A WORLD-famous scientist has warned that future generations of Scots could suffer serious food shortages unless people accept wind farms as a “necessary evil”.
Professor Sir Ian Wilmut, the creator of the world’s first cloned sheep, Dolly, said that turbines were vital to reducing the carbon emissions blamed for global warming and an increase in flooding which is destroying food crops.
Writing for Scotland on Sunday today, Wilmut says the connection must be made between the record rainfall which swamped vast areas of the UK last year with the impact that increasing energy use is having on the planet’s climate.
Wilmut, who now chairs the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, says: “Powerful cases against wind farms have been raised several times recently, both in Scotland nationally and in the Borders where I live.
“I am sure that ideally none of us would like to see either the area around Cairngorm or the Border hills adorned by these machines, but we have to consider the alternative.
“Looking back, 2012 may be the year that first showed many of us that climate change will affect all of us to a considerable extent.
“The effect of greenhouse gases is well understood as is the obvious conclusion that we should do what we can to reduce their production, [but] we have great difficulty in making the necessary change in our way of life, and I include myself in that criticism.”
He continued: “One choice that can have a significant effect upon production of greenhouse gas is the means by which we generate electricity.
“Burning coal or oil produces large quantities of greenhouse gas. Nuclear energy releases none, but has other hazards. Renewable sources such as solar, wind and water power produce no gas, but may have environmental effects.
“It is in this context that applications to create wind farms have to be considered. Of course the most sensitive sites should be avoided.
“Wind farms should be approved for sites where they will have the least possible impact, but the fact of the matter is that if we are to play our part in stabilising the global climate they are a necessity.
“The alternative is far worse because it could mean a climate in which flooding occurs on a scale never seen before, in addition to a rise in the sea level sufficient to flood considerable portions of the low coastal land.
“These tend to be the regions where most people live and which are also very productive agricultural regions. Food production might be jeopardised to such an extent that the lives of our great grandchildren would be threatened.
“We should be glad that Scotland is blessed with abundant sources of wind and water power and continue to take great advantage from them, just as has been done with hydroelectricity in the past.”
Using his own Borders home as an example, he said his property was hit by flooding from a nearby river twice last year after nearly four problem-free decades.
He added: “I don’t have to walk very far from my home now to see a wind farm and it seems to be acceptable to me as part of a strategy to reduce climate change.”
Wilmut’s comments follow confirmation by the Met Office that the UK experienced its wettest year on record in 2012. In Scotland, vegetable and fruit crops were badly affected by soggy ground, leading to price rises in many basic commodities. Planting failures mean that this year’s crops may also be severely affected.
His views were welcomed by the renewables industry. Industry body Scottish Renewables said the sector in Scotland was one of the “most effective weapons for tackling climate change” with robust regulations to protect the landscape from “inappropriate development”.
Jenny Hogan, Scottish Renewables director of policy, added: “Scottish renewable energy projects displaced the equivalent of 15 per cent of the country’s total carbon emissions – the same as removing some 3.5 million cars off our roads or turning off a whole coal-fired power station.”
But anti-wind farm campaigners said Wilmut was taking the wrong approach to tacking climate change.
Linda Holt, spokeswoman for a new alliance of anti- wind farm groups in Scotland, said: “He [Wilmut] is entitled to his opinion, but it is an uninformed one.
“He has fallen for the wind industry propaganda that wind turbines will save us. I’m surprised that as a scientist he accepts without question a simple causal relationship between recent flooding and the way we produce energy.
“Even if Alex Salmond carpets Scotland and its coastal waters in turbines, it won’t stop flooding. In fact, the turbines are likely to increase local flooding because the huge concrete foundations and new roads required by their construction will increase run-off.”