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Short film: St Fittick’s Kirk vs Aberdeen Harbour

St. Fittick’s Kirk, Torry, used to look out across a wide open beach: the Bay of Nigg. A popular bathing spot in the early 20th century in more recent years it was a haven for dog walkers and surfers.

Bay of Nigg by Vicky Mitchell
Surfers in 2016, John Dillon via www.magicseaweed.com
Bay of `Nigg in the 1930s, Aberdeen City archives

That was until the Scottish Government and Aberdeen City Council decided to concrete the bay over to further expand Aberdeen Harbour.

The Bay of Nigg has been sacrificed to industry. Now the planners want to destroy the local park behind it too.

St Fittick’s Kirk and the former Bay of Nigg, October 2022 from Vimeo.

If you turn up the sound you can still here birdsong competing valiantly with reversing cement mixers and unloading cranes.

St Fittick’s Park is worth saving but it needs national attention. This is Torry’s park but it’s being demolished with Scottish Government money.

👉 Find out more about the campaign to Save St. Fitticks Park at:
www.saintfittickstorry.com.

This article was adapted from an original post on Instagram.

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Cycling through Spaghetti Country

This summer I travelled with my bike from Derby to Kidderminster cycling along some beautiful lanes and canals, stepping off a new train and finishing on an old one.

Beginning at Willington, my route followed the Trent and Mersey Canal, Coventry Canal, Birmingham & Fazeley Canal then Birmingham Main Line Canal before leaving the waterways at Dudley to head west to the Severn Valley (fun fact: when in 1784 the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal Company merged with the Birmingham Canal Company it became, for 10 years no less, the ‘Birmingham and Birmingham and Fazeley Canal Company’).

Towpaths in the East Midlands were very bumpy and not really suitable for cycling. But it was a week day so I didn’t come across many walkers and as long as I went slowly I had a great time and the scenery was idyllic.

On the first night I stayed at the Camping and Caravan Club at Kingsbury, who were very helpful, friendly and good value. The only quirk worth mentioning is that the site is a black hole for phone signal for some reason!

As soon as you cross the border into Birmingham the towpath becomes an excellent cycle path, whilst the boat traffic disappears. What followed was a risk-free urban exploration into the underbelly of the West Midlands. The whole ride through Birmingham was truly remarkable.

Spaghetti Junction

It’s incredible that these canals have survived, in places now literally buried by 200 years of railways, roads, factories, housing and motorways, yet still navigable by narrow boat.

Perhaps the most striking example of this is at Spaghetti Junction.

I was slightly obsessed with the ungodly stylings of motorways as a kid, and so Spaghetti Junction attracted much fascination. On a trip to the West Midlands I successfully nagged my pa to drive us through the it (despite it being slightly out of our way). It was a huge let down, but cycling under it proved to be surprisingly rewarding.

Gravelly Hill, as the maps call the area, has been an important junction for centuries, the meeting point of the Birmingham & Fazeley, Tame Valley, and Grand Union Canals, meaning in times past one could sit at this place and watch boat traffic from the length and breadth of England pass by.

I recently discovered there is a word for such canal rubbernecking. Defined a something between back-seat driving, train-spotting and sunbathing: it’s called ‘Gongoozling’. Honestly!

Today’s traffic thunders overhead while the canals lie empty, but the waters flow remarkably clean and I spotted a Little Egret, Rainbow Trout, Grey Wagtail and followed throughout by an adorable Mallard family.

The cleanest waters flowed in the River Tame which threaded a remarkably wild-looking course beneath the canals, which themselves found their way underneath railway lines and local roads, the motorways on monumental concrete piles high above. It is quite a dystopian place. But if you come with no expectations, quite reassuring too.

Tunnelling through Birmingham

Further into Birmingham some sections are so dark that headlights are needed and there are some very steep ramps up and down: fun once you get the hang of them, but you do need to pay attention, especially when carrying a tent. Once adjusted the ups and downs are lots of fun, becoming something of a platform game.

I stopped off at Birmingham Library, which was overfull with young people trying to revise for A-Levels (adults! We need to fund more study spaces!).

Continuing on beyond the City Centre I had to walk a little while because the queue for Ariana Grande at the Birmingham Arena was strung out along the narrow tow path. There was a jostling with refusenik cycle commuters and joggers, and perhaps inevitably someone ended up in the drink and had to be pulled out.

Into Dudley the canals gasp for air beneath the M5 motorway and I would shortly leave them headed West. J R R Tolkien grew up in Worcestershire and watched this part of the West Midlands become urbanised and industrialised. In the prologue of the Lord of the Rings he laments the loss of this countryside and admits he was likely inspired by it when writing the chapter “the Spoiling of the Shire”. This route brought that to life.

The Severn Valley

The second night I stayed at the wonderful Unicorn Inn, Hampton Loade. Due to the bridge being gated off at Hampton I had to do a long detour to Bridgenorth to get there, but the campsite were unruffled by my request to arrive after midnight. The cheap breakfast, friendly staff and sunshine was very welcome.

