Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Green Scotland: does it matter?

Caught a bit of Sean Lock's act on Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow on Saturday and though he was being funny (as comedians tend to be) he raised an interesting point.

I like to think I've become much more thoughtful with regards the mark I'm leaving on the world. I recycle practically everything that I can. I wear about 4 jumpers before I think about sticking the heating on. And even though I own a car, it gets used sparingly - I prefer using the buses to get round Edinburgh. But does it matter? I mean, I was recently doing the recycling at Sainsburys and a woman arrived in a BMW to recycle some glass. She jumped out the car - leaving it running - and chucked the bottles in the recycling bin. If you're going to leave the car running, what's the point of doing any recycling at all?!

Broader point though. Well, the same point, just on a larger scale.

The Scottish Parliament unanimously passed the Climate Change (Scotland) Act in June, widely accepted as being one of the most ambitious of its kind (though some didn't think it went far enough). If, as a nation, we're going to stick to this policy and do our bit to reduce our impact on climate change, what difference will it make if other, larger countries - the United States, for example - don't bother their arses? I mean, for all the talk of "change you can believe in", American views on the environment can roughly be translated as "we'll do what the hell we like and screw the rest of you."

I guess my question - to more knowledgeable folks like James and Patrick - is what difference will our small efforts to help the environment make in the grand scheme of things? And has the new Nobel prize winner actually done anything on this score...? And, I guess, will the upcoming Copenhagen summit deliver anything substantial or am I right to be my usual cynical self?


chasbooth 20 October 2009 at 15:10  

What difference will our small efforts make?

Answer: no difference at all, if they're done on their own, in isolation. But being an active climate-aware citizen is more than just doing your recycling - it's about being active politically and economically, and ensuring so far as possible that those actions align.

In other words, don't just do your recycling, but contact your councillors and ask them when they're going to introduce doorstep recycling, and to your MSPs and ask what they're doing to make it easier for you to reduce waste, and to the shops you use and ask what they're doing to cut packaging (for example).

As to 'no-one else is doing it so why should I' - everyone is differently motivated. You are clearly motivated by wanting to do the right thing. The fact that others aren't should bother you: it will become increasingly difficult and expensive for them to ignore these issues if we are to cut emissions and become a more sustainable society. You have the satisfaction of being a green 'pioneer' - you did it because it was right, and before you were forced to do it.

Malc 20 October 2009 at 18:01  


I guess I'm playing devil's advocate. On the basis that it is much easier to get news for being racist and anti-immigration than it is for being green, the indication would be that we care more for division than we do for the planet.

I do indeed want to do the right thing - and I'm not petty enough to stop doing recycling just because America's emissions mean that the greening of my life won't make the slightest bit of difference.

All I was asking, really, was if the changes I've made to my life to try and be more environmentally friendly (and, to be honest, they're not exactly huge sacrifices) are useless because larger countries don't bother. That was Sean Lock's point in his comedy skit - and I think it was valid.

chasbooth 20 October 2009 at 20:36  

But it simply isn't true that other countries don't bother!

I've just finished participating in an excellent 'webinar' on energy efficiency in the US. They're investing $40bn in improving energy efficiency. California is investing $3.1bn in the next two years alone! Since around a third of America's emissions come from homes, this could really make an enormous difference.

Likewise, China is often in the headlines for opening a new power station every week (or whatever it is) but 38% of their economic stimulus package was spent on 'green' measures. In the UK the figure was... 7%

So on many 'green' issues, the rest of the world is ahead of us!

stuart 20 October 2009 at 22:28  

If you listening to the Today programme this morning you would have heard all about China's "Green Revolution". One town there has just got rid of petrol bikes buy simply not giving any petrol driven bikes licenses- so everyone now uses electric bikes.

What Chas is getting at is that yes its down to us, but the real changes that need to happen will be made by our decision makers- the state needs to influence our behaviour more by making it easier for us to be green, rather than just relying on guilt tripping us all, and most things shouldn't be that hard.

One other thing Malc, if you don't use your car much, joina car club. It will save you loads and cut your carbon emissions...

Malc 20 October 2009 at 22:58  

Right guys,

I'm with you Chas on California - they've passed several laws there, and every other person there has a Hybrid. But how much will that reduce the US carbon emissions by? I know every little helps... and I might be wrong, but I think the US is still a world leader in that regard.

Maybe I'm looking at it too cynically - maybe we don't need a global plan (post-Kyoto, which didn't work anyway). Maybe individual states setting their own targets and pioneering legislation will be enough. But how will it then be enforced? I mean, not that Kyoto was enforced to a great degree...

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