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The residents of Grangemouth have always been asked to balance the economic benefit with the environmental impact of living so close to a polluting industry. The community is surrounded by a petrochemical refinery and numerous plastic and chemical factories. One street has three of the countries biggest carbon polluters and at night the town has a spectacular glow, as the industry never switches of its lights and the night sky often has a flare burning bright. The community and industry grew in parallel with houses and community resources right up to the fenceline of the industry. For generations this almost appeared to be in balance with well paid local jobs, corporate social clubs for employees and their families and long term relationships with corporations the town believed they could trust. Over the past 10 years the name at the factory gates appear to change regularly with little fanfare. The social clubs have closed down, boarded up or demolished, and the local residents fear that the only development which appears to be able to get the go ahead in the town is more polluting or toxic industry.
I consider myself to be a local environmental activist in an area where environmentalists are often treated with suspicion. Although the petrochemical industry is so in your face, and at times literally up your nose, it is almost invisible within the community. If something is always there, and you expect it to always be there then you don’t think about it too often. People like me who ask questions of safety and justice can be accused of scaremongering or worse- be ignored.
One of the first environmental justice projects I initiated in Grangemouth was to go onto the streets and ask residents, “When are you reminded that you live next to the petrochemical industry”. The feedback was written up in a report called Living Within The Glow- Stories form the Fenceline. This enabled me to collect personal reflections of living next to the industry. The hope would be that the stories would be a catalyst to have a wider discussion within the community about environmental justice issues. Unfortunately, despite attempted public meetings and various attempts to engage with community groups, the report generated more attentions outside the Grangemouth community. The report was well received by environmental groups as it shared the perceptions of residents who lived next to the oil industry who would tend not to engage with environmental groups in the conventional ways.
The next project I was involved had a direct link to the Living Within The Glow report. Carbon Trade Watch were working with a community in Brazil how were impacted by eucalyptus plantations planted as a carbon trading prototype funded by the world bank. Corporations like BP, who operated in Grangemouth, had paid into the World Bank fund that had paid for the eucalyptus to be planted. Carbon Trade Watch wanted to link the community in Brazil with a community impacted by pollution in the UK where a corporation was engaging in the carbon trade market. I helped organise screenings of the “Video letters from Brazil” which were personal accounts of the Brazilian experience using a video technique called Participatory Video. Community members in Brazil were shown how to use video equipment to make their own films and to share their experience and feelings with a wider, now global, audience. After the screenings in Grangemouth local residents were recruited to reply to the Brazilian letters in solidarity with their situation and to share the Scottish experience of living next to a polluting industry. There project involved popular education techniques to explore the issues and make connections before making videos to share our experiences and to express solidarity with the Brazillian experience.. The Scottish replies were shown in Grangemouth and were sent to the community in Brazil. The documentary “The Carbon Connection” is the outcome of the video letters project. This film has been shown globally and enabled “local” voices to be heard by a global audience.
Watch Carbon Connection at:
My current environmental justice project is “The Carbon Cycle Tour of Grangemouth” an educational cycle tour of Grangemouth and an analytical look behind the corporate signs which circle the town. The tour starts at the Dow factory, one of the corporations new to the town, and explains the legacy and responsibility Dow has in relation to the Bhopal disaster, one of the biggest environmental injustices which has been ongoing since 1984. As the route passes the BP site the participants are informed about the BP safety record at Grangemouth and the USA where profit was put before human lives. A cycle, or walking tour, allows the participants to hear the noises of the industry and smell the smells which local residents now take for granted. As mentioned earlier one street in Grangemouth has three of the top ten biggest carbon polluters in Scotland over 10 corporations surrounding the town so there are plenty of see and hear about in a simple cycle round of the town.
Joint Co-ordinator of Friends of the Earth Falkirk
See also ‘The Decline of Oil’