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Scottish Parliament Speech: Environment and Culture (November 2007)

See this speech in context on They Work For You.

Mike Russell chided me by saying: "You usually twist economics into culture, Chris, and now you're twisting culture into economics." That could perhaps be used against Nanette Milne's comments that culture and the environment are somewhat marginal to our main concerns.

'Environment' is an unfortunate long French word, with too many syllables for Daily Record journalists. The Germans use "Umwelt", which is a handy and snappy word meaning "world around" and any primary school kid can understand it.

We are not very good at the environment, although the concept was coined by two Victorian Scots, Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin, and broadcast worldwide by two other Scots, John Muir, in America, and Patrick Geddes, in all the bits that are not America, and in America, too. Geddes came up with the evolutionary sequence of man in what he called the carbon age, which goes from the polis, to the technopolis, to the megalopolis and, ultimately, if we do not look out, the necropolis. That is pretty well where we are headed now - Alasdair Gray's "Lanark" ends at Glasgow's necropolis for good reasons.

The threat of environmental deterioration that is before us can terrify. Nicholas Stern told us how much coping with that deterioration would cost, but he was not encouraged by the Treasury and went back to academic life. We have not got much time, but there are encouraging signs and they are, largely, here in Scotland. When I was on the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee's visit to Inverness, I had my C P Snow moment of understanding how a process works and how it can benefit us - I saw how wave power is actually air power, as it deals principally with compressing air to act in turbines. Air is far more steerable and storable than water. A product prototype is slated for Siadar in the Western Isles, which has, I noticed almost immediately, the power of the Voith Siemens company behind it. In other words, we are in the European big league on that. Once we grasp that and the illimitable swell surge of the Atlantic, we will see that the potential is as great as North Sea oil's and that it will stay.

Scotland also stands well on coping with greenhouse gases. We now know that the capacity of the sea to absorb the CO2 with which we are poisoning ourselves is less than we had assumed. We need carbon capture, which involves burying CO2 and using it to force out more oil and gas. The process was being mooted back in 1992, when I was working on the book "Fool's Gold: The Story of North Sea Oil" - which is still, I think, the only major study of North Sea oil - but it has so far only been carried out by the Norwegians in the Sleipner field. The process enables the Norwegians to bury a million tonnes of the stuff a year. We could bury as much as the 15 million tonnes of CO2 that come from Scotland's three carbon-burning stations, so the sooner the Peterhead-Miller field scheme is up, reanimated and running, the better.

The CO2 traffic can be separated from power station discharges. We can find out what the building of new pipes will cost and, because Europe is desperate to get rid of the stuff, we can make money out of carbon capture. The equivalent of about 1 billion tonnes of oil has been taken out per decade - that is where we can put the stuff. We need a North sea energy and environment policy. We need partnership investment on behalf of the Scottish people - a renewables equivalent of Norway's Statoil. We need specialised manufacturing and training provision. I am a natural pessimist of the Private Frazer sort, but since that Tuesday, watching the waves in an Inverness laboratory, I have become an optimist.

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