Muir’s legacy lives on

Published: 16th April 2020

Central Scotland Green Network Trust Chair Keith Geddes reflects on Muir’s relevance today

John Muir Way walkers

John Muir died on Christmas Eve 1914. A friend of Presidents, philosophers and environmentalists, his death was barely noticed in Scotland as the country had just entered “the war to end all wars”.

Over the years, thanks to the work of the John Muir Trust, the John Muir Birthplace Trust and numerous biographers, Muir’s influence has not only been kept alive, but is growing. The John Muir Way is introducing Muir to a new audience in his homeland and encouraging people to explore in his footsteps.

A century on from Muir’s death his work is perhaps more important than ever. Humanity has been retreating from nature; unbridled capitalism has seen nature as a material good while the current US President seeks to exploit National Parks for logging and other commercial activities.

But the coronavirus pandemic has given us the opportunity to press the pause button and reassess humanity’s headlong rush for material wealth.

The clear lesson from the current crisis is that we have to plan to mitigate and reverse the effects of climate change. If unchecked its long-term effects will make today’s crisis look like child’s play. There is no time left to pay lip service to sustainability.

Every area of policy development must now begin with an honest assessment of how to improve sustainability, whether that be transport, planning or residential development. It is encouraging that, for example, Shawfair, the new settlement in Midlothian in Scotland, is built around a railway station, cutting commuting times, but more importantly our carbon footprint. And in residential development policies, the Scottish Government has the opportunity in its review of Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) to ensure that developers create sustainable communities with raingardens, quality greenspace and homes which require minimal heating.

And in the government’s development of National Planning Framework 4 there is a real opportunity to dedicate that document to national projects and policies which are sustainable. Now that the NPF is to be reviewed on a 10-year basis this may be the last chance we have to develop a set of policies which have a real and lasting effect.

And there are a series of other outcomes from the current crisis which will be beneficial; working from home, for example, a greater reliance on technology to cut down on “non-essential travel”.

But more is required. Education is crucial. Thanks to the work of the Birthplace Trust and the John Muir Award, the next generation are well equipped to educate their parents. But it would be naive to suggest that education alone is sufficient to change all behaviour. We need a new taxation regime which rewards sustainability and punishes those who pollute yet prosper.

Finally, we need inspiration. I, like many, have found it in Muir’s work and writings. We need a rebirth.

Towards the end of his life Muir wrote; “The grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn as the round earth rolls”.

Humanity has the opportunity to be part of the eternal show. But it must start afresh-and now.

Keith Geddes


  • Keith Geddes is chair of the Central Scotland Green Network Trust, a charity that aims to enrich people’s lives and add value to the economy by transforming places through environmental improvement. This includes managing the John Muir Way, a 134-mile coast to coast route traversing central Scotland, linking Helensburgh in the west with Dunbar in the east (the birthplace of John Muir).
  • Coronavirus update for John Muir Way users: The John Muir Way walking and cycling routes are still open for local use at this time. However if you are planning to use the route for exercise, please follow the latest government advice regarding social distancing, daily exercise guidelines and restrictions on non-essential travel. Please also be aware that the majority of the facilities on the route, including visitor attractions, cafes and non-essential shops are currently closed. Visit the John Muir Way website for the latest route updates

  • JMD - white bgThis article was created for John Muir Day 2020. See our ideas for 6 ways to mark John Muir Day.