Shaun Milne: The climate emergency demands definite answers

There’s a social media video doing the rounds of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon talking to young climate activists on a street corner. They wanted to know why her government had not come out to condemn plans to drill for oil and gas at the Cambo field off Shetland.

Shaun Milne

It’s the source of much controversy, an 80,000-strong petition and a tug of war between Westminster and Holyrood as to who has the best eco credentials.

To her credit, she didn’t shrug and put them off. She didn’t give them a condescending smile and walk away. She tried to carefully engage, to explain in grown-up terms how hard a juggling act it was to decide in the best interests of jobs and the economy and climate.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

In further media interviews, she continued this theme along with the hand washing of it not being “our” decision but the UK Government’s.

But the young activists asked why, with all her influence, Nicola Sturgeon – Mother of the Nation – would not just come out and say we need to stop drilling for oil and gas?

Being generous, you could say it might be because her colleagues are locked in talks with the Scottish Greens over a co-operation deal and didn’t yet want to give too much away. The cynic might point to the fact that BP, for example, has been among the sponsors chucking cash at the SNP conferences. But that would just be point scoring.

Instead, you can click on the SNP website, read beyond the “reserved to Westminster…” disclaimer on oil and gas, to the part: “Any government support for the oil and gas sector in the North Sea will be conditional upon the industry contributing to a sustainable, secure and inclusive energy transition.” Basically, money still talks, especially when you have to find a way to replace dirty jobs with new ones and training for all those voters who may be affected.

And finance is also what was cited by a BBC correspondent trying desperately to explain why Downing Street too is so reluctant to turn off the pipes. If they did, he said, where would the Treasury get its money from if not the tax from oil and gas?

No-one can deny these are significant PR problems with potential political consequences. But it seems blindingly obvious they are missing the point. You can’t raise tax receipts if everyone is dead. You can’t create green new jobs if we are all under water. Our children can’t buttonhole politicians in the streets if they can’t breathe.

Look at the apocalyptic scenes in Greece – just four hours from here. We can barely rely on a ferry to Arran or Ullapool, do you really think we could stage the same kind of save our souls rescue?

Parts of the country ground to a halt this week as flash floods hit. Again. Our infrastructure can’t cope. We don’t have the resilience.

This, though, isn’t an exercise in finger pointing. There are many reasons, over generations, as to why we are in such a tragic, self-inflicted mess. Human activity has caused this, the IPCC report tells us categorically. But it can also get us out of it too.

It is clear that only reducing emissions now, while enhancing biodiversity will change things. The science tells us how to do this. All of us, by the way, it’s not just the politicians and the business leaders.

Think what the predicted two-to-five-metre rise in sea levels means for Scotland if it is too much of a stretch to consider how the Maldives or parts of Fiji will disappear below the waves. We are, remember, an island too.

There were no instructions with the IPCC report. No get-out-of-jail-free card. Just facts. Cold hard science. And a stark choice for global governments including those bound for COP26 to step up and act now or fail us all. Time. Is. Up.

If the First Minister had turned round to those same kids and said yes, the Scottish Government will oppose Cambo, it wouldn’t solve climate change. But it would be a start because actions speak louder than words.

And if the IPCC report tells us anything it is that survival is in now our own hands. It’s that kind of action and leadership the world is dying for.

Shaun Milne is host of the Sustainable Scotland podcast and CEO of Skog Media Associates