MEETING REPORT - PETER THOMPSON - FRIENDS OF THE EARTH. 13th May 1998.
Peter Thompson, of Friends Of The Earth (Trafford Branch) presented a history of the organization from its 1960’s beginnings in the States, to the present day. FOTE promote the benefits of recycling and conservation of the Earth’s resources, and the preservation of natural flora/fauna habitats. In Britain, FOTE started in London in 1971. Trafford’s group started in 1980. It is one of 260 local groups in the UK, linked together by a regional network of paid staff who work to secure funds for project and field work.
Trafford FOTE’s first project was a drive to stop the use of peat soil in gardening and horticulture. They failed. Manchester has its own FOTE branch who's offices are right behind the Friend’s Meeting House (actually part of the same building) where we hold our Humanist meetings. Peter observed that many FOTE members are secular in their outlook on life, though FOTE is a non-religious, non-sectarian body. This is a contrast to the Green Party which has many members and supporters who are often influenced by new age beliefs. (David Icke was their Chairman until he decided to become God instead).
The green belt is not always the carefully preserved wilderness we take it for. Ash tips, landfill sites and golf courses tend to take up a lot of their territory. Peter seemed to feel golf courses were acceptable despite their exclusivity and cost, because they do at least preserve the land. On the whole though, golf courses involve drainage, the stripping away of trees and plants, the landscaping and flattening of much ground, and the artificial sterility of creating a multi-acre lawn.
Peter was full of admiration for the two other leading conservation promotion groups, Greenpeace and Earth First. He paid tribute to Greenpeace for their successful fund raising initiatives, and fearless high publicity profile. Earth First are an equally militant pressure group, and includes people in its ranks who chain themselves to trees that are threatened by development projects, or dig cavernous holes and burrows from which the police and land bailiffs have difficulty removing them. Swampy is a famous such reactionary.
FOTE seem to be less aggressive in their tactics. They are apolitical, (unlike The Green Party, who stand as candidates for political office). They also generally avoid animal rights controversies as well. Some of our attending members and visitors asked if trying to change the system as FOTE are trying to do, wouldn’t be better replaced by a policy of getting rid of ‘the system’ altogether. The Western capitalist economy exploits the Third World. The Man From Delmonte who we see advertised so much, is depicted as bringing trade and cheer to the people who grow his oranges, but in reality he has bought out their land and property, obliging them to work for him, very cheaply. Peter was sympathetic with such views, but careful to avoid too much commitment to them. One interesting point he raised was that the forty plus children who were killed in the Aberfan disaster actually ended up boosting the figures of the country’s Gross National Product. The money spent on enquiries, publicity of the event, funerals, etc, actually made the terrible tragedy economically viable. Lots of money changed hands. With Blair in close bonds with the Murdoch media empire, the eradication of the System seems unlikely in the near future. What we can do is promote awareness of the value of ethical investment. If State Officialdom realise that environmentalism is economically viable, they will sink more money into it. It isn’t easy. At present, Caribbean farmers stand to lose out to cheaper markets elsewhere. What are they to do? Its possible they may be forced to farming and exporting Marijuana instead. The ethical thing to do is to keep them growing bananas. The Victorians realised that good sewage disposal systems would help stop their workers taking so much time off sick because of dysentery and cholera caused by poor sanitation. We too must show that healthy preserved woodland is good investment for the future, and for our descendants. The most interesting part of the talk, was when Peter showed us the devastating impact development is having on Trafford’s rapidly vanishing green belt land. Using a large map of the area, he showed us how the impending M56 motorway link with the M6 at Tadley threatens to cut through 21 farms. Two of the farms will cease to exist altogether, while the rest will lose many acres of land, or become isolated islands. Cheshire’s beautiful countryside is shrinking away. A similar problem arises with the Trafford to Manchester Airport Metrolink tram route, which is about to carve its way through Davenport Green, an area still farmed. The tramway will also slash its way through the Mersey valley, close to a pleasant countryside pub called Jackson’s Boat. FOTE challenged the second runway proposals at Manchester Airport, where many military planes land/take off as well as commercial flights.
Peter has no faith in the public enquiries system, anymore, as he believes that they are almost always well sown up in advance.
We can do our bit too. In Burnley, recycling bins for bottles and cans have raised up to £1,000 a year. Peter advised that no one should drive out specially to a recycling plant with their cans, as the air pollution caused by the car would counter the worth of the cans themselves.
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