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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 16/05/2012

On Sunday night I watched a poignant documentary on BBC 2 as part of' series on the Indian Ocean with Simon Reeve. There was incredible footage from Somalia showing what a ravaged country it is and what lies behind Somalian piracy. However, for me, the most poignant part of the film was when Simon visited Kenya's Tana Delta. It is a beautiful area that is home to some wonderful birds and animals.  The RSPB thinks it is one of the most important wetland areas in the world for birds. But these species' habitats and food supply are now threatened by agribusiness. So too are local people who have been moved out of their traditional areas to make way for crops.  A Guardian article in July last year described the tragedy for many villagers who have been evicted from their land to make way for sugar cane. Villagers have lived on these lands for hundreds of years but are now being told that they don't own the land.  The situation is so desperate and tense that various organisations are predicting that war may break out.

The irony is that the pressure on the land is from companies intent on producing crops, like water-thirsty sugar cane, for western markets.  Why do they want to grow vast quantities of sugar cane?  - for bio fuels. So birds and animals are being threatened, and villagers' traditional way of life undermined, to help the west meet its environmental targets!

I tweeted about the film the other day and then discovered the Guardian article from July. I was then dumbstruck today when I read another environmental story in today's Guardian.  Ben Caldecot head of Policy at Climate Change Capital has an article entitled 'Only biofuels  will cut plane emissions'.  He argues strongly in favour of the industry being allowed to grow – indeed its growth should be facilitated – but that there be a steady move towards the use of a blend of jet fuel which would cut emissions.

He takes a swipe at what he calls 'the Luddite wing of the environmental movement' who he says will see his proposals as 'sacrilegious'. Caldecot, however, is guitly of 'Liddism' as nowhere in the article does Caldecot discuss where these fuels would be produced or deal with the fact that achieving the west's environmental targets and salving its green conscience is likely to be at the expense of poor people and species in other parts of the world. 

It is shocking to think that poor people are going to go hungry, pay more for their food or lose their homes just so that we can keep driving our cars or flying. Thinkers like George Monbiot have questioned whether there really is a great green benefit from biofuels for humanitarian and environmental reasons. 

This is not convenient however for the likes of Caldecot who works for a company which styles itself as an 'investment manager and advisory group specialising in the opportunities generated by the global transition to a low carbon economy'.  It sees the investment opportunites in new technology as 'an economic opportunity' - in other words, this is about making money. No doubt they have been involved in good projects but much of this investment, for reasons outlined here, may be short-sighted and driven more by money than actually making a difference to the environment. 

We might not like the idea but some of the change needed to protect the planet and sustain life is not simply about swapping one energy supply for another or finding a new technical fix: we need some serious life style changes. Rather than resisting such changes we must wake up to the fact that such changes could even bring about longer-term, real improvement to our own lives. To  paraphrase Karl Marx: 'Westerners of the world unite you have nothing to lose but your long commute to work, loneliness or the constant trips to the shops .... '

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