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Arctic

Atlantic Ocean Road, Norway <em>Picture: Ernst Vikne</em>

Atlantic Ocean Road, Norway Picture: Ernst Vikne

What do you think of when you hear the word Scandinavian? Is it liberalism? Or social democracy? Perhaps high standards of living? Or high tax rates? Maybe saunas and snow?

Whatever it is, could we become Scandinavians – and, if we could, would we want to?

That was the issue which was raised to the top of the political agenda over the weekend when it emerged that SNP strategists believe that an independent Scotland’s future lies in looking north and east, not south.

Angus Robertson, the SNP’s foreign and defence spokesman, has been leading the charge towards the Nordicisation of Scotland and his arguments are compelling.

He points to the opening up of new shipping lanes over the north of Russia because of global warming. These new routes offer to save companies 40 per cent on fuel and time costs in journeys from the Far East to Europe.

At the moment, that trade will go to Rotterdam. But what, Mr Robertson argues, if some of that trade could be persuaded to come through Scotland – and, in particular, through a new container hub at Rosyth?

Then there is energy, and proposals for a super-grid between Scotland and Norway. Then there is oil, and fishing and maritime surveillance and defence.

Mr Robertson’s argument is that Scotland used to enjoy close trade, diplomatic and maritime links with Scandinavia, but these were lost when Scotland joined the Union with England and started looking south.

With independence, he says, it is time to look towards our old neighbours again.

But there is more. Along with this new, Scandic, approach to diplomacy and trade is a defence strategy designed to dovetail with the Norwegians, the Swedes and the Danes and provide Scotland with the sort of defence forces which the other Scandinavian countries have pioneered.

This means small, high-tech, deployable forces designed to look after our corner of the world which, along with the Norwegians, Danes and Swedes, means the High North and Arctic – not the plains of Germany, the deserts of Irag or the mountains of Afghanistan.

That is the overt message. But is there a subliminal one, as well? How much do we want to become like the Scandinavians domestically, too?

By talking about trade and diplomacy and energy and minerals and fishing and defence, senior Nationalists have started creating an image of an independent Scotland as one that is similar – at least outwardly – to its Scandinavian neighbours.

They insist that this would not mean punitively high rates of tax or conscription or any of the other aspects of Scandinavian life which may appear unpalatable.

But how would we feel if we went further and started to aspire to be like the Scandinavians in social policy, or in penal policy, or in taxation?

Everybody seems to agree that the Scandinavians enjoy an enviable standard of living, generally, and that they seem to reach agreement on key domestic agendas by doing what is right, rather than by political dogma – but Sweden also seems to have the highest tax rates in the world, and these have been blamed for limiting ambition and economic growth.

But maybe that is a good thing. Given where Scotland is at the moment on a whole range of different indices, maybe it would be good to swap what we have for the Scandinavian model – regardless of the downsides.

What is certain, though, is that we have to have this debate. The SNP leadership has opened up the prospect of Scotland shifting its focus dramatically after independence and this then raises fresh questions about what sort of country we would want an independent Scotland to be.

The SNP’s political opponents will accuse the Nationalists of simply repackaging the old “Arc of Prosperity” slogan – but this new “Nordic” model is more complicated, better researched and more rounded than the now discredited “Arc of Prosperity” mantra.

Whatever the political views about this new approach, what does need to happen is that we need to discuss it, debate it and explore all its pros and cons in a mature, rational and lengthy discourse.

After all, isn’t that what the Scandinavians would do?

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KT Tunstall in the Arctic <em>Picture: Nathan Gallacher/Cape Farewell</em>

KT Tunstall in the Arctic Picture: Nathan Gallacher/Cape Farewell

by Rob Edwards

It could have been “some horrendous sort of competitive artistic soup bowl where we’re all just starting to be complete bitches to each other”, according to the Scottish singer-songwriter, KT Tunstall.

But in the end, cooping up a bunch of famous musicians, comedians and other assorted artists on a boat trip to the Arctic turned out differently. They did get emotional, but about the beauty of the ice – and the overwhelming evidence that pollution is making it melt away.

The resulting artistic angst will be unveiled for all to see in a documentary called Burning Ice, to be premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival this week. “I had a bit of a tear in my eye,” says Jarvis Cocker, from the band Pulp.

“It’s inscrutable, but there’s something very, very beautiful about it and it’s been doing its thing for millions of years and it shouldn’t stop because of something that we did.”

Tunstall and Cocker were taken on a sea tour of Greenland by Cape Farewell, a London-based charity that is trying to encourage a cultural response to climate change. They were accompanied by North American singer-songwriter, Martha Wainwright, the British comedian, Marcus Brigstocke, the Japanese musician, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and others.

The trip made a big impact on Tunstall. “I’m still sort of speechless about it,” she says. “I still don’t really know what it’s done to me, but I know that it’s done a lot.”

