The Big Climate Conversation

By Ruth McLaren, project coordinator at Eco Savvy, with some additional notes from one of the participants Elsa Rodeck. For Ruth’s full report go to the full write up.

On Thursday 19th September Eco Savvy held a Big Climate Conversation in Brodick.

This event was held on behalf of the Scottish Government in order to hear peoples’ climate change opinions and included a discussion about ways the local community can reduce the emissions that cause climate change, and prepare for a changing climate. The event is part of a series of Climate Conversations initiated by the Scottish Government and are taking place all over the country. Feedback from the conversations is reported back to the Climate Change policy team at the Scottish Government so this could be a very direct and powerful way to get Arran folks’ environmental opinions and ideas heard and, we hope, may actually inform future policy.

Participants were asked to write down the word or phrase that comes to mind when they hear the statement, Scotland has declared a Global Climate Emergency, and share why they wrote what they did:

There was a range of responses from participants, which included:

• Confusion
• We need a seriousness of action – Scotland has declared an emergency we need to see the action that reflect the emergency
• We need to aim for a net zero planet by 2030, not 2045 – the climate crisis is not being treated like an emergency
• Climate injustice – deforestation and poisonous gases in cities adversely affect more vulnerable in society
• We require a sense of urgency and mobilisation
• Oil and sea levels are a concern
• Time is running out – we need action urgently
• Drastic, urgent, reactive and daunting
• More extreme weather incidents
• Big corporations use the greatest amount of resources and create the most emissions
• Urgent action needed rather than words – Government, all about profit and not caring for the environment
• Need less prevarication
• Less Brexit! – half the effort put into Brexit and put it into climate change instead
• Need a change in economic priorities – both governmental and individual

We were then asked to consider the following statement:

 

Participants were asked their views on this target and it was generally agreed amongst attendees that the target is far from ambitious enough. One attendee said “this is not ambitious enough, we need to be at net zero by 2030. We need a strategy and plan of action much sooner. It would mean a massive change and very quickly, and this would hurt people, but it needs to be done. All these things are hard, and in some ways will hurt someone, but they are changes we have to make and are much less than what we will have to face if we don’t do anything.”

There was discussion that highlighted the two levels at which change needs to happen – concerning what individuals can do, and what the government needs to lead on. There was the feeling that politicians are not being brave enough at the moment to stand up and say ‘we have to make these changes’. We have to change our lifestyle but no-one seems willing to say it. The general feeling in the room was that the public wants more rules and policy concerning actions to stop the rate of global warming, both at the macro and micro level. There is a realisation and a degree of acceptance, that individuals’ lifestyles and associated consumerist freedoms in some areas need to be restricted for effective change to happen. This discussion linked to the following activity:

 

The group were given cards showing a number of societal changes that experts have suggested Scotland will need to adopt in order to reach net-zero emissions by 2045. These are a few of the most often suggested changes but blank cards were also provided for other suggestions:

Statements on the cards were:  – We eat a veg dietWe fly lessAll homes and buildings are insulated to the highest standardPublic transport is the norm for everyday journeysWalking and cycling is easy and safe for short journeysIt is common for us to lease, hire or borrow instead of buying e.g. a car club or a tool libraryAll cars on the road are electric vehiclesAll biodegradable waste is collected separately and composted or used to generate energyOur homes are heated with renewable energy

Participants were asked to split into groups and to choose 2 or 3 of the activity cards to discuss.
Groups had a conversation about what they thought were the most significant challenges in achieving each of the changes they selected and then fedback to the rest of the attendees what was discussed:

Group 1 felt flying less would be beneficial but would offer significant challenges in adoption. They were in favour of a carbon tax on flights and wanted the Scottish Government to withdraw backing for the expansion of Heathrow. They also felt that diet could pose challenges in that people should be adopting a diet that is more local and factors in seasonality. It was felt education around these issues is needed. Group 1 also discussed the need for electric vehicles and reuse instead of buying new, throwing away or even recycling.

