Accepted paper:

Empty land versus sacred site: unexpected objections to proposed commercial wind turbines in a developed western society


Jennifer Speirs (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

The proposed extraction of peat moorland for economic reasons from allegedly unproductive barren land on the island of Lewis in northwest Scotland in order to build a massive wind farm was met with unanticipated local protest about the destruction of unmarked ancestral graves.

Paper long abstract:

In the early 2000s a global engineering firm began negotiations over developing a massive series of wind farms on the Isle of Lewis in northwest Scotland. Together the enormous turbines would have comprised the largest wind farm in Europe at the time. They were predicted not just to enhance the contribution of renewable energy to the UK's energy mix but also to bring jobs and financial rewards to the island and to its local communities. The elected councillors of the Western Isles Council were mostly in favour but within a short space of time local people began to object vociferously, citing dangers to tourism, wildlife, human health and the stability of the moorlands from peat-slide. An unexpected objection, from the perspective of the developer and other outsiders, was the claim from one local area that the installation work would destroy the unmarked graves of their distant ancestors who had died in long-ago clan battles. This was in stark contrast to comments that 'there is nothing there' on the moorland. I set this controversy within the highly politicised context of the UK government's carbon omission reduction targets, increasing recognition of island people's past sacrifices for the UK's benefit, and opposing views about future sustainability and its relationship to kinship and nature.

panel P19
Thinking otherwise at the extractive frontier: conflict, negotiation, translation, and a more equitable conversation