In the 1979 Monty Python film Life of Brian, there is a scene in which the bureaucratic People’s Front of Judea are discussing the “attainment of world supremacy”. One after another, they stress the need for action, not words, if they are to overthrow the Roman Empire.
“We can sit around all day, talking, passing resolutions, making clever speeches, it’s not going to shift one Roman soldier,” says Reg. At that moment, Judith rushes in to tell them that Brian is about to be crucified by the Romans. The PFJ committee quickly decides this calls for “immediate discussion” and sets about the wording of a new motion.
Around the same time as the film, scientists were writing academic papers about the growing evidence of a new phenomenon, climate change.
It became increasingly clear there was a serious problem during the 1980s but it was not until 1992 that an international treaty committed the majority of the world’s countries to the “stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”.
This was clearly a major step forward. As was the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and the Paris Agreement in 2015.
The problem is that, despite all the “talking, passing resolutions, making clever speeches”, the world is still off course and heading for dangerous climate change. Scotland has some of the toughest targets on carbon emissions in the world, but that hardly matters when we have missed them for three years in a row.
In a message on social media to mark 100 days to the United Nations’ Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow, Boris Johnson said while there had been good work done “let’s not pat ourselves on the back just yet because our planet and our people need more, we all have to make massive commitments to transforming our economy and getting back in balance with nature”.
Given the magnitude of the crisis, it is frankly bizarre to talk as if anyone is remotely suggesting we should pat ourselves on the back for our efforts. It makes him sound a bit like the PFJ’s Reg.
Glasgow is the summit where the actions must, at last, speak louder than the words.