The Findhorn Foundation and Community played host to leading environmental journalist, George Monbiot in April. George is the author of a weekly column for the Guardian newspaper in the UK and the author of best-selling books Heat: how to stop the planet burning, The Age of Consent: a manifesto for a new world order and Captive State: the corporate takeover of Britain, as well as the investigative travel books Poisoned Arrows, Amazon Watershed and No Man’s Land.
He is a recipient of the United Nations Global 500 Award for outstanding environmental achievement and the One World National Press Award, and holds honorary doctorates from St Andrews and Essex Universities.
George was visiting the Findhorn Foundation as the guest of his friend Alan Watson Featherstone of Trees for Life, an organisation located within the community and dedicated to restoring the Caledonian Forest through reforestation.
This was his first visit to the area and began with a trip to the 10,000-acre Dundreggan Estate, purchased by Trees for Life in 2008, where the main focus of the reforestation programme is taking place. The visit was wrapped up with a talk in the Universal Hall. An articulate, eloquent and impassioned speaker, George is well known for his radical, forthright views and his detailed critiques of many aspects of modern society, so the evening promised to be thought-provoking, exciting and inspiring. The topic Where Is Our Energy Coming From? ensured that it was.
“There’s a major problem when you’re trying to design an energy system,” George began, “in that we’re starting in an impossible place.” That impossible place, he says, is our reserve banking system that drives a demand for ever-increasing growth, and therefore an ever-increasing demand on the planet’s resources, including energy.
Briefly touching on the thought that we are already way past the earth’s carrying capacity, and arguing that energy savings and efficiencies will not produce the result we need, George’s view is that when it comes to designing a new energy system we’re stuck with the economic and monetary system we have got, for now, and that needs to inform our choices for the future.
As we face a future of Peak Oil we have already begun moving towards electricity as an alternative to oil for both transport and heating, he says, and so demand for electricity will only increase. “How do we provide for that increase in demand?” he asked.
Coal-fired power stations are too dirty and too expensive in terms of the cost to both human life and the environment. Coal-seam gas is dangerous and polluting.
What of renewables? Despite being a self-proclaimed “big fan” of renewables, he feels that delivery of renewable power will result in contamination of rural areas with power lines and pylons, and the need for back-up storage and redundancy will make it too expensive.
“So… you can see where I’m going,” he said, to restrained laughter from the audience, as he moved into the case for nuclear power.
The main focus of his discussion was that his recent research has shown him that nuclear power is not as harmful as the green movement would have us believe. Research has led him to the conclusion that the number of deaths from Chernobyl has been over-exaggerated. Even the recent events at Fukishima, despite it being a “perfect storm” of an old reactor poorly maintained being hit by an earthquake and a tsunami, has not resulted in any deaths. So his belief is that, although the issue of what to do with the waste remains unresolved, nuclear power has been the subject of bad press.
“My recommendation is to jettison everything you think you know; come at it from a blank page so you can have clarity and objectivity,” he concluded.
The talk culminated in an invitation for questions from the audience. Ultimately the community and George appeared to agree to differ. With this community’s focus on both increasing our sources of renewable energy and reduction in use through savings and efficiencies, this argument was not what this audience would have wanted to hear. However the audience listened to his talk with its customary respect and generosity, and it was obvious that George felt the same respect for this community’s work.
There was a general feeling that the discussion could have gone on much longer, and to get into a deeper discussion about the other disadvantages of nuclear, such as how to dispose of the waste other than burying it in the earth and potentially poisoning our planet further; or a further debate on how to shift our monetary system to a more benign one.
Nonetheless it was a great opportunity to debate with one of the UK’s leading minds on this topic, and we look forward to welcoming George Monbiot back to the community again at some point in the future.