Issue 8: January 2014

REMEMBERING JOHN MUIR

By Keith Geddes, Chair, Central Scotland Green Network Partnership Board

2014 promises to be a busy year, with the constitutional referendum, the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup and the Bannockburn anniversary; but it’s not the only anniversary this year..

2014 is also the centenary of John Muir’s death. He died in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve, 1914, his hospital bed covered with manuscript pages from a book he was preparing.

The New York Times described him as “one of the greatest thinkers of America” and added “some inkling of the man’s greatness and versatility can be gleaned from a glance at the names of the lasting friends he made among the great men of the country. The most intimate of these included several Presidents, among them Taft, Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson”.

One of Muir’s biographers, Steven J Holmes, argued that Muir  became “one of the patron saints of 20th century American environmental activity”, while another, Donald Worster, said that Muir understood his mission to be “saving the American soul from total surrender to materialism”, clearly a work still in progress.

Muir was noted for being an ecological thinker, political spokesperson and religious prophet, whose writings became a personal guide into nature for countless individuals.

2014 is the centenary of environmental pioneer John Muir’s death, and we need to mark it here, not just in the US

He was also a mountaineer, a geologist, a naturalist, an explorer, an inventor, a glaciologist and of course a conservationist, but he said of himself: “I could have become a millionaire but chose instead to become a tramp.”

His activism helped save the Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park and other wilderness areas. In 1892 he founded the Sierra Club and became its first president, a position he held until his death. The Sierra Club now enjoys a membership of some 750,000 and has spawned similar bodies such as Friends of the Earth.

His death coincided with the early months of the First World War, and for obvious reasons his passing went largely unnoticed in his native country; as a result, Scotland was slow to recognise his achievements. As late as 1978, the National Library had none of his books or any of Muir’s biographies on its shelves.

Thankfully, due to the efforts of East Lothian Council, the John Muir Trust and a handful of dedicated individuals who understood the relevance of Muir’s legacy, his name and works have been kept alive and more Scots now understand his importance. The excellent John Muir Birthplace Trust Museum in Dunbar, for example, has attracted 110,000 visitors, and the John Muir Country Park established in 1976 continues to attract large numbers.

The centenary of his death is providing Scotland with an opportunity to celebrate Muir the man. A series of events have been developed under the banner of the John Muir Festival from April 17th to 26th to ensure that Scots have the opportunity to gain a better understanding his legacy.

The Central Scotland Green Network, supported by Scottish Natural Heritage, has developed a new long distance route to extend the existing John Muir Way - which currently runs from Dunbar to Fisherrow in Musselburgh - through to Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park and over to Helensburgh; in other words from Muir’s birthplace to Scotland’s first national park.

The First Minister will officially open the John Muir Way on April 21st, John Muir’s birthday.

Studies have shown that such a route would prove attractive not only to native Scots but to many abroad, not only in the United States but around the globe where Muir’s name resonates loudly. Economic benefit studies have shown that, with appropriate marketing, some 700 jobs could be created over the first five years of the route’s existence, with an estimated extra 9,000 end-to-end walkers in the first year.

One of Muir’s biographers, Steven J Holmes, argued that Muir became “one of the patron saints of 20th century American environmental activity”

But celebrating Muir is not about economic benefit, it’s about inspiration – something that is more difficult to measure. Policy makers and governments rightly tell us that we need to tackle climate change. But little is done to inspire individuals to take climate change warnings seriously. And we are losing the climate change battle. Despite good intentions at global summits there is little evidence that progress is being made. Indeed the United Nations climate agency, the World Meteorological Organisation, found that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached record levels in 2010 and that the gases that warm the planet were rising more quickly than in the past.

If we are serious about the real threat to our future posed by our lemming-like use of the planet’s natural resources, then we have to find more creative ways of connecting people with nature. Muir’s life, his legacy and his key message – “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe” – is one way of reaching those unmoved by mechanistic approaches to tackling the most pressing problem of our times.

His legacy lives on in his adopted land in many forms: Muir Woods, Muir Beach, Muir Glacier, Mount Muir, John Muir Wilderness, some 30 schools named after him and no less than three John Muir Trails including the 211-mile trail that winds its way through the Sierras from Yosemite Valley to the summit of Mount Whitney. 2014 provides us with an opportunity to develop the growing recognition of Muir in his homeland and remind ourselves that his inspirational work is even more relevant today than it was during his lifetime.

Keith Geddes is Chair of The Central Scotland Green Network Partnership Board

By Keith Geddes, Chair, Central Scotland Green Network Partnership Board

Issue 8: January 2014

Issue 8: January 2014

SMART CITIES: SMART SERVICES: SMART WORKING

Smart Cities: Smart Services: Smart Working Editorial

In focusing on 'Smart Cities' let's start with a few teaser questions (answers at the foot of this column)...

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