It can’t be done. We just can’t tackle a global problem that huge.
That’s the conventional wisdom when contemplating the massive environmental problems we face. Conventional - and wrong. When facing a global environmental challenge, the solution is to be found in breaking down global reality into parts that can be tackled by working together.
So it is with the launch last week of the co-ordinated effort to tackle the scourge of marine litter at source - starting with actions in the communities on land where 80% of the ocean swamp of plastic bottles, cans and food packaging originates. Upstream Battle is a unique attempt right here in Scotland to deliver global leadership on the issue that was so starkly highlighted by Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet series last year. Those images, brought home to the world that consigning our mess to the ocean has consequences - for the wildlife threatened by it, and for all of us in destroying important parts of the global ecosystem.
It’s a problem that’s almost impossible to grasp in its scale or its seriousness.
How welcome then to see the immediate response from some of Scotland’s leading agencies who understand that tackling the problem starts at home. They’ve joined the Upstream Battle campaign and have started highlighting the litter blight across west central Scotland, that every day of every year, finds its way down the Clyde river, along with its various tributaries. That litter, the plastic bottles and cans, crisp bags, fast food packaging and cigarette pack wrappers - casually discarded from cars, at bus stops, in parks and in our housing estates - inevitably finds its way into the river Clyde and is then carried out to sea.
The coalition which have joined the campaign so far, including the Scottish Government and local authorities, retail groups like Scotmid Cooperative along with the Crown Estate Scotland, believe worldwide action can start at home. Upstream Battle will aim to inform and educate, measure the extent of local environmental impact, and take direct action to clean up the Clyde river basin. From its origins in the hills of the South of Scotland to the Firth of Clyde at Greenock, every community will be asked to play a part in the clean up.
To the campaign founders, the charities Keep Scotland Beautiful and RECOUP, this is an upstream - but not an uphill - battle. The response from industry and government has been encouraging, but the solution to the problem starts at an even more personal level. It is within each and every one of us to ensure that we are not the problem - the key lies in individual behaviour change.
Do we choose to discard litter from our car window, or dispose of it responsibly at home? Do we choose to look for more sustainable ways of packaging our purchases? The people of Glasgow and west central Scotland have the potential, in the decisions they take and actions they make, to change local environmental outcomes. They can start to tackle that global problem.
88% of people in Scotland agree with us that the amount of litter in our rivers is a problem, and our recent national surveys of local environmental quality would indicate that litter across the country is at the highest level for ten years. This campaign is an opportunity for us all to get behind the co-ordinated action to turn that around.
This is a first for the Clyde, for Glasgow, and for Scotland. Change starts with a single act. Let yours actions make a difference.
First published in The Herald, 31 October 2018