by Christopher Silver, reblogged with permission from, 5 March 2020

“During the industrial era people were forced to endure long and bitter conflicts in their struggle to participate in the political system…It remains to be seen whether the transformation of traditional industrial societies will be accompanied by a regress of democratic structures or whether progress towards more democracy is already culturally anchored and irreversible.”

Information panel, Ruhr Museum, 2019

Never one to miss out on a seminal moment, in 1790 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe travelled to Upper Silesia, then on the fringes of the Prussian Empire – where he witnessed the first ‘fire-machines’ – or steam engines, to operate on the continent.

Goethe penned a few lines of advice to his hosts on what was then an isolated frontier, asking them: “Far from educated people, at the end of the empire, who helps you, find treasures and bring them to light?.”

The polymath’s answer was succinct: “only understanding and honesty help; the two keys that lead to any treasure that the earth holds.”

For Goethe, rational humanism, technological progress – and the ever-greater task of getting riches out from underneath the earth – could be conceived of as a single project.

by Dr Maria Antonia Velez Serna, based on her contribution to Invading the Skin of the Earth: COAL17th January 2020

Image: People Will Always Need Coal (BFI National Archive)

The histories of film and resource extraction are interlinked in material and symbolic ways. Materially, the technologies of cinema – from its photographic origins to the digital present – have depended on rare metals and large amounts of energy. Stories of colonial conquest and domination of nature have been popular subjects for film and TV. Visually, the spectacle of explosions, fast-moving machinery, enormous structures and risky work makes for compelling viewing. Furthermore, the private companies and state agencies responsible for large-scale extractive projects have been keen to use film as a PR tool.

As a consequence, there are lots of films about coal mining, most of them optimistic, celebrating the economic importance of its derivatives and the heroism of the workforce. These contemporary views contrast with the more negative image that mining has acquired in the UK, particularly since the closure of most pits in the 1980s. Looking at these films again is then a way to try and understand history as it unfolded, as a lived experience. I am interested in finding out whether these archive films can play a role in discussions about post-coal futures.

by Mike Small, based on his contribution to CHE’s event ‘Invading the Skin of the Earth: COAL, reblogged with permission from Bella Caledonia, 17th January 2020


The Australian bushfires tell us much about where we are in climate breakdown and responses to it in the developed world. In an article in The Atlantic, Bianca Nogrady, a writer based in the Blue Mountains asks: “How Long Will Australia Be Livable?”

A Report on the visit of a delegation from Raja Ampat, West Papua Province, Indonesia to Scotland – The Isles of Lewis & Harris, April 2019

by Alastair McIntosh, Vérène Nicolas & Sibongile Pradhan

At the 5,000 year old Callanish Stones

Between 20th and 30th April 2019 a delegation from the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua (covering the western half of New Guinea) visited Scotland to learn from people in the Hebrides about what it takes to rekindle and govern community, and to share their own experience with these things.  Most of the delegation’s time was spent meeting with
Community Land and Development Trusts on the Hebridean island that is known as Harris in the south and Lewis in the north.

Tom Forsyth leading a CHE field trip on Eigg, June 2005

Obituary for Tom Forsyth

Crofter, spiritual thinker and pioneer of land reform

Born: December 11, 1930

Died: August 30, 2018

This is a slightly extended version of a statement that CHE graduate (1994-95) Tara O’Leary read out at Tom’s funeral. It was written by former CHE director Alastair McIntosh, whose other obituary for Tom can be read in The Herald.

Tom Forsyth irrupted into the life of the Centre for Human Ecology, then within the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Edinburgh University, in 1991. The leader of the Iona Community had sent him to see me about setting up the Isle of Eigg Trust for land reform. In my close friendship with him down all those years, a friendship during which never an unpleasant word was exchanged, his greatest gifts were not those of a politician or a scholar, but of a prophet and a suitably unconventional spiritual teacher.