Saturday, 1 December 2007

Of Bali and Golf Courses...

Many environmentalists are gathering in Bali for the start of the talks intended to lay a groundwork for the successor to the Kyoto treaty. It almost goes without saying that these talks (and the expected successor rounds in Poland and Copenhagen) are vitally important is the worst effects of Climate Change are to be avoided by the end of this century. An expected 12,000 delegates, protestors and general hangers-on are expected to converge on the island over the weekend. If each has flown an average 5,000 miles, the CO2 emissions from the return journey could be just under 3 tonnes (before adding radiative forcing effects from vapour trails and low level ozone), adding a massive 35million tonnes to global emissions. (It's moot point as to how many of these emissions are incremental, or whether delegates will simply be occupying airline seats and hotel rooms that might otherwise have been sold to "normal" tourists.) And among the green initiatives for the Bali delegates, bicycles are being made available for their final journey from the hotels to the conference, or else they can travel on biodiesel fuelled buses (but don't start me off on the dangers of Indonesian biofuels from palm oil...)

The Energydon won't be there. This is not because I am trying to save these CO2 emissions or because I have been put off by Bali's reputation as the being the Ibiza for Australians. It's simply because I wasn't invited: I could have paid my way, but what use can a lone voice be among 12,000 others? That might seem a strange question from a blogger who is trying to make their voice heard in the blogosphere, where there are massively more voices. But in keeping the theme of this particular blog, that lone vice might be better heard back at home.

So for the second part of this blog, I will go not so far from home - just up into Scotland, where Donald Trump is trying to gain permission to build a £1 billion golf resort North of Aberdeen. Seen by some as having parallels with the film "Local Hero", the issues are not wholly straightforward; local business leaders have apparently hailed the scheme as a "once in a generation" chance to shift the economy away from reliance on the oil and gas industries. Anything that move away from fossil fuel exploitation to encouraging healthy exercise (golf???) should be encouraged, perhaps? Well, no, as the number of visitors to this resort (and associated CO2 emissions) are likely to completely dwarf the 12,000 delegates to Bali.

And there is another big question mark about how sustainable this sort of development is. The proposals are to site a luxury hotel, timeshare properties and over 500 homes on unspoilt links 12 miles North of Aberdeen, conveniently close to its airport. The proposed development area includes sites of special scientific interest. Martin Ford, chairman of Aberdeenshire's strategic resources committee used his casting vote to veto the project yesterday, despite it having been approved earlier by the local planning committee. He is quoted1 as saying "The golf course can go somewhere else; species and habitats can't. The risk to the local environment and wildlife was too high a price to pay. At the end of the day, this is not sustainable development because of the destruction of something that cannot be replaced. We are having a pistol held to our heads in the form of moral blackmail. We can only have it if we sell our soul." If this sounds strong stuff, Mr Ford - who has a doctorate in plant ecology, so knows the true value of the links area - concluded that "it was not an anti-golf decision [but] pro-due respect for an important conservation site".

I would like to echo Mr Hall's comments. His was a near-lone voice that could prevent real local environmental loss. We have to get the balance between sustainable and development right, and not to treat the phases "sustainable development" as an indivisible whole. And I hope that some of the delegates in Bali can think about his moral stand while they are enjoying the conference. But if I don't like their decisions, maybe I'll just have to buy a ticket for Poland instead...

1 Financial Times, 1 December 2007, p3.

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