Group 2 were interested in the environmental savings around insulating homes and buildings but the fact that a lot of Scotland’s housing stock is old is a significant challenge. They also felt that flying less would have a big impact on the environment.

Group 3 also discussed the need for, and also the difficulties in getting people to fly less. They felt significant environmental savings could be made by improving Scotland’s housing standards, for example, through legislating specific environmental standards such as triple glazing as standard on new builds. Cars were also an issue discussed with a sharing culture being suggested through schemes such as car sharing/pooling.

Group 4 discussed the topics that they felt were more achievable, the biggest ones being addressing domestic waste issues, working on making homes and buildings more environmentally efficient and increasing the use of renewable energy.

With these questions in mind, the groups were given some cards (below) with actions, which we were asked to rank according priority.

Summary of discussions:

The need to plant more trees was a high priority for all groups, as was the notion of boosting a circular economy and reducing consumption. The further development of renewables such as wind, tidal and the development of new technology was viewed as a positive step for Scotland, and a great opportunity for jobs which could counteract the decline of North Sea oil extraction in a bid for Scotland to move to a more progressive and environmentally aware industrial sector.

A big outcome to note was that all groups found it difficult to rank climate actions in order of priority as they felt that all actions were important. Whilst some actions might be more achievable, some might have a greater impact. There were also discussions around how some actions were lifestyle choices (e.g. flying, change of diet) and the difficulty in getting people to change their daily habits to accommodate these changes.

The need for education was also highlighted, particularly in schools. Some children and parts of the community are aware and informed of issues surrounding climate change, whereas others aren’t. It was felt that this needs to be addressed. Simple facts to educate the general public are needed, on things such as what goes into making a cotton jumper, or what is involved if we eat apples from New Zealand. There could be coordinated interventions then as well around these things, such as getting apples from Scotland into our supermarkets when the fruit is abundant in the UK rather than importing them from abroad.

There was a lot of discussion around the extent to which climate action should be the responsibility of individuals or pushed on a governmental level. The conclusion being that everybody must be accountable to a degree. It was generally agreed that businesses are guilty of damaging and exploiting the environment and should be made accountable. There was anger that the government is not taking greater action on climate change despite declaring a “climate emergency”. It was strongly felt by several attendees that the Scottish government, and some ministers in particular, prioritise the wishes of the business sector over communities and the environment.

Many people in the room felt that they were making changes to their lives but that the government should be doing more to legislate to protect the environment. There was much frustration that not enough is being done quickly enough and that there is much talk, without meaningful action.

One Arran business owner talked about reducing consumption by making products that can be recycled – for example walking boots. He said, “I am here because as a business owner I am interested in the balance between keeping the business going and reducing consumption. I am keen to look at the possible negative economic impacts now, of having products that can be repaired and re-used, but also knowing that we need to make these changes now for the planet.”

At the end of the session another participant highlighted the great opportunity Arran has to make an impact in transitioning to a low carbon economy with the natural and social resources it has an island. He said, “Arran can lead on this. We can do it, with our location and geographical containment. It is a lot easier to get people on board here. We’ve got this huge advantage. And for example with our marine habitats, such as sea grass, mearl and kelp. Whiting Bay has a seagrass bed stretching 4 km and Pirnmill has a seagrass bed stretching about 1.5 km along the shore. Sequestered carbon 35 times more than the amazon rainforest, right on our doorstep!”

So the need to protect these habitats as a store of carbon  – blue carbon stores – is vital. Marine habitats such as sea grass, and sea loch mud, can retain 10-20 times more carbon than peat.

The topics discussed and ideas that people came up with show there are many ways that both individuals and the government can take action, but it was agreed that it will take a wholesale shift in thinking and coordinated strategy to start making it happen.

Eco Savvy will be submitting feedback to the Climate Change Policy team at the Scottish Government on Monday 7th October so if you have anything to add please email your comments to ruth.ecosavvy@gmail.com and we will include these along with our submission.