Last week the Westminster government, in the form of one of its ministers Chris Huhne, announced that about 32,000 wind turbines must be erected over the next few years if renewable energy targets are to be met. Most of those will be off-shore, but 6,000 or so – if I recall correctly – will be on land.
That should be good for a few dozen more protest groups throughout the country, angry gatherings, petitions and public inquiries. If all the energy devoted over the past decade or so into opposing wind turbines – by no means least in the Borders and north Northumberland – could have been channeled into electricity production we’d probably be close to our renewables target now.
An idle thought, I agree. But so much of the passion, time and effort could have been put to better use as the majority of wind turbine plans have gone through anyway in spite of all the anger and opposition. They will continue to do so. Not only that, many individual turbines have been erected by businesses, farmers and householders who will live close to them, in the same way that those who have replaced their roofs with solar panels have to live with them.
That won’t stop protests about wind turbines despoiling views and “ruining the countryside.” The same is true of plans for more houses in the countryside, most of the protests coming from those who, as at least one columnist pointed out recently, have one thing in common – they aren’t struggling couples in their twenties having to pay an exorbitant rent for poor-quality accommodation miles from where they work, if they have a job.
There are also protests about councils who build, or hope to build, incinerators that will burn rubbish and generate electricity. To me that seems like good sense and, in the jargon, a win-win operation – the rising tide of rubbish that threatens to submerge us if we keep using landfill sites is kept under control and some of the electricity that we all like to use is generated.
Apparently that is not how it seems to many protesters so we’ll get more anger, more passion, more wasted time and effort.
It is the not-in-my-backyard – or, more usually, not-in-my-eyeline – reaction to development. We all want the benefits of electricity – think of almost any aspect of modern living without it – but some group, somewhere, will object to how it is produced whatever that happens to be. We all think rubbish collection by councils is a good thing, but object to how they try to dispose of it. We all pay lip service to affordable housing for those on lower incomes, but object when plans for more housing in brown or green-field areas are announced.
At times I’m critical of farmers for opposing progress. But they’re not alone. It seems it’s human nature to oppose anything new – railways, roads, petrol stations, cars, motorways, pylons, you name it, there were, and still are, protests. The greater good of the population might be fine in theory, but only as long as it doesn’t impinge on our sensibilities, or what we think of as our space.
A touch of morning frost and light snowfall in the west of Britain is the gentlest of reminders that at this time last year we were under a thick layer of snow and freezing in the coldest December for 120 years. It was a long six weeks and into January before we saw the last of the snow and life got back to more or less normal.
But not to a year of what we used to think of as normal weather.
Those of us past the first flush of youth can all remember exceptional weather of the past – the winter of 1963, summers of 1975 and 1976 – as well as wet summers, dry and wet springs, balmy autumns and mild winters. But increasingly the seasons seem to fail to follow what we think of as a “normal” pattern.
This year we had the warmest April on record, one of the driest springs and a summer that was not only wet, but cold.
Then, hey presto, a heatwave at the end of September, record breaking temperatures in October and the second-warmest November on record. Try making sense of that.
But this being Britain, and us having weather, not climate, within the big statistics were many contradictions, particularly rainfall. Parts of Scotland had exceptionally heavy rainfall while central and south-east England had very little. Even within our area, the central Borders has had much more rain than the eastern side.
Given all that, farmland and the countryside in general is probably looking as well at this time of year as I can remember. Then I remember something else, that memory is extremely subjective and that unless details are written down or, better still in the case of crops at any given time of year, photographed, we tend to think that things have never looked so well. Or poor. This year it’s well.