the distance. The nearer I approached, the more exciting it became, and I was so overwhelmed by the scene that I was almost indifferent to the sulphurous smells. If the FOEs had been as active in the inter-war years as they are now, that refinery would never have been built, and certainly not in an area of such natural beauty.

There was a time when everyone raged against electric pylons, but that was a generation or two ago. I should imagine if anyone tried to dismantle one now he would be accused of vandalism. Time beautifies all, but I found a quiet majesty in those pylons even when they were first erected. I liked their proportions and shape, and the sight of a whole line of them striding across a windswept moor can give an uplift to even the most jaded spirit.

When the Channel Tunnel route through Kent was announced, all the FOEs in the country, local and national, combined to stop it, some demanding that the lines should go underground.

There was a presumption behind the campaign that trains are ugly and nasty and they despoil any area they traverse, whereas they are not only marvels of engineering, but are often objects of great beauty and they move with grace. One of the joys of walking in the Chilterns, for example, is the sight of the great main line expresses hurtling along the chalky escarpments. The trains would not despoil the beauty of Kent, they would enhance it.

More than that, the great advantage of trains over any other form of travel is the pleasure one takes in the passing scene, but if trains are driven underground they are merely a means of getting from one point to another and cease to be pleasurable in their own right.

It can at least be argued that the parts of Kent affected by the railway are areas of outstanding natural beauty. The same cannot be said for the Essex flatlands stretching northwards from the Thames estuary, bleak, wind-blown, desolate, scarcely inhabited and largely inaccessible. About a year ago plans were mooted to build a recreation facility in the area. At once the cry went up that it was the habitat of some rare breed of gannet or grasshopper (I cannot remember which), and the plans were quickly abandoned.

And if one cannot build anything new, one dare not touch anything old. There is hardly a structure in the country, no matter how ugly, which will not have a preservation order slapped on it, provided it has outlived its original use. The FOEs rightly condemn the glass boxes built since the Second World War, but they cherish the brick boxes built before the first one. They don't mind factories and mills, no matter how dark and satanic they may have been, provided they are museums and not places of actual employment.

Yet if the FOEs are too zealous in some respects they are not zealous enough in others. There was no outcry when Mr Edward Heath eviscerated the counties of England each with its own unique character and historic traditions and replaced them with meaningless areas like Cleveland, Humberside and Avon. And there is none against the despoliation of the English Sunday.

And therein, possibly, lies the main fault of the FOEs. We live in two worlds, an inner one and an outer one, and the former can sometimes be more important than the latter, yet the FOEs are only concerned with the latter. They will throw themselves before earth-movers to prevent the reclamation of a marsh, but are indifferent to the transformation of the landscape of the mind.