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greengalloway

As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Revolutionary Struggle and Climate Change


The struggle against climate change is a  revolutionary struggle

Introduction/Conclusion
Rural resistance to wind energy is rooted in a refusal to recognise the reality of climate change and the belief that it is possible to protect the countryside (=nature) against industrialisation. But in Galloway and Dumfriesshire, the countryside is already industrialised via farming and forestry. Furthermore, individuals from the region played an active and significant role in the construction of industrial capitalism in England and Scotland  and its spread worldwide.

Just as  the region was involved in the beginnings of climate change, so it will also be affected by the consequences of climate change which threaten the viability of farming and forestry as key regional industries. At the same time, attempts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and adapt to extreme weather events will require a radical restructuring of rural society and economy. This restructuring will require far more than a few wind farms. It will require a revolution as profound and challenging as the agricultural and industrial revolutions of the late eighteenth century.

For the past 250 years we have lived in a ‘for profit’ society. For just as long there has been a struggle to resist the transformation of ourselves and our worlds into an immense accumulation of commodities. Critical to this struggle has been the  knowledge that even the empire of commodities must one day fall.

Driven by necessity, by the stimulus of greater profits through technological efficiency, nineteenth century engineers and scientists developed and applied a new science of thermodynamics to the heat engines which powered industrial capitalism. Even the earth’s climate could be imagined as heat engine, driven by energy from the sun. Although only a small part of earth’s atmosphere, it was realised that carbon dioxide played a key role in this process so that increasing carbon dioxide levels would  tend to warm the planet and change its climate. The most serious impact of climate change will be on food production. Every civilisation known has depended on their ability to produce food surpluses. No food surplus = no civilisation.

The most likely result of climate change will be the end of a ‘for profit’ society and a return to a ‘for survival’ society. This is a desperately bleak prospect. It should be concentrating minds on the political, social and economic transition to a de-carbonised culture. We need to realise that the struggle against climate change is a revolutionary struggle.


Industrialising the Countryside
If the Letters pages of the local press are to be believed, the biggest threat facing Dumfries and Galloway is the onward march of industry. Unless it can be stopped, the entire population will be driven mad as  monstrous machines stride unchecked across the landscape. Every time the wind blows, the razor sharp blades of thousands of wind turbines will scythe a path of destruction through this green and pleasant land. What was once a place of tranquil, timeless, natural beauty will become a desolate wilderness ruined forever by dark satanic windmills.

So densely gothic is the rhetoric it is difficult to parody. It is also widely reproduced, so well rehearsed that similar sentiments fly from the pens of anti-wind farmers across the UK. What makes the local examples so irritating is the postmodern, ahistorical, depthlessness of these attacks on the future the wind turbines symbolise. The landscape the wind turbines exist within has changed and is changing in response to powerful economic pressures. The economic forces in turn are shaped and influenced by the cumulative impact of 12 000 years of the region’s human history. The human history in turn has been shaped and influenced by the region’s geology and ecology. In addition, national, international and global forces and factors have been important in the past. Such factors are even more important today.

The most significant of these external influences on Galloway and Dumfriesshire is climate change and it is the need to tackle climate change which is driving the construction of wind farms. The anti-wind farmers, if they do not deny the reality of climate change outright, deny that wind-farms will make any difference. In the background to the ‘industrialisation of the countryside’ rhetoric is the idea of rural areas as save havens  from urban modernity. Significantly, Ukip oppose both immigration and wind-energy.

As well as involving a denial of climate change, local opposition to wind energy also requires a denial of this region’s past and its present. Over the past fifty years, the intensification of dairy farming in the region’s lowland areas and the mechanisation of forestry in its upland areas have transformed the countryside. Both dairy farming and forestry are routinely described as ‘industries’.  Both have been responsible for a decrease in biodiversity. In Galloway and extending into Ayrshire,  the Doon, Ken and Dee river systems and their catchments were dramatically altered 80 years ago by the construction of a hydro-electric scheme.  The dams, reservoirs, aqueducts, tunnels, power stations and overhead power lines of this hydro-electric scheme also industrialised the countryside. Yet the anti-wind farmers simply ignore the impact of these industries on the environment.

