CS Letters: From words to actions on Climate Emergency

Ben Wray

CommonSpace has run a week of coverage on the Climate Emergency from 28-31 May

THANKS to the many contributors to our special week of coverage on turning words into actions on the Climate Emergency. It’s clear that there is a new energy around the issue of climate change that is inspiring people to think and write in a new way about the enormous challenge Scotland and the world faces.

As well as pieces from the CommonSpace staff team on carbon budgets, Green New Deal and where next for the movement, and a video with economist and computer scientist Paul Cockshott, we have had pieces sent in from Helen Smith on the planning system, Richard Lane on ending the sanctity of growth, Ian McCall on the new Infrastructure Commission, Robin McAlpine on a positive vision, Neil Clapperton on fuel poverty and Mikey Jarrell on new solar climate geoengineering technique SRM. 

We also held a very well attended forum on the issue on 30 May, the video footage of which will be published next week. 

To round up our week of coverage, we publish the other letters we’ve received from readers. 

Mike Downham

Some meetings about changing society defy themselves by their structure. You know the sort of thing – too many speakers, speaking for too long, protected by a top table, with time only for a few questions (not comments) from the floor, to which each of the speakers gives pontifical answers. Then suddenly there’s a rush to close the meeting, and we all go home frustrated and disempowered.

Not so last night’s Common Space Forum. Rather more than half the time given to the 50 or so participants, the majority of whom took the opportunity to speak with impressive commitment and from a wide range of experience. The three ‘speakers’ reduced to respondents, asked well-prepared questions by a facilitator. Their answers strikingly non-sectarian, based on their respective experiences as Friends of the Earth activist, Extinction Rebellion activist, and Professor of ‘tools of persuasion’. The whole show felt like a re-run for a new and fair society.

Between us, for sure, there’s no problem about articulating both the nature of the emergency and a vision of where we need to get to. The issue is the bridge in between. But I went away optimistic and a lot clearer about bridges we can build together:

  • Make specific demands to the Scottish Government about what we want – for example a publicly owned, democratically accountable Scottish State Energy Company; the closure of North Sea oil and gas extraction; a just transition for workers and communities.
  • Make specific demands to the Scottish Government about what we absolutely don’t want – for example the Growth Commission’s economic plan; distant targets; fracking.
  • Don’t take no for an answer.
  • Acknowledge the importance in the mass movement of emotional response to the climate emergency, especially anger and fear (we got into a whole new dimension here, largely missing before the XR)
  • Know that we can do it

There was much talk about having so little time. The persuasion prof recommended we focus on Government ministers – not enough time to persuade the masses – but later somewhat contradicted himself by saying that people are quick to come behind issues of fairness. Surely we need to do both – hold ministers to account, right now, and continue to work in whatever ways available to us to build the mass movement, readying it to take the lead if ministers fail us.  

The hall at Kinning Park Centre is large – plenty of room for an elephant. The elephant last night, sitting just behind us – you could smell him – was class. For all the talk of fairness, and of poverty, especially fuel poverty, there was no explicit class analysis. And yet what got us into this emergency was generations of exploitation of a huge number of people by a small number of people. We need to acknowledge this and keep our eye on it in everything we do, if we’re to understand what we’re up against. And because the people feeling the most pain will in the end be decisive in our fight for a fairer world.

Hamish Littleton

1.  Human population control is the number one priority. We must decide how many people Scotland can sustainably hold as a maximum and then select a target population, below that.

2.  Rewilding of our countryside is extremely important, starting with all the grouse moors. This will sequestrate lots of carbon and secure biodiversity.

3.  Carbon emissions must be drastically reduced to a scientifically based figure that is in line with stabilising our climate and reducing current atmospheric carbon to a safe level. Every citizen should be issued a non-transferrable carbon ration that cannot be exceeded. This carbon ration would be easily calculated as the carbon emission figure for the country, divided by the population.

