One of the best aspects of the Geosciences programme at the University of Edinburgh is the wide and frequent array of opportunities afforded to students and staff alike to see what is actually going on with respect to our global environment. It is one of many factors that made my decision to come here an easy one. Last week, several classmates and I attended a free screening of the Common Weal organisation’s first documentary, Land: Terra, followed by a question-and-answer session with film-maker Cristina Ertza and Lothians Green Party MSP Andy Wightman.
The documentary highlights land issues in Scotland and Brazil, with film-maker Ertza commenting that the two countries are leagues apart in terms of wealth, culture, and language, but they face very similar circumstances with respect to sustainable use of the land. Much of Scotland’s land is owned by a very small percentage of the population, many of whom are descended from the noble class. While Brazil does not have a nobility, much of its land is similarly owned by industrialized farming interests. Both countries, however, feature farming communities who want to see their farmsteads run almost entirely on renewable energy. Scotland has established some of the world’s most progressive targets with respect to sustainable use of the land, labour, agriculture, and water. Representatives of Scottish research institutions have been working with Brazilian farmers in an effort to reclaim their land from corporate farming and using it sustainably, using the recent land reform in Scotland’s Isle of Eigg as a model.
One of the key questions confronting the globe is how to govern peoples and lands in a sustainable way, and this is a question that we as postgraduate students are working to answer through the School of Geosciences. The documentary asserted that the surest way to deal with the land use issue is to take power from professional politicians and the corporations, returning it to the people. During the Q&A session that followed, Mr. Wightman argued that the currently ruling political class lacks the backbone and the necessary vision to bring to fruition real land reform and general environmental reform. He argued that a major revision of the democratic process would improve governance—including environmental governance—at all levels in Scotland and across the globe.
The issue, however, and one raised in the Values and the Environment seminar this autumn semster, is finding a balance between the rights of individuals, the rights of communities, and the rights of the land, flora and fauna. For sake of time, I will not go into the various and varying schools of thought on these questions, but the audience assembled in the packed lecture theatre acknowledged that the politicalstatus quo will not suffice in order to make the changes needed for effectively sustainable climate governance, and thus societal governance. Through the School of Geosciences postgraduate programmes, we will work toward those answers. We owe our Earth and our future generations no less than our best efforts.