The tale that a fleet of electric cars procured for delegates are to be powered by chip-fat powered generators for lack of charging points during COP26 may have been a source of wry amusement, but it was an apt sign of the rapid and extraordinary adjustments being made to Glasgow in anticipation of the largest conference in history.

Take a walk along the Clydeside and you’ll notice the hive of activity building large temporary structures and security barriers in the 'blue zone', which will become UN territory under international law. Walk a little further on the south bank of the river and you'll pass Govan Graving Docks, standing as a monument to a lost industrial past- and now serving as an outlaw green space for locals, and a rewilded habitat for wildlife.

Keep walking into Govan, enter the historic Pearce Institute beneath the granite corbie steps, and welcome to our home- the Centre for Human Ecology (