Of course what the anti-wind farmers are trying to do is equate the spread wind turbines with a forest of smoke-blackened factory chimneys, as latter-day ‘dark satanic mills’ visually polluting a ‘green and pleasant land’. Lacking historical consciousness,  the anti-wind farmers are unaware that it was only thanks to an accident of geology that Dumfries and Galloway did not experience a coal-fired industrial revolution. In the 1770s, William Craik of Arbigland and Richard Oswald of Cavens  became convinced that there was coal to be found in Kirkbean parish. Southerness village was built to house the miners and act as a port for the export of the coal… but no coal was found. Across the Solway Firth, coal was mined from the 1660s in West Cumberland and exported to Ireland. Another search for coal was carried out near  the Isle of Whithorn in Wigtownshire, but again no coal was found.

There is coal around Canonbie in eastern Dumfriesshire, which has been mined. Coal is also found on the north side of the Southern Upland Fault, which runs from Girvan in the west to Dunbar in the east. In 1765, Stewartry of Kirkcudbright landowner Alexander Gordon had a short section of canal constructed  to carry marl (a lime rich clay) from Carlingwark Loch to the river Dee  near Threave Castle. North of this point the rivers Dee and Ken are navigable to New Galloway and Dalry at the head of Loch Ken. Gordon also promoted  a longer canal which would have linked the port of Kirkcudbright with this inland navigation. His aim was to continue the canal (or a primitive railway) all the way to Loch Doon and/or Dalmellington  where coal had been mined since the Middle Ages. A similar idea  was porpsed by civil engineer Robertson Buchanan in 1811,  when  he proposed linking the coal fields around Sanquhar with Dumfries by means of ‘Rail-Way’.

None of these bold plans came to fruition, but if they had, enthusiastic ‘improving’ landowners like James Murray of Gatehouse of Fleet and William Douglas of Castle Douglas and Newton Stewart (briefly renamed Newton Douglas) would have been able to use coal rather than water to power the cotton mills they promoted. Where coal and iron ore were available immediately to the north of the Southern Upland Fault near Dalmellington and Kirkconnell, iron smelting furnaces were built in the 1840s and 1850s. Even after local sources of iron ore were exhausted  by the early twentieth century, deep coal mining continued into the 1980s before being replaced by the open-cast coal mining which still (if only just) survives. Apart from coal/iron, lead was mined at Wanlockhead/ Leadhills and near Carsphairn. There were also a few small copper mines in the Stewartry between Minnigaff and Gatehouse of Fleet. Sandstone and limestone were and still are quarried in Dumfriesshire and granite near Creetown  and Dalbeattie where the Craignair quarry is still in operation.

Less obviously, since the immediate effects were experienced elsewhere, economic migrants from Galloway and Dumfriesshire played a significant role in the industrial revolution. Overlooking the A 75 Euroroute near Ringford in the Stewartry is a monument  celebrating the discovery of  the ‘hot-blast’ technique of iron-smelting by James Beaumont Neilson in 1828. Neilson’s discovery improved the efficiency of iron smelting, making it cheaper to  produce iron and allowed coal rather than coke to be used. It was also found that anthracite coal could be used in hot blast furnaces. This led to the growth of the iron industry in the USA and the development of the USA as a world industrial power. Although Neilson was born near Glasgow, his family were from the Stewartry. They claimed John Neilson of Corsock, who was killed in the 1666 Dalry/ Pentland Covenanter Uprising, as an ancestor. By 1848 Neilson had made enough money through licensing  his innovation to retire to Queenshill near Ringford where he died in 1865.