Barry Gills

In addition to radical reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, we need to remove existing carbon from the atmosphere. Planting trees is one of the most effective means of achieving this. New Zealand has pledged to plant one billion trees. Scotland should follow this example and pledge to plant 1 billion trees by 2025. The city of Wellington, New Zealand has already planted over 1.5 million trees, involving citizens directly in an impressive movement of participation. In Scotland, the planting of one billion trees should be part of the larger discussion of achieving radical changes in land use policy, with broader environmental and social goals included.

We need to decommission all nuclear reactors in Scotland by the soonest date technically practicable. In the event of a sudden severe climate emergency they would pose an extreme threat to human security and the environment at large. If we take into consideration the possibility of an abrupt negative change in global climate within the next two decades – produced by the intersecting, cascading, and mutual amplification of tipping points ( e.g. nitrous oxide and methane release from thawing permafrost; accelerated arctic ice cover reduction; excessive deforestation) – the safe maintenance of nuclear reactors could not be guaranteed. To ignore this risk is a form of reckless complacency of the highest order.

Neil MacPherson

I would first like to make a few points about the organisation/running of the event.

I think the use of a wireless microphone would be better if possible and a longer time period should have been arranged for the event. The hour and half period was inadequate and I think future events should be held over a longer time period,if possible between two and three hours length.

The three panel members – Caroline Rance From Friends of the Earth, Dr Anna Fisk from Extinction Rebellion and Professor Iain Black Professor in Marketing at Stirling University – where all suitable candidates to discuss the issues. In the first part of the meeting the panel were asked a series of questions by Ben Wray, the editor of Common Space and they all provided adequate and succinct answers. I have provided the detail of these questions and given answers:-


Caroline Rance: A large majority of the public are aware of the issues, it is the people in power who need to be influenced

Anna Fisk: Agree that politicians need to be influenced but it is not just a matter of making people aware but of also engaging them and involving them.

Iain Black: It is a relative number of key figures in government and politics who can be influenced as campaign groups do not have the means/resources to influence people on large scale.

My comment: I agree with the first part  of Iain Black’s answer here regarding politicians but I do not agree with the second part of the answer. I am going to use two examples here to show why I disagree. Example 1: The London roadblock demonstrations  organised by Extinction Rebellion as part of International rebellion week attracted the involvement of between 1000 and 2000 people and were featured in the media quite extensively. How many people ware made aware of this by protesters handing leaflets out at the events and the media attention, ie seeing it on the news on the tv/hearing on news on radio stations or reading about it on social media/websites or in a news paper. This surely must have influenced a considerable number of people. Example 2: I have been decorating my bicycle to take to events quite actively for the last five years approx and between people asking me about the stuff on the bike or photographing the bike when I am travelling to and from and at events I must have influenced a large number of people.

Change without influencing the majority

Caroline Rance: Enough people need to be encouraged who care and become actively involved through empowerment. We have to be clear about what we want and who is in charge of making these changes.

Anna Fisk: The climate movement has been going for a long time but portrayal of issues has been off putting and discouraging to people whereas emotions and other forms of knowledge have to be brought in as the purely factual way of portraying ideas and aims is also discouraging. Emotional connection is important’

My comment: I very much agree with what Anna has said here and would like to put forward my own interpretation of this. Traditionally the dissemination of information is done through reports with pages of text and charts and graphs which are only be seen in detail by the aforementioned politicians and decision makers. As it is an established scientific fact that visual association is a common method by which our brains acquire knowledge there is change in some areas towards presenting information in  a more visual manner.

Again I will present examples here to illustrate this point: 1- The design of CV’s  in a pictorial format and 2 – An image of ten bicycles and one car to illustrate the number of bicycles that the space one car takes on the road.

There is also an issue with what information is disseminated by the government and authorities which Noam Chomsky quite clearly illustrates in the following statement: “The primary element of social control is the strategy of distraction which is to divert public attention from important issues and changes determined by the political and social elites by the technique of flood or flooding continuous distractions and insignificant information.”

It is also however important to point out that since the inception of the internet it is easier for people generally to find information on subjects that is accurate and unbiased.

How do we pressure governments to take action

Caroline Rance: The National Investment Bank should be raising investment in sustainability and the environment. Everyone has their place and there are many groups working towards achieving climate goals.

