The Scotsman Sessions #298: Matt Winning

Welcome to the award-winning Scotsman Sessions. With the performing arts sector still impacted by the pandemic, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on scotsman.com, with introductions from our critics. Here, the comedian and environmental economist Matt Winning reflects on some of the pros and cons of his day job

Finding humour in an impending apocalypse can be a tough ask at the best of times, but Matt Winning wrote his book Hot Mess: What on earth can we do about climate change? while moving house and awaiting the birth of his first child during a global pandemic, propelling his anxiety to stratospheric levels.

By day, the Paisley native is an environmental economist with a PhD in climate change policy. By night, he's a stand-up comic, who for most of the last two years has been unable to gig. Instead, he's spent long hours crunching some fairly grim numbers, with an inevitable impact on his mental health.

Glasgow, he notes, “is expected to be one of the worst cities in Europe at risk from flooding by 2050”. Prior to his son's birth, he found himself calculating that to offset the child's carbon emissions he'd need to kill about a hundred dogs a year, “or about two hundred dogs if it's those small yappy ones...”

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    Matt Winning

    Bleak stuff. But Hot Mess and Winning's accompanying spring tour aren't without more upbeat reflections, like recalling the pivotal role A-ha played in popularising electric cars in Norway. Meanwhile, the upsetting impact of melting ice on polar bears' migration and their subsequent copulation with grizzly bears is at least partially counterbalanced by learning that their offspring are called “pizzly”.

    Moreover, Winning isn't conceding the planet's future just yet. Despite issuing strong caveats about actions needing to follow words, he was broadly encouraged by pledges made during the recent Cop26 conference in Glasgow and the Scottish government's recent U-turn on further North Sea oil extraction.

    “Covid has actually helped people understand existential threats a bit better,” he suggests. And while individuals making decisions about their recycling, diet and transport might help, “what we really need is societal change. Regulation. A change in poor government and company policies has to happen imminently. What happens over the next decade will determine whether we can solve climate change to the degree it needs to be solved.”

    Matt Winning plays The Stand, Edinburgh on 16 April and The Stand, Glasgow on 17 April, see www.mattwinning.com

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