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Tread lightly and make sure you leave the right impact with your footprint

A blog post by Catherine Gee

Catherine Gee
Deputy Chief Executive

Posted 15/12/2023

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With COP28 coming to an end on 13 December, our Deputy CEO Catherine Gee reflects on her frustrations at the speed of our net zero journey and her hopes for everyone to do a little more for combat climate change.

It is easy to get depressed by the lack of action on climate change. The apparent double standards, the lack of forward thinking, the vagueness of some of the wording from governments across the globe, and indeed the entire process of decision making on a global scale about a global issue. 

Following the announcement made at the conclusion of COP28 UN climate talks in Dubai earlier this week, which sees the text call for a ‘transition away’ from fossil fuels for the first time, it is still too easy to get disillusioned with the speed with which the world is taking action on an issue that we have known about since the 1800s. This wording is definitely a step forward in the right direction and should be recognised as such, but admittedly it is hard to celebrate.

I am often frustrated at the speed at which our journey towards a fair and just transition is moving, we see the disappointment across social media channels of those who have campaigned hard to have their voices heard – often those most impacted from developing countries. But equally I know how important it is for us all to focus on the positive and to celebrate what is changing here in Scotland too.

Published just this week, the 2022 Scottish Household Survey highlights that there has been an increase in the proportion of adults viewing climate change as an immediate and urgent problem from 68% in 2019 to 74% last year. This isn’t just something that is happening elsewhere, the impacts of climate change are with us in Scotland now, from extreme heavy rainfall and flooding becoming more common to average temperatures increasing year-round.

But perhaps, talking about the ‘climate crisis’ or ‘climate emergency’ is actually now doing us more harm than good when engaging with those who we need to bring with us to take action here in Scotland.

We all hear lots about things we should do to cut our carbon emissions. And we all generally agree that this will protect future generations, end our throwaway culture, create a healthier society and restore our nature and biodiversity. Yet, often it sounds like those that campaign on climate change and lambast progress are seen to be stalling our economy and saying that we should never have holidays abroad, never drive, buy nothing new, and basically just poop on the party. Yet, taking action to combat climate change shouldn’t be seen to be about sacrifice – it should just simply be the right long-term choice, for us and our planet. 

I’ve reflected a lot over the years since COP26 was hosted in Glasgow, and believe it is time for a different approach. Yes, we need to talk about the science and present the evidence. But, I don’t think the message is resonating with the people we need to reach in Scotland any more. Perhaps we need more real stories from our colleagues, friends and family about the tangible action they are taking. Maybe we need to use language that avoids despair, or which tells local tales or impact and adaptation.

Taking action to cut our carbon emissions is vital if we are to keep targets alive. But just maybe the time has come for us to switch the messaging – to focus on the many opportunities and benefits; some obvious and others less so which exist by living more sustainably. To mainstream the opportunities ahead and to talk about why a circular economy (forgive the jargon) is vital for us all. 

Slowing down to speed up is a key part of what we all need to do. Questioning what makes us happy, what we might chose to do differently if we felt empowered and supported to do so. What if we flip the messages round and celebrate what we are doing to make a difference? Simple wee things all add up – like a stitch in time saving nine.

Once you start to connect the dots it is really clear that the actions we as individuals can commit to not only help reduce our carbon footprints, but also create positive changes in our own health and wellbeing, in our communities, they open doors to new work opportunities, save us money and make us happier.

What motivates us to live, work and act in a way which is less harmful to nature and our climate is unique to each and every one of us – and so will be the actions we chose to take, and the infrastructure or support we need.

We know marginalised communities are likely to suffer the most from climate change, and in many cases already are. Those in less affluent neighbourhoods are already feeling the impacts and are in many ways have lower carbon footprints than those in the most affluent areas. 

And we know, although rarely say so, that the most affluent communities in Scotland have the biggest carbon footprints and are arguably in a position to do most about it.

I guess my point is that we all have a carbon footprint. We can’t eradicate that completely. But we can tread lightly. We can ensure we know the facts. We can continue to make a positive difference, no matter what our world leaders do, or don’t do. We can rethink how our lives work, we can ask questions about reenvisaging our work/life balance, create time to commute sustainably and reconnect with nature. We can all act collaboratively, compassionately and as individuals to make a difference. And we can share our stories, urging others to do the same.

Combating climate change relies on us all doing something. It relies on us – ordinary people from a cross sector of society - pulling together. It will rely on solid partnerships, increased collaboration and a commitment to all do a little more in our personal and work lives. 

Most importantly for me, I want to see a shift from the separate and lonely narrative – climate change communication in Scotland needs a brave new approach with messaging that focuses on opportunities and embeds the action we need people to embrace – because what is good for us, should be good for our planet.

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