My comment: It should be noted that when the Scottish Government first proposed the idea of a national Investment bank in 2012 I believe, at that point investment and development of environmental and more sustainable industries was mentioned but when they published their final proposals earlier this year or last year no mention of these issues was made.

Anna Fisk: The General Strike or Earth Strike is a good idea with great potential. Scotland is touted as the leader in climate action which other parts of the rest of the world look towards. The Citizen’s Climate Assembly is a key next step inn achieving changes.

Iain Black: The government should be given cover/support but also pressure to make the changes necessary.

Panel questions from the audience

In the second part of the meeting a list of questions/points were taken from the audience for the panel to discuss which were:

1-Hydrocarbon production is a major issue (Scotland is the largest producer in Europe).

2-Optimism about the future but we need better public transport and a fairer more equal society.

3-We have to be clear about what we don’t want, the economic system is blatantly flawed.

4-We have to make our demands around the issues that affect people as people don’t trust politicians.

5-Divestment is a key measure which needs to be implemented to enable moving away from fossil fuels.

My comment: There has been some movement towards divestment with some councils with some of the large educational institutions like Universities signing up in principle for divestment. However the recent decision by the Church of Scotland not to endorse divestment is highly disappointing.

6-Green deal as a new form of colonialism.

7-How to keep climate change in the forefront of people,s minds.

8-Macro–Skill sharing on a practical level is important in empowering people.

9-Micro-growth is an important issue as we are sold the idea that growth has to be encouraged.

My comment :Growth in itself is not a problem. Overall without the proper growth and development of a society in all areas i.e business, industry, culture, social structures and community development you end up with underdeveloped societal models that become stagnant or even backwards. The problem that exists is the way growth is developed in our existing capitalist societal models which is wrongly skewed towards the gain of profit, property and wealth for an elite minority over short term time scales. There are many examples in science fiction which provide a sound philosophical grounding for learning about growth of societies like Arthur C Clarke’s Foundation series which focuses on the subject of empire building.

I cannot provide the panel answers to these eight questions which were raised by the audience as the panel handled this poorly by not providing answers to the questions in order (owing to time constraints, I think the panellists should have given a short brief answer to each question or the number of questions could have been reduced to the four or five most important ones to enable a better session. however Caroline Rance did provide a clear answer to the first question about hydrocarbons which was: Oil and Gas is a major factor. Green industries could create three green jobs for every one in the oil and gas industry. Large scale investment in public good should be put before private profit.

Caroline also made reference to the Sea change report published by Friends of the Earth in conjunction with Oil Change International and Platform.

At the end of the meeting a list of important points for the Climate Change movement to consider were raised which are:

1-Climate crisis is related to species extinction, damage to the oceans and air pollution. Lifestyle change is key on an individual level.

2-Supply and demand system is incompatible.

3-Building standard requirements are obsolete and outdated(like the use of gas central heating systems).

My comment: CHP systems are the way forward to replace individual GCH systems, examples of which are in place are in Strathclyde University and in the housing which was built for the commonwealth games village in the east end of Glasgow and the system which will be incorporated into the queens quay development in Clydebank.

4-Tax evasion by big companies is also a major factor in the capitalist wealth and profit driven system, which is flawed.

5-Dependence on Petroleum is a major factor in the damage to the environment and the flawed greedy system that exists.

6-Privatisation has also caused many of the problems in the way our societies are run and public ownership is needed to redress the balance here.

7-One area which The SANE (Scotland Against Neo -Liberalism) campaign are looking at is calling for a public sector debt audit

8-Green New Deal is a good area but does not go go deep enough to deal with the issues. 

My comment:I agree that the scope of the Green new Deal needs to be looked at but question six with regards to whether the Green new Deal as a new form of colonialism is another issue that has to be studied as well.

In conclusion, this was an event which encouraged worthwhile discussions on Climate Change raising many valid points but perhaps in some areas, as I have mentioned, could have been better organised and run.

Picture courtesy of FridaysForFuture Deutschland

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