She sings a song about how “there’s something going on” in the Greenland town of Uummannaq. “I fell in love with the world more than ever because it just totally surprised me,” she says. “It made me more passionate about going, yes, we can’t fuck this up.”

Cocker was inspired to write and record a song called Slush. It goes: “And if I could, I would refrigerate this moment, I would preserve it for all time. And I know I don’t stand a snowball in hell’s chance… so let’s sing Auld Lang Syne.”

Wainwright says that she wanted to create a new protest song. “The sense that I get is big change needs to happen and it needs to happen from the top down rather than the bottom up.”

There was controversy on the trip when the Italian artist and engineer Francesca Galeazzi decided to stage an event on the ice at which six kilograms of climate-wrecking carbon dioxide was released from a gas cylinder. This was attacked as an “act of vandalism” by some of the others on the boat.

Galeazzi argues, however, that art is meant to be challenging. “I’m fully aware of this negative gesture,” she says. “I think people need to take full responsibility for their actions and at the moment we’re not doing that.”

Of course environmental groups like it when celebrities get engaged with climate change, but they are wary about the pollution they can cause. “They should be mindful that their own activities can be environmentally damaging,” warns Stan Blackley, the new chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland.

“If any of the celebrities involved in this film wants to do a carbon-neutral gig to help Friends of the Earth Scotland, then we’d be delighted to show them how it can be done.”

According to David Buckland, the director of Cape Farewell, the trip had successfully inspired the artists. “What is amazing,” he says, “is that pretty much every artist that’s gone up, be it architects, writers or whatever, have actually made something which is quite significant.”

Burning Ice is being presented at the film festival by Take One Action, a group that promotes activist films. “Thousands of Scots have turned out to our screenings about climate change, and there is clearly a growing appetite to engage positively with the challenges,” says the group’s director, Simon Bateson.

“Our audiences have pledged to cut some 50 tonnes of emissions, a powerful signal from the Scottish arts. Films like Burning Ice have that power: to entertain, to provoke, and ultimately to inspire audiences to go a step further.”

Burning Ice will be presented by Take One Action at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on 21 and 22 June.

Rob Edwards, environmental news and comment.

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Muir_portrait_1872These are the voyages of five Scottish figures that made it their business to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, and to boldly go where no one had gone before.

The Scots do seem to crop up everywhere, within every land and culture, with many having made a significant contribution. The following individuals all made such a journey, and all have left some sort of legacy.

John Muir (1838-1914)
Muir was a pioneer of conservation and ‘Father of the National Parks’.

Born in Dunbar, East Lothian, Muir’s family left for a new life in Wisconsin, USA, when he was only eleven. Here Muir developed a passion for all thing botanical and natural, and though his university credits indicate he never actually graduated, but studied a diverse range of topics.

After his eclectic education, he explored widely in the US and Canada, writing of his experiences and discoveries. In September 1867, Muir undertook a walk of about 1,000 miles from Indiana to Florida, which he recounted in his book, A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf. He also explored Yosemite Valley and was integral to its protection.

Muir was the founder of the US National Park system, forming the Sierra Club to protect the environment, and has parks and buildings named after him both in Scotland and the US.

The John Muir Trust now exists to protect the UK’s wild places. The trust owns and manages six estates in Scotland (c 47 000 acres): Knoydart, Sconser, Strathaird and Torrin (Isle of Skye), Schiehallion (Perth & Kinross) and Sandwood in Sutherland.

William Spears Bruce (1867-1921)
Although technically not Scottish, he was the son of a Scottish medic, studied at Edinburgh University and owned a house in Portobello, so let’s claim him as our own. Spears was an oceanographer and Polar Explorer, famously advising Robert Falcon Scott that his supply stations were too widely spaced. Hence Scott’s failed attempt to reach the South Pole.

Spears was one of the first to explore the Antarctic, discovering Coats Land a 240km stretch of the coast of the Antarctic continent. It was named after the Paisley thread-manufacturing family to which the main financial backers of the expedition belonged.

Spears also founded the Scottish Oceanographical Society, the Scottish Ski Club and Edinburgh Zoo. For the latter, he nabbed some penguins from his forays in the Antarctic.

Dr John Rae (1813-1893)
John Rae discovered the final navigable link in the Northwest Passage (a sea route in the Arctic joining the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean) – but has been treated unfairly in the history books, with this discovery being credited to Sir John Franklin and Sir Robert McClure.

Born at the Hall of Clestrain, Ophir, in Orkney, Rae first studied medicine at Edinburgh and then went into the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company as a surgeon on board The Prince of Wales. This was bound for the North Atlantic and Arctic. He worked as a surgeon and general trader in James Bay, Canada, and effectively learned the survival techniques and ways of the local Inuit and Cree Indians.

