Quarrels with a quarry

October 27, 1994

Religion is to be invoked in the fight against a superquarry on the Hebridean island of Harris.

Alastair McIntosh of Edinburgh University's centre for human ecology plans to argue about the integrity of creation in his submission to the Pounds 1.5 million inquiry when he appears as a witness next month.

"It's an unprecedented submission to a public inquiry, using the new tools of theological thought," he says.

The World Council of Churches' Basle conference a few years ago spurred scholarship on the potential "greenness" of Christianity. These arguments should carry great weight in the Western Isles where most people are Presbyterian churchgoers.

Himself a Quaker, Mr McIntosh will have Donald MacLeod, professor of systematic theology at the Free Church College, as a supporting witness. His second witness is Sulian Stone Eagle Herney, a leader of the Mi'Kmaq First Nation People of Nova Scotia, who is fighting a superquarry project on a Mi'Kmaq sacred site in Cape Breton.

Supporters of the creation of Europe's biggest coastal quarry argue that it will provide jobs for three generations of the local Hebridean community, which suffers from high unemployment and a falling population.

Over 60 years, the Pounds 50 million quarry would remove 10 million tonnes of rock a year from Mount Roineabhal, a national beauty spot, creating a deep sea loch.

But Mr McIntosh says that desecrating nature is not the only economic future. He and Alesia Maltz, dean of the College of the Atlantic in Maine have already drawn up proposals to boost the Harris Tweed industry.

"Science and economics should serve fundamental human needs, rather than driving them," he adds. "To have a humane society, we must start to employ qualitative methodology."

Theology offers an answer to conflicts between nature and economy through the concept of reverence, Mr McIntosh suggests. "To be reverent means to be concerned with the integrity of a thing or person, to value it for itself, to work with it symbiotically, in celebration of its being."

The quarried rock is intended to create roads and buildings in the south of England and Europe, and the project would be theologically justified only if it could be undertaken reverentially, Mr McIntosh says.

This would mean finding out whether the Government has considered reappraising its national transport policy to minimise the need for new motorways. It would mean recycling used rock otherwise dumped in landfill sites. If new quarries really are needed, it would mean assessing whether they are best placed in national scenic areas, or sites already industrially despoiled.

The five-month inquiry is set to be confrontational and intense. But it remains to be seen how the eminent QCs will react to arguments that the superquarry would pre-emptively contradict the vision of Isaiah: "The mountains and hills will burst into song before you . . . this will be for the Lord's renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed."

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