By 1828, a group of farmers’ sons from the Stewartry  of Kirkcudbright had already made their mark on the industrial revolution. After serving their apprenticeships with machine maker William Cannan (also from the Stewarty) at Chowbent in Lancashire, James McConnel, John Kennedy, Adam and George Murray set up as cotton spinners in Manchester in the 1790s. Their firms of Kennedy & McConnel and A & G Murray soon became the largest in Manchester, both employing over 1000 workers in their factories by 1815. John Kennedy also  helped secure the industrial revolution through his involvement in the Liverpool and Manchester railway, acting as a judge at the Rainhill Trials in 1829 which proved that steam locomotives were the future of transport.

Altogether it is possible to list at least 20 men from the south/ south-west of Scotland who influenced the development of the industrial revolution- plus Dr William Maxwell who was involved inn the French Revolution.

William Kennedy,  1732-?, born Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, became fustian manufacturer in Manchester.
William Cannan 1744-1825, born Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. Became textile  machine maker in Lancashire and James McConnell, John Kennedy, George and Adam Murray (see below) all served their apprenticeships with him.
Edgar Corrie 1748-1819, born Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. Liverpool merchant, John Gladstone’s first business partner. [Possible family link to William and Peter Ewart]
John Loudon McAdam 1756-1836, born Ayr civil engineer and  road builder.
Dr James Currie 1756-1805 born Dumfriesshire. Became doctor in Liverpool and  Robert Burns first biographer.  Friend of Thomas Telford,  Erasmus Darwin, Dugald Stewart, Joseph Priestley and William Wilberforce.
Thomas Telford 1757- 1834, born Dumfriesshire civil engineer with international reputation.
William Maxwell 1760-1834, born Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. Father a  Roman Catholic Jacobite (1745-6), but became active supporter of French Revolution, and witnessed death of Louis XVI before becoming  Robert Burns’ doctor and friend.
Thomas Maxwell 1761-1792 born Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, brother of William. In 1785 became business partner of  Charles Taylor in Manchester where the firm pioneered use of chlorine to bleach cotton. James Watt’s son James Watt junior joined the firm in 1788.
George Murray 1761- ?, born Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. With his brother Adam became major cotton spinning factory owner in Manchester.
James McConnel 1762-?, born Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. Partner of John Kennedy in major cotton spinning business in Manchester.
William Ewart 1763-?, born Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. Liverpool merchant and business partner of John Gladstone.
John Gladstone 1764-1850, born Edinburgh, family from Biggar. Father of  William Ewart Gladstone.
Adam Murray 1766-?, born Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. With his brother George became  major cotton spinning manufacturer in Manchester.
Peter Ewart 1767-1842 born Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. A mechanical engineer and scientist. Was  Boulton and Watts Manchester agent and with John Kennedy (see below) involved with Liverpool and Manchester railway.
William Galloway 1768-1836, born Berwickshire. Moved to Manchester in 1790 to become mechanical engineer and maker of stationary steam engines.
John Kennedy 1769-1855 born Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. Pioneered application of steam power to cotton spinning. Along with James McConnell, Adam and George Murray became leading Manchester cotton spinner. Friend of James Watt and George Stephenson,. active promoter of Liverpool and Manchester railway and judge at the Rainhill locomotive trials.
William Fairburn 1789-1874, born Roxburghshire, important  civil and mechanical engineer, who built bridges, steam ships and locomotives. Close links to George and Robert Stephenson and also John Kennedy in Manchester.
John Ramsay McCulloch 1789-1864, born Wigtownshire. Editor of The Scotsman 1817-24. First professor of political economy at University College London 1828. Highly influential, advising  prime minister Robert Peel and future prime ministers William Ewart Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli.
James Beaumont Neilson 1792-1865, born Glasgow but family from Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. Invented ‘hot-blast’ technique of iron smelting which  revolutionised iron industry and led to growth of heavy engineering in west central Scotland.

