Prizing the Power of the Sea
By Michael Russell
John Muir was born one of eight children in the small Scottish town of Dunbar,
but it was here in California that he made his mark as one of the world's
more important naturalists and preservers of this great nation's natural
This week, Scotland Week in North America, the Scottish government and the
Sierra Club -- which Muir founded -- will take time to honor his memory. As
we do so, I cannot help but wonder what he would make of the precarious environmental
position we now find ourselves in. With scientific consensus seeing dramatically
higher temperatures by the end of this century, more intense hurricanes and
weather events, and dangerously high rises in sea levels, how would John Muir
take on what the Sierra Club calls the "climate crossroads"?
He would most certainly bring a passionate zeal for our natural resources
to the debate. Muir was never deterred by those naysayers who thought his idealism
misplaced. He won many battles, and some he lost. But he built movements for
change that inspired millions, forced political leaders to join his cause and
changed not only hearts, but minds. Muir was always more than an idealistic
naturalist; he was a persuasive advocate, as adept as any politician at winning
Muir would also look to the most important resource around him for solutions;
innovative people. He would find many in his native Scotland and in his adopted
California. He would rightly see that that the only way we can effectively
address the climate crisis is through creative ideas that win the support of
the public and political leaders.
In San Francisco this week, I take great heart from this reality. The Scots
and the Californians not only share some of the world's most dramatic landscapes
and magnificent natural resources, we have also always shared a passion for
scientific exploration and technological invention. Scots invented penicillin
and pioneered the first MRI scanners, while 57 Nobel Prizes have been awarded
to University of California faculty. And from Silicon Valley to Edinburgh's
new BioQuarter, Scots and Californians have staked out leadership positions
in the technology and life sciences sectors of the future.
Muir would not put such a precious resource -- the finest innovators in the
world -- to waste.
In particular, I think Muir would have been excited by the prospect that the
natural resources around us may actually be the key to solving the climate
crisis. The potential of wind, solar and wave energy to produce renewable,
clean sources of power and reduce our dependency on methods that damage our
environmental future should be at the top of our list of solutions.
Some politicians down play the need for such renewable energy sources. Others
complain about the cost, or that these technologies are too nascent. Muir would
have fought such naysayers. He would have looked to Scotland, where we recently
announced 10 marine energy projects that will generate up to 1.2 gigawatts
of energy -- enough to power 700,000 homes. The capital investment in these
projects will be around $4 billion, and builds on plans for 11 gigawatts of
wind energy projects. Muir would have been encouraged by the ambitious climate-change
policies being pioneered by California and the remarkable renewable energy
research and commercialization happening around this state.
Muir would have driven all of us to do more. He would have reminded us of
the stakes and called for an ambitious effort to match that importance. In
that spirit, let me lay out a challenge that we feel has the potential to bring
the best and brightest minds together to make progress on climate change. My
message: to the researchers, engineers, companies and investors of California,
and the entire United States, look east to Scotland, where we are offering
a 10 million pound ($15.29 million) prize for the team that can demonstrate,
in Scottish waters, a commercially viable wave or tidal stream energy technology
that achieves the greatest volume of electrical output over a two-year period
using only the power of the sea.
With the Saltire Prize, we are putting our money where Muir would have wanted
it. Bringing the advocates and the innovators -- from Scotland, California
and elsewhere -- together in common cause to protect our natural resources
and enhance our environment. What better way to honor him.
Michael Russell is Scotland's Cabinet secretary for education and lifelong
learning, and former minister for the environment. He will visit the San Francisco
Bay Area on April 8 and 9 as part of Scotland Week 2010.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle - Open Forum, April 5, 2010.
See also: John
Muir's Legacy Lives On - by The Scottish Government, News Release, April
9, 2010. "The Sierra Club is honored to share John Muir's legacy with
the John Muir Trust and the Scottish Government. Together, we can face the
greatest global challenge of our generation. Together, we can bend the arc
of history and beat climate change." - Carl Pope
Life and Contributions of John Muir
| Alphabetical Index
| What's New