I then caught the morning diesel on the Severn Valley Railway to Kidderminster. The Station Master was more than happy to take my bicycle (although the fare was cash only – is that surprising for a steam railway?). And so my trip ended!

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The science of Edinburgh’s gloaming

Last night we had the most gorgeous velvet simmer dim in Leith.

I thought I would dip into the science of twilight because as it turns out, 1st June – 11th July is the gloaming time at 56˚ north!

For most of the year the night is bordered by different depths of twilight. “Astronomical Twilight” is when the sun is between 12 and 18 degrees below the horizon. At such times the presence of the sun is just about visible, but it has little effect, and is often unnoticed as the stars shine clearly. 1st June was the last day of the winter’s “Astronomical Twilight”: we have left this kind of night behind us. It is all lighter from here on out.

The darkest it will get in the coming weeks is something called “nautical twilight”, when the sun is between 6 and 12 degrees *below* the horizon. It is so named because it is just dark enough that one can read the brightest stars for navigation at sea, but if you have a good vantage point you’ll easily be able to see the sun’s glow beneath the horizon, waiting to rise to start the next day.

Either side of “nautical twilight” is the brighter “civil twilight”, bright enough to read by and certainly bright enough to drink and chat by. It’s when the sun has just set or is just about to rise, and is less than 6 degrees below the horizon. This time often barely feels like night at all.

Before us lie the brightest nights of the year. In Edinburgh they fall equally on 18-23th June. On each of these nights the sun is only below the horizon for 6 hours and 24 minutes and often it’s glow will be visible through all these hours. I once sat on the Mound with my sister all twilight, waiting for the first train from Waverley, watching the sun pass under the northern horizon towards the approaching dawn. It’s quite a special thing to witness.

“Dusk” is commonly defined as the darkest point of twilight, when twilight passes into dark night and the sun’s influence is lost. In this sense, it could be said that in our northern summer, since we have no dark night we have no dusk.

Edinburgh’s gloaming month will of course end. On 12th July the Astronomical Twilight will return, bringing back more of the stars, and the first real dusk belonging to the coming Autumn. “True night” will return on 9th August – for just a few minutes – a foreshadowing of its takeover of our sky across the Autumn so that by the winter more than half of our days are pitch black night with shining bright stars (when it’s not raining of course).

So for now stay up late. Sit about in the park. Find a pal and go on a night hike. Watch the dawn at the beach. Savour the light my northern friends!

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Reposts

Fossil fuel industry spills money and power in year of tumult

Image by Petra Wessman

When a ship is plain sailing, it’s hard to knock it off course. That’s been the conundrum for us rubber-dinghied climate activists for decades now as we try our best to push the supertanker that is the global economy towards sustainability.

But in 2020 the ship hit the rocks – and hard. As the keel started to list most of us were preoccupied with more immediate concerns. But down below the waves the supposed engine room of our economy – the fossil fuel industry – was breached. 

The Coronavirus pandemic’s impact on fossil fuels was of historic proportions. The market value of giant companies like Shell and BP dropped by more than half in a matter of days. Demand for oil crashed so severely that oil commodity prices fell below zero: traders would effectively pay you to take oil off their hands. 

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Photo of rainbow drawing by Catherine Thackstone, Flickr
Reposts

Just & Green Recovery letter sent to the First Minister

As the peak of the first wave of the Coronavirus pandemic passed I worked with colleagues at Friends of the Earth Scotland and elsewhere to draft a letter to the First Minister about what a just recovery should entail.

The letter was initially signed by 82 civil society organisations from across different sectors of Scottish life.

Signatories from charities, trade unions and community groups set out 5 steps for a recovery that enabled the building of a fairer, greener and more equal society.

The letter went on to provide the foundation for a coalition campaign through 2020 and 2021.


31st May 2020

The First Minister
The Scottish Government
St Andrew’s House
Regent Road
Edinburgh EH1 3DG

Dear First Minister,

Scotland’s Just and Green Recovery from COVID-19

Representing a broad range of Scotland’s civil society, our organisations wish to meet with you to discuss our emerging vision of how Scotland can lead a radical response to the double crises of climate change and Coronavirus.

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Photo of rainbow drawing by Catherine Thackstone, Flickr
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A Coronavirus reading list for UK Climate Activists

Published 13 April, minor updates 15 Apr

This is a reading list about Coronavirus, ecological breakdown, system change and justice. It’s aimed at UK climate but hopefully will be of wider use too.

I’m a slow reader and this all took me about 3hrs to read. If you don’t have this time I’d choose one or two of the longer reads.

Most of these articles do cite their sources so you could use this to inform your own writing and speaking. You could also use them to structure an online reading group!

Bear in mind this is ultra-topical, and I don’t plan to keep it updated.