It is interesting that these men were able to make the transition from what was still in many ways a medieval economy and society to the first modern society and economy. One explanation for this ease of movement is that across the south-west and especially in Galloway, the feudal system never fully held sway. What limited the imposition of feudalism was the strength of the Gall-Ghaidheil, the Gaelic kindreds or clans. The Gall-Ghaidheil emerged in the ninth or tenth centuries when Vikings settled in Argyll and became absorbed into the Gaelic speaking population. These Vikings Gaels then moved east into Renfrewshire, Ayrshire, Galloway, Dumfriesshire and possibly even Cumbria. During the twelfth century,  Scottish kings settled Norman and Flemish families- the Bruces, Stewarts and Douglasses -in the south-west, but Galloway remained an independent territory ruled by king Fergus of Galloway until 1160.

The power of Fergus and his descendants down to Edward Balliol in the fourteenth century depended on the loyalty of Gaelic speaking families like the McDowalls, McCullochs and McLellans. They held their lands by traditional right, not because a king had granted them a charter. Even after Archibald the Grim declared himself Lord of Galloway after Edward Balliol died in 1365, he still relied on the support of the Gaelic ‘heads of kin’ or kenkynnol. Then in 1388, Archibald became the third earl of Douglas, giving him control of a huge swathe of territory across southern Scotland and even lands as far north as Inverness. This shifted the balance of power in Galloway, reducing the status and influence of the Gaelic clans who became the Douglas lords of Galloway’s feudal retainers. However, the power of the Douglas earls now posed a threat to the Stewart kings of Scotland. The threat was ended in 1455 when James II defeated  James, the 9th earl of Douglas and  the Douglas lands, including those in Galloway, were forfeited to the Crown.

It is only after 1455 that a clear pattern of land ownership in Galloway begins to emerge through charters and other documents. What these reveal through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is a bewildering fragmentation of land ownership, with hundreds (700 in the Stewartry alone between 1660 and 1700) of individuals owning small estates  made up of a handful of farms. While some of these small estates were held by the same family for several generations, others were mortgaged, bought and sold in bewildering confusion.  Unlike the rest of Scotland, where land ownership was concentrated in the hands of a few noble families, in Galloway and the south-west, the typical land owner was a ‘bonnet laird’, and owner-cultivator of his (sometimes hers through marriage settlements or widowhood)  farms in partnership with tenants and their cottars.  It was also a paper economy based on bonds (IOUs) often exchanged against income anticipated from future harvests. [Approximately 5000 of the 6000 entries in the ‘Stewartry Sheriff Court Deeds 1623-1700’ are such bonds.]

By the eighteenth century then, although farming practice was still based on medieval techniques, both the traditional and feudal systems of landownership had long since vanished. In their place, hundreds of farmers and their tenants were engaged in a complex financial system in which land, crops and livestock were commodities to be exchanged. Of these commodities cattle in particular, which had been exported to markets in England since the early seventeenth century, were subject to speculative trading and were often bought and sold several times before final despatch across the Border.  It was the disruptive impact of the cattle trade on the internal economy of Galloway which animated the Galloway Levellers uprising in 1724. While the eviction of tenants and cottars to create ‘cattle parks’ provided the initial stimulus, what led to widespread support for the Levellers actions in destroying the enclosures was the belief that the landowners involved were stocking the cattle parks with illegally imported Irish cattle which they planned to pass off as Scottish.

With a background in such a proto-capitalist economy, it was not such a huge leap for Galloway farmers’ sons to make the transition from trading cattle produced in fields to trading cotton produced in factories  in Manchester or trading sugar, tobacco and grain via the port of Liverpool. It is also important to remember that these individuals were only part of a much larger process of economic migration from the south of Scotland to central Scotland, the north of Ireland, England, north America and later New Zealand  and Australia.

Back in 1973, Ted Cowan describe  this movement  of people as the ‘Lowland Clearances’ and in 2003 the Lowland Clearances was used as the title of a radio series and book  to which I  contributed  a section on the Galloway Levellers.  Part of the reason the Lowland  Clearances  are not as well known and documented as the Highland Clearances is that apart from in Galloway it was not a very dramatic process. Gradually, between the 1760s and 1800,  the countryside was improved  by landowners and tenant farmers. This rationalisation of the farmed landscape  resulted in the loss of a whole class- the cottars, along with their crofts and cots. These cottars had provided a source of seasonal labour for the traditional, that is medieval, methods of farming. To retain them on the land, they were allowed their own plots of land called crofts and their own basic houses called cots. Most were re-employed as farm labourers, but others had little choice but to migrate.

In the Lowlands, the drama of the Galloway Levellers uprising in 1724 was remembered and this influenced the gradual approach adopted by improving landowners and their agents. As an example, John Maxwell was factor or agent to the Duke of Buccleuch  and then Richard Oswald of Auchincruive in Ayrshire who also owned land in the Stewartry. As a child in 1724, Maxwell witnessed his uncle’s dykes being levelled  and  the memory was still vivid in 1811 when he described the events in a letter. From estate records of  the 1760s and 70s it is clear that Maxwell very carefully managed the process of improvement to avoid whole scale clearance of the  farms involved. Without the constraining memory of the Galloway Levellers,  Highland landowners  pursued a  more vigorous and ruthless  approach to ’improvement’ leaving an enduring legacy of bitterness which still influences  Scottish campaigns for land reform.

That the construction of cattle parks in Galloway  had already led to depopulation  through clearance before the events of 1724 is illustrated  by  John Clerk of Penicuick. Clerk was the earl of Galloway’s brother-in-law and on a visit to the earl in 1721, Clerk observed that

The inhabitants of Galloway are much lessened since the custome of inclosing their grounds took place, for there are certainly above 20,000 acres laid waste on that account.

The ‘custome of inclosing’ was not new in 1721. According to Andrew Symmson’ Large Description of Galloway, by 1682, David Dunbar of Baldoon had a 11/2 square miles cattle park which could hold up to 1000 cattle. Sysmson also mentions that the earl of Galloway, William Maxwell of Monreith, Godfrey McCulloch of Mertoun,  James Dalrymple of Carsecreuch,  McDowall of Logan and ‘many others’ had  cattle parks and enclosed grounds. Although Symson does not mention them, there also cattle parks near Borgue and Kirkcudbright in the Stewartry in the 1680s.  If there were more cattle parks in Wigtownshire  this helps explain why the population of Wigtownshire grew more slowly than that of the Stewartry between  1690 and 1755.  From estimates based on Hearth tax returns,  both Stewartry and Shire had about 16 000 inhabitants in 1690, but while the population of the Stewartry had grown to  21 205 by 1755, in Wigtownshire the figure was only 16 466.  It is likely then that Clerk was referring to Wigtownshire rather than all of Galloway as having been subject to depopulation via enclosure in 1721. Although  most of the levelling of cattle parks took place in the Stewartry, there was also some levelling in Wigtownshire. However this was on a smaller scale and was opposed by  the tenant farmers, one of whom shot and killed a Leveller in 1724.

By 1851, Wigtownshire with a population of  43 389  had caught up with the Stewartry  which had a population of  43 121. These were to be Galloway’s  highest population levels. By this time, Galloway was  firmly established as the rural and agricultural region t remains today. By 1861, the railway from Dumfries had reached Stranraer. While the railway provided an alternative to coastal shipping and road transport for the export of farmed produce, especially milk, it opened up the region to mass produced manufactured goods from bricks to beer. As local brickworks, breweries and similar small scale local producers began to close, so  population  growth became population decline. By the end of the nineteenth century ,the paintings of the Kirkcudbright artists and Glasgow Boys along with the novels of S. R. Crockett convey the impression of the region as a tranquil rural backwater far from  the smoke and squalor of  more dynamic urban and industrial areas.

This image of Galloway is still the one marketed to tourists and visitors, following the template of S.R. Crockett’s 1902 guide book  ‘Raiderland’. [‘The Raiders’ 1894 was a romantic adventure story set in Galloway and was Crockett’s most popular book. The ‘Raiders Road’ forest drive  is a current tourist attraction based on Crockett’s  work.]  It is this fantasy landscape, frozen in the Edwardian moment before  the industrialised horrors of the First World War, that opponents of wind energy seek to preserve. While opposition to wind energy has managed to slow the turbines’ advance, climate change continues.

The likely impact of climate change in Dumfries and Galloway will be an increase in extreme and hard-to-predict weather events. Such events will have a damaging impact on impact on  the region’s three main industries- farming, forestry and tourism. An increase in rainfall, especially if concentrated into  periods of heavy rainfall, will create problems of water logging of the ground which makes the use of forestry and agricultural machinery impossible. Sudden spates  in streams and rivers can wash out bridges and access roads while wetter days in the summer will discourage visitors to the region.  Along with  the effects droughts, heavy snow falls and severe storms, it will be possible to recover from  severe weather events- at a price and so long as they are believed to be ‘one-off’ or very occasional events.

Once extreme weather events become more frequent then very difficult decisions will have to be made. It may be necessary to abandon smaller and more remote rural settlements if it becomes too costly to maintain essential infrastructure like roads and electricity supply. Problems maintaining the remote rural road network would also affect forestry and upland farming while a persistent increase in water logging and flooding would affect the viability of many lowland farms.

We cannot know for sure what the local effect of climate change will be and this uncertainty helps climate change deniers and the anti-wind energy campaigners. The difficulty is that moves to make major cuts in carbon dioxide emissions will have major social and economic implications. Air transport will have to be cut back, so also will road transport. Moving people and goods by rail is more energy efficient (apart from high-speed rail). Which is fine for areas which have railways but not for rural areas like Galloway which have lost their rail links. Re-building the railway from Dumfries to Stranraer would be  ferociously expensive. Furthermore, when it was built in the 1860s it passed through an area with twice the population of present day Galloway. Even more importantly, the railway was not built for the benefit of Galloway, it was built to connect Belfast (as the industrial centre of northern Ireland) with England. On its own, the best  Galloway might have managed would have been a few narrow gauge railway lines like those built in rural Ireland. Finding a climate change accepting solution to rural transport problems in Dumfries and Galloway may yet require the construction of a narrow gauge railway network across the region.

Conclusion/ Introduction
Rural resistance to wind energy is rooted in a refusal to recognise the reality of climate change and the belief that it is possible to protect the countryside (=nature) against industrialisation. But in Galloway and Dumfriesshire, the countryside is already industrialised via farming and forestry. Furthermore, individuals from the region played an active and significant role in the construction of industrial capitalism in England and Scotland  and its spread worldwide.

Just as  the region was involved in the beginnings of climate change, so it will also be affected by the consequences of climate change which threaten the viability of farming and forestry as key regional industries. At the same time, attempts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and adapt to extreme weather events will require a radical restructuring of rural society and economy. This restructuring will require far more than a few wind farms. It will require a revolution as profound and challenging as the agricultural and industrial revolutions of the late eighteenth century.

For the past 250 years we have lived in a ‘for profit’ society. For just as long there has been a struggle to resist the transformation of ourselves and our worlds into an immense accumulation of commodities. Critical to this struggle has been the  knowledge that even the empire of commodities must one day fall.

Driven by necessity, by the stimulus of greater profits through technological efficiency, nineteenth century engineers and scientists developed and applied a new science of thermodynamics to the heat engines which powered industrial capitalism. Even the earth’s climate could be imagined as heat engine, driven by energy from the sun. Although only a small part of earth’s atmosphere, it was realised that carbon dioxide played a key role in this process so that increasing carbon dioxide levels would  tend to warm the planet and change its climate. The most serious impact of climate change will be on food production. Every civilisation known has depended on their ability to produce food surpluses. No food surplus = no civilisation.

The most likely result of climate change will be the end of a ‘for profit’ society and a return to a ‘for survival’ society. This is a desperately bleak prospect. It should be concentrating minds on the political, social and economic transition to a de-carbonised culture. We need to realise that the struggle against climate change is a revolutionary struggle.

















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