HER voice quivers with rage and the crowd, gathered at her feet, is captivated by her passion and convincing environmental message of defiance.

“We have got to spell out what kind of future it is that we want for this country, for our children,” she says, and the crowd breaks into applause. “We demand the radical re-channelling of resources into wave, wind and solar power, and other forms of renewable energy.”

The words could easily be those of environmental activist Greta Thunberg in another impassioned plea for action, perhaps questioning as she did earlier this week Scotland’s claim to be a world leader in climate change legislation.

Yet this is a speaker at Torness Point in May 1978, when a crowd of more than 6,000 gathered to protest at plans for Britain’s newest nuclear power station citing fears for the environment, the risk to public health and calling for investment in new renewable sources of energy.

Over a weekend, Scots from all walks of life gathered. Among them, Robin Cook, then MP for Livingston, sat on the grass and urged action. “This demonstration can only be effective if it’s followed up in other ways,” he said. In what sounds like a call to action for the forthcoming COP26 summit, he called for political debate backed up with “hard, detailed argument”.


The film of the gathering and reading of the Torness Declaration – as much an anti-nuclear assertion as a plea for the environment with its call for “radical rechannelling or resources into wave, wind and solar power and other forms of renewable energy” – is undoubtedly of its time: in the film clip there are glimpses of Chopper bikes, tank tops and handmade CND signs with peace symbols.

In a time of Extinction Rebellion protests, COP26 and Thunberg’s comments, the clip – one of 80 films stitched together to create a powerful new documentary reflecting Scotland’s historic and rather uncomfortable contribution to the climate crisis – is a stark reminder that the battle between those who want to protect the environment, and others who want to use its resources, has always ignited protest and debate.

Beginning with a 1940s Ministry of Information film extolling the benefits of hydroelectric power and continuing until the 1980s as thoughts turned to solar power and an age without oil, Living Proof – A Climate Story explores Scotland’s post-war rebirth and the subsequent four decades of rapid change.

Drawing on archive footage from the National Library of Scotland (NLS) archives, it evocatively portrays a nation gobbling up the energy it makes with barely a thought to the environmental impact. Its pursuit of economic growth and consumerism is powered by a seemingly unbreakable coal sector and buoyed with optimism thanks to the black gold that flowed by the barrel-load from deep beneath the North Sea.

However, As hindsight would go on to show, consumers’ demand for more energy, better jobs, warmer homes, easier travel and more luxuries would come at a very high price.

The film, which later this month opens Take One Action, billed as the UK’s leading global-change film festival and a forerunner to COP26 events, provides fascinating insight into a whirlwind period of upbeat optimism as the coal that forged the industrial revolution is supplemented by energy harnessed from water, oil, and nuclear reaction.

By splicing together government information films, corporate videos, news reports and amateur footage, it highlights the difficult balance between the hopes and demands of a post-war country with the environmental damage they can bring.

Particularly poignant, says the film’s director Emily Munro, who scoured NLS countless archives films held by NLS to create the feature-length film, are the wise words of warning from those who watched with mounting unrest as the relentless drive to exploit fossil fuels powered on, regardless of fears for its impact.

“I wanted to do something that would allow people to reflect and really think,” Ms Munro says. “At a time when we are having to make crucial decisions about our future and Scotland’s future, can we take a little bit of time to reflect on the past?

“We are now at a point where we are envisaging where we are going. What vision of Scotland in the world do we want to pursue?”

She adds: “The film takes you to the early 1980s when I was born. A lot of people like me have this prosthetic view of the past, it’s something we can only learn about by watching films or reading books.”

Using film clips from the past woven into rapid montages and accompanied by an evocative soundtrack, the documentary shows how affordable energy in all of its forms sparked a multitude of changes to Scottish life.

Demand from Scots seeking to broaden their horizons brought a boom in cars, motorways, and air travel, all of which made the world seem a smaller place. Better homes with energy-guzzling washing machines, televisions and fridges replaced slums housing and manufacturing industries flourished.

The documentary shows that whilst a few, such as the Torness protesters and other environmental commentators, warned of environmental costs, others simply accepted it as collateral damage for a modern, more comfortable, way of life.

One clip from the 1970s mourned the passing way of a gentler way of life in Orkney and the Shetlands as the oil industry arrived. Islands that were already enjoying a buoyant economy thanks to fishing, agricultural and knitwear are shown adapting, with creel fishermen becoming water taxis for oil workers.

Other clips reflect a more upbeat attitude to progress. In scenes from Power For The Highlands, a 1943 government film intended to showcase work opportunities to war veterans, changes to the landscape – hillsides forged in the Ice Age were obliterated to make way for hydro power – are celebrated for their its vision and economic benefits.

In Fife, where the extraction of coal from black gold below the county’s plains – mined in some form for around seven centuries – scarred the landscape, one short clip explores the arrival of machines that could do the job faster and more effectively than miners.

At Rothes Colliery, near Glenrothes, the camera black and white film lingers on a modern, gleaming pithead resembling a gleaming office building, where “no man does anything that a machine can do for him”.

It was, of course, woefully prophetic.

The pits closed and in factories across the land machines would eventually replaced the mundane tasks once carried out by workers. Eventually, as clips from films showing the arrival of US semi-conductor firms, computers and microchips digital devices built in places such as Livingston and Greenock would eventually take jobs from office workers as well.

Progress was most heavily witnessed in Lanarkshire. At Ravenscraig, the white heat of the steel industry is shown in excerpts from a 1963 film that spotlights the myriad of consumer goods that needed its sheet steel, could produce, “to feed the insatiable new consumer industries of the sixties.”

The largest hot strip steel mill in western Europe, Ravenscraig closed in 1992 and plunged the county into a depressed state at odds with its earlier upbeat buoyancy – a pattern already being witnessed in mining communities.

Threaded throughout the film is the inescapable evidence of the cost of Scotland’s growth: belching fumes, cleared forests, mounting waste, and changing landscapes.

Similar themes from home and abroad are explored in films and events during the Take One Action festival, which spans Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Aberdeen and includes online and “in-person” events.

Among the highlights are Joel Bakan and Jennifer Abbott’s The New Corporation, which investigates the sly rebranding of corporations as socially conscious entities, and the Scottish premiere of The Last Forest, set in a Brazilian rainforest under pressure from gold prospectors.

Ms Munro adds: “Decisions taken in the past continue to reverberate in our society and it is vital we understand both the origin and the impact of these as we work out what to do to preserve life on our planet. What is quite sad is there was evidence out there – it wasn’t that people were not saying that this was a problem.”

Torness protesters were a broad mix of different types of campaigner who shared a vision which could easily be found among today’s environmentalists, she says.

“Their declaration could have been written yesterday; it feels prescient, but it was written 40 years ago. No-one listened.”

One of the most poignant clips comes towards the film’s end, as a 1970s film explores the arrival of oil and what might happen when it runs out. In upbeat tones, it describes a future of wind, wave and solar power.

Polar explorer and presenter Duncan Carse’s narrative accompanies one series of clips, which, though four decades old, could scarcely be more prophetic.

“It’s important to remember that the changes are a direct consequence of our present demands,” he says. “If the landscape as we know it is in danger, the source of that danger is the increasing demand of the people, rather than the single problem of oil extraction.”

“We simply impose our needs of the moment on our surroundings.”

l Living Proof will open Take One Action film festival, September 22-26 in Glasgow, Edinburgh and online, with editions in Aberdeen and Inverness in October.