How tackling climate change made me feel like ‘most Scottish man in world’ – Dr Matt Winning

A possible climate emergency measure? Samuel L Jackson holds a snake ahead of the premiere of the film Snakes On A Plane. Picture: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
A possible climate emergency measure? Samuel L Jackson holds a snake ahead of the premiere of the film Snakes On A Plane. Picture: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
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The Scottish Government has declared a climate emergency, but we need more action from politicians and individuals if the war against dangerous global warming is to be won, writes Dr Matt Winning.

Sound the alarm. We’ve declared a climate emergency! However, it doesn’t really feel like an emergency yet. It feels more like waiting in an emergency room which is slowly filling up with impatient in-patients.

All that’s happened so far is the Scottish Government has scrapped their proposed cuts on the air departure tax. An important move, as, given limited technological options, we need to curtail increasing aviation demand. Some people are afraid of flying. I think we need to make more people afraid of flying. Perhaps glass floors or actual snakes on a plane? A first step amongst many on the path to consistent decision-making across the economy. But we now need to even the playing field by taxing aviation properly compared to other forms of travel.

The Committee on Climate Change’s advice is to make the UK emissions reduction target net-zero by 2050 and that Scotland should do it even faster, by 2045. In typical Scottish fashion, what will spur us on is proving we can do something better than the English. The race is on. You may take our condensing boilers but you’ll never take our freedom (to have a clean environment)!

It may very well be rivalry that spurs us on to greatness. Like Andy Murray in the tennis, it is the achievements of those around him that made him work harder to reach the top. Glasgow and Edinburgh are now in direct competition to become the UK’s first net-zero city. Having lived in both cities, I am looking forward to a wind turbine on the top of the Duke of Wellington’s cone and tourists’ footsteps on the Royal Mile powering local homes. If we could harness the unleashed rivalry of Scottish sports fans and turn that into something positive, like ‘nine in a row’ for largest emissions reductions, then we’d sort the problem in absolutely no time. We always want to feel we’re better than our neighbours so get out there, start telling Susan next door about how little you drive and watch her sell that Volvo and become an eco-warrior.

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We have done well so far, especially on decarbonising the power sector, as Scotland’s actual emissions are now half what they were in 1990, back when coal reigned supreme and wind power was virtually non-existent. That is the easy stuff. Heating is next and I don’t know if you’ve noticed but we are a Baltic nation, so we use an awful lot of it. I think 90 per cent is my gran. However, there has been very little progress in emissions reductions in transport, agriculture, forestry and land-use sectors, although some plans are now in place.

We need to drive electric cars but also have more car-sharing options and to drive less. Changes in road transport will also have extra benefits, mostly health related. Firstly, it will reduce air pollution which hopefully means the only filter kids will need on their face is on Snapchat. Parents often choose quieter routes to walk with their children, away from traffic, as this can cut pollution exposure by almost two-thirds. We’re so afraid of inconveniencing drivers that the people being poisoned are the ones having to change their behaviour. If we continue with that logic we’ll soon just be telling children to stop breathing.

Secondly, there’s the benefits of walking and cycling more. Run to the gym to cancel your membership. Then there is changing our diets. To cut emissions I have changed my milk. I now only drink oat milk, which is especially weird when I have it in my porridge. Oat on oat action. I feel like the most Scottish man in the world. I want my oats ground into liquid and poured over more oats. I’ve also gone from eating meat in most meals to only a couple times a week, which has been hard as I like a burger as much as the next Five Guys.

In Scotland, it is quite clear that the view on the role of the oil and gas industry has changed since the independence referendum in 2014. This industry which has given us all so much will, whether as part of the UK or not, need to be mostly dismantled over the coming decades. Here, with the current expertise, we have the opportunity to become a world leader in carbon capture and storage that will be required for hard to decarbonise sectors in industry. But it requires significant policy support to come to fruition.

It has been quite the year for climate change in Scotland. School strikes, dire climate reports, wildfires, protesters gluing themselves to buildings, and the warmest February on record. And now a climate emergency. It feels like a turning point. I started my PhD on this very topic about 11 years ago. Back then we were the first nation to introduce legislation on limiting our contribution to climate change. We paved the way and other countries followed suit. We now have 11 years to reduce global emissions by 45 per cent in order to stay below 1.5C increase. It’s time for us to show the way once again and finish the job. Show them how it’s done.

However, we cannot underestimate the scale of the challenge required. Achieving this is going to require everybody throwing everything at the wall. This will not be easy. Almost every aspect of society will see significant adjustments. How you get to work, where you work, how and where you take holidays, what you eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, what you buy, and how your home is heated. People often say we could do with a war, well here it is, it’s against our carbon-intensive society. Treat it like an emergency and do your part in your personal, professional and political lives.

Matt Winning is a comedian and podcaster of Operation Earth, who works by day as an environmental economist at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources.

His show It’s The End Of The World As We Know It will be at the Pleasance Below as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe from 31 July to 25 August. More info and tickets available here or at mattwinning.com.