Across Shetland’s sheep-shorn landscape, peat hags form wormholes in the soft black ground and abandoned ruins of once thriving industries become shelters for stinging nettles. But something is changing, and these hills, moulded for centuries by their human inhabitants, are about to undergo another transformation.
Marianne Brown is a journalist who covers the urgency of the environmental emergency every working day. She was raised in Edinburgh but has deep and twisted roots in Shetland soil. In February 2020, when she arrived on the isles to attend her Shetland-born father’s funeral, she didn’t know that – thanks to a global pandemic – it would be over half a year before travel restrictions were lifted. She spent those months exploring the living landscape and discovering her own place within it.
While she was confronting old ghosts, a new story was unfolding. On the hills around the croft, a project to build one of the world’s largest onshore wind farms was finally taking hold. Many of her neighbours and close family were firmly against the idea, believing that the wind farm was only there to fill coffers in Edinburgh, rather than benefit this distant island population. But at a time of climate crisis, was there a better alternative?
From whaling to the exploitation of oil and wind, the experience of this tiny archipelago provides a lens onto humankind’s evolving addiction to energy. Their story is also a vision of hope. Through creativity and a strong sense of identity, the residents of these weather-beaten isles are forging their own future. Their innovations in tidal power, growing food and green hydrogen show us that the Shetland way can be a route for all of us to achieve what humanity urgently needs – a just transition from fossil fuels.