If you’re looking for more detail about specific climate demands designed for this moment, I’m not aware of any available but would love to hear from you if you know about them. Otherwise expect more in the coming months.

Ric Lander

A short summary

  1. Friends of the Earth Europe summary (FoE Europe)

Great long reads

  1. Impacts on global south, government failure, and links between the ecological crisis and the pandemic (World at 1oC)
  2. A review of past crisis, and what they can tell us about what will happen (The Guardian)
  3. How to beat Coronavirus capitalism with Naomi Klein (Video) (Youtube)
  4. How our economic system makes pandemics more likely (Vox)
  5. What are the short-term environmental impacts? (The Guardian)
  6. Wellbeing, care and solidarity (Oxfam Blogs)

Impacts on fossil fuels

  1. This is the worst crisis ever faced by the oil industry (The Guardian)
  2. Financiers weigh up the future of oil and gas (The Independent)
  3. Oil lobbying during the pandemic (Influence Map)

Impacts on marginalised communities

  1. More people of colour are dying of Coronavirus in the UK (BBC News)
  2. Disabled people’s rights (Red Pepper)
  3. Rise in domestic abuse (The Guardian)
  4. Police repression and people of colour (The Independent)

Manifestos for recovery

  1. Just Recovery (350.org)
  2. Applying justice thinking to the Pandemic (Reuters Foundation)
  3. Protect people of colour (Charity So White)
  4. Public health (MedAct)
  5. Protect migrants (Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants)
  6. Green New Deal UK (GNDUK)

Actions to support

  1. Covid 19 mutual aid network (Covid 19 Mutual Aid)
  2. Debt cancellation (Jubilee Debt Campaign)
  3. Don’t bailout aviation bosses (Stay Grounded)
  4. Open up golf courses (Change.org petition)
  5. Rent and work during Coronavirus – a survey (Google Form survey)

Guidance for activists

  1. How to talk about Coronavirus (Uplift, Ireland)
  2. Some more thoughts on framing (Public Interest Research Centre)
  3. Taking action online (350.org)
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Fossil fuels are coming to the UN talks in Glasgow

This is a script for a workshop I wrote for the Fossil Free UK Gathering held in Yorkshire, October 2019.

In 1992 world leaders (mostly men) convened in Rio de Janeiro for the United Nations Earth Summit.

They signed the first major treaty on global warming, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The UNFCCC requires annual meetings of the countries that have signed the treaty. Each is known as a ‘Conference of the Parties’ (COP).

In 1997 the Kyoto Protocol was signed enshrining the first agreed legal cuts to greenhouse gas emissions under a principal of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ – rich countries agreed legal targets and poorer nations like China and India were exempt. The Kyoto Protocol was due to run until 2012.

World leaders tried and failed to negotiate a replacement for the protocol in Copenhagen in 2009. However in 2015 the ‘Paris Treaty’ was signed acknowledging that 1.5 degrees of warming, not 2 degrees, was the preferred limit of global warming, and inviting all countries to make emissions cuts pledges.

Some countries, most notably the USA, have sought to derail the UNFCCC. Historically the UK has negotiated as part of the EU. Due to Brexit this will change by 2020, when the UK hosts the COP for the first time, in Glasgow. Continue reading

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The Brexit Vote

In recent weeks it has been said ad nauseam that Labour’s main problem in this election is it’s Brexit policy.

I do not agree.

In fact I would go so far as to say the Labour Party has, by a country mile, the best Brexit policy of the main parties.

This is not glowingly self-evident, but in my view it this can be established by elimination all possible alternatives.

Whether or not you agree with the 2016 result, I believe it’s reasonable to expect politicians seek to abide by the results of referenda.

However, in order to proceed a mandate is needed for whatever is to be negotiated. Although the margin for ‘leave’ was narrow, I believe that if the nature of Brexit had been clear during the referendum debate proceeding with the project now would be quite reasonable. But it is arguable the leave vote did not even mandate leaving the common market – let alone cutting regulation, environmental and labour standards all the rest that the harder Brexiteers desire. The mandate is fuzzy at best.
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Diary: Making a safer world for trans people

Content warning: suicide, depression

Earlier this year my friend Danielle Myriam Fisher suicided.

Today is Trans Day of Remembrance, and so I wanted to say a few words to remember her, what her story means to me, and why I think we need to act.

Danielle was a deeply committed activist and contributed hugely to the people and the world around her. I knew her as a student member of People & Planet and her efforts fighting fossil fuels – but it’s become clear to me this was just one small part of the work she took on.
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Visualising UK oil and gas extraction

Oil and gas exploration began in UK waters in 1965. Since that time 44 billion barrels of oil and gas equivalent have been extracted, 7,800 wells have been drilled and the industry’s operations pepper vast regions of the North Sea.

Unlike coal or on-shore renewables, this major industrial activity goes far away from communities and most people’s daily lives. To most people it is invisible. Continue reading

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