Rae mapped hundreds of uncharted Canadian coastal miles and in 1948 undertook an expedition to find out what happened to the ill-fated Royal Navy Expedition (lead by Sir John Franklin) that had set out to discover the Northwest Passage. He found that their ship had been trapped by ice and many had died from illness, but the local Inuit people filled-in the blanks. Cannibalism had been a last resort for these unfortunate men to try to survive.

Exploring a further thousand miles of this uncharted coastline in the area where he searched for Franklin, Rae made a crucial discovery. What was thought to be ‘King William Land’ was actually an island, and that the strait separating it from the mainland (‘Rae Strait’ ) was the last uncharted link in the Northwest Passage.

On his return, his news of what happened to the Franklin Expedition was shocking and unacceptable to Victorian England. Lead by Franklin’s wife, efforts were made to discredit Rae, and he was not credited with the discovery. Instead, Franklin was.

Fatal Passage – The Untold Story of John Rae the Arctic Explorer Who Discovered the Fate of Franklin’ by Ken McGoogan.) www.orcadian.co.uk/books/index.html

Basil Hall (1788-1844)
Proved that the pen is mightier than the sword by writing books and keeping journals that give a wonderful insight to the world during his lifetime.

Born In Edinburgh, Hall joined the Navy and quickly reached the rank of Captain. Commanding a number of vessels involved with scientific and diplomatic expeditions, these missions brought him into contact with interesting people and places.

In Spain he saw the dying Sir John Moore being carried from the battlefield in Corunna and in 1817 had an audience and interview with Napoleon. In 1824 he spent time at the home of Sir Walter Scott, writing about the author’s domestic life.

When he left the navy, he and his wife continued to travel, with Hall writing many informative and memorable books about his experiences, as well as many published scientific papers:

  • The Fragments of Voyages and Travels
  • Account of a Voyage of Discovery to the West Coast of Corea and the Great Loo-Choo Island in the Japan Sea
  • Winter in Lower Styria
  • Extracts from a Journal Written on the Coasts of Chile, Peru and Mexico

Sir Sandford Fleming (1827-1915)

Born in Kirkcaldy, Fleming was an engineer and an inventor, but is perhaps best known as ‘The Time Lord’, having proposed the creation of Standard Time, and worldwide time zones.

In fact, this Scot was involved in a number of remarkable things.

Fleming was chief engineer of the Canadian Pacific Railway and surveyed the first rail route across Canada, designed their first postage stamp, and successfully championed the Trans-Pacific telegraph cable that was put in from Vancouver to Australia.

With the introduction of railways, it became highly inconvenient and inefficient to work to a local time. Travelling over any distance by train would involve resetting your watch to local clocks or carrying a number of watches. It made planning train journeys difficult and ineffective, and gave the stationmaster a real headache when dealing with train schedules in local time.

Fleming saw that this couldn’t work and devised a universal twenty-four hour clock, dividing the world map into twenty-four time zones.

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Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

Inuit groups have hailed US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s criticism of Canada for not inviting aboriginal people and three Scandinavian countries to international talks in Ottawa on the future of the Arctic.

In a stinging rebuke to the Canadian government at the opening of the meeting, Mrs Clinton said she regretted that Canada invited Russia, Norway, Denmark and the US, but not Sweden, Finland, Iceland or the Inuit indigenous people.

Mrs Clinton said all those “who have legitimate interests in the region”, including indigenous peoples, should have been invited to the conference. “We need all hands on deck because there is a huge amount to do, and not much time to do it. What happens in the Arctic will have broad consequences for the Earth and its climate”.

Duane Smith of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) said he was relieved that Mrs Clinton agreed that aboriginal people should be involved in any discussions that affect their homeland.

Mr Smith said the Canadian foreign minister, Lawrence Cannon, had had “a unique opportunity here to invite ICC Canada to be a part of his delegation to, at the very least, observe the meeting to show that Canada is more inclusive by having us there”.

Mr Smith told the Toronto Star that he suspected that the meeting of Arctic coastal states was an attempt to make the group permanent, possibly to rival the Arctic Council, an eight-nation organisation that includes groups representing the Inuit.

Said the Star: “Cannon should have seen the diplomatic iceberg long before it struck Canada’s hull. The first meeting of Arctic coastal states in 2008 was held in Ilulissat, Greenland, and met by a flurry of diplomatic protest that was only dampened when the three countries left out of the talks were assured it would be a ‘one-off’. The Inuit Circumpolar Council was placated by receiving observer status and being asked to make a presentation to the assembled foreign ministers.

“Not this time around.”

Mr Cannon said the meeting did not intend to “to replace or undermine the Arctic Council”, of which Canada was co-founder.

By John Knox
An icebergWe prefer to talk about the weather rather than the climate. And now that spring is here, it’s a cheerful enough subject. The sun shines again, the birds are singing, the crocuses are out and soon the daffodils will be stretching in never ending line along the margin of the bay.

The coldest winter for nearly 50 years is over, the snaw has blown off the dykes and temperatures of -23C have passed into folk history. It looked as if the gods were angry with us. But it wasn’t clear why. Was it because we tried, at Copenhagen, to put the climate right? Or was it because we failed?

The scientists tell us that the severe winter wasn’t a matter of “climate” at all but simply “weather”. It was a short-term aberration, not a long term trend. High pressure over the North Pole drove the cold weather further south than usual, where it met warmer air and the result was piles of snow and arctic winds and arctic temperatures. Things got a little chaotic. There was more snow in Glencoe than at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. It was warmer on the coast of Alaska than it was in Florida.

But the long term trend continues. Shimla in the Himalayas had its warmest winter for five years. Melbourne had its hottest night since 1902. An iceberg as large as Luxembourg was dislodged from the edge of the Antarctic and began melting into the southern sea. We are still on our way to a rise in global temperatures of 4 degrees by the end of the century, and the flooding and droughts that will come with it.

If the winter has taught us anything, it is that nature is a very big bear indeed. It can bring civilisation to a frightening halt so easily and so quickly. If the weather doesn’t get us, the earthquakes will. We are on this planet by a lucky chance and the forces of nature could crush us to fine dust at any moment.

It’s tempting to say we should just eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. But that’s not the way of humans … or of any living thing. We have always struggled on, digging our way out of the snow, rebuilding houses so that they can withstand earthquakes, tackling climate change.

Wait a minute, “Tackling climate change,” is putting it a big strongly. We have only just begun to realise it’s a threat. A recent BBC poll found that only 26 per cent of us believe climate change is happening and that it’s largely man-made. And this is after 20 years of public campaigns, warnings, commissions and summits. We are like chickens in a barn, determined to be unaware there’s a fox about. The rooster politicians have crowed a lot about climate change but they’ve failed to waken us and have just given up.

Put up your hand if you think we will reach the government’s target of cutting CO2 emissions by 42 per cent by 2020? That would need a reduction of 3 per cent a year, starting last year. In hard practice, we are achieving less than a 1 per cent reduction each year, despite all the public transport investment, the home insulation schemes, the closure of steel mills and coal fired power stations.

If we are serious about trying to keep global temperatures below the critical 2 degree rise, then I think the time has come to be serious about turning the economy green. The EU system of carbon trading is only a beginning. Large CO2 polluters are getting their carbon credits for nothing, they need to be charged. The UK government seems to have given up on the idea of a carbon card for every citizen, rather like a ration card which would be “spent” as we buy cars, home boilers, air-miles etc. And it has set its face against a carbon tax which would tax all CO2-producing fuel, used in cars or homes or in factories, shops and offices.

To be fair there is a 54 per cent petrol duty but we do not pay the pollution costs of the gas we consume heating our homes or offices. Nor do we pay anything on the fuel used in aircraft. The Irish and the French are following much the same policy and calling it a “carbon tax”. The EU also has plans for a basic 10 euros per tonne minimum petrol tax.

But, as usual, the Scandinavians have led the way, with a proper carbon tax, introduced in the early 1990s, levied on fuel both for transport and for heating. The best example is Sweden which saw a 20 per cent reduction in emissions between 1991 and 2000 as people used their cars less and switched to bio-fuel or district heating to warm their homes. In other countries like Norway and the Netherlands, there was no fall in emissions but that was because their economies were growing rapidly. So a carbon tax did not damage business, as is sometimes argued.

In fact, the carbon tax can be seen as an opportunity to expand the economy in a better direction, towards renewable energy, recycling, properly insulating homes, redesigning the transport system, encouraging home produced food.

The idea of a carbon tax goes back to the Cambridge economist and mountaineer Arthur Pigou in the early 1900s. He was the first to pioneer the concept of “welfare economics” ie that there are benefits we share in common and that there is a cost to consuming the earth’s resources or polluting the planet. It’s still rather a novel idea among economists and has not caught on at all among most businessmen and consumers.

The problem is that the disadvantages of climate change are difficult to measure and are long term. The Stern Report had a go at measuring the effects and concluded that world GDP would drop by 20 per cent a year, if we did not spent 1 -2 per cent of GDP (£20b) on measures to cut carbon emissions. Generally we don’t put much of a price on carbon emissions … or on any waste, come to think of it.

Which means, generally, that we are heading for disaster, led by our tax-avoiding politicians. And I guess the earth’s natural forces will need to get much angrier with us if we are to change our ways. It’s a pity, because such conflict could be avoided. Then spring would be a season to be happy about, not one to wary of, wondering what “weather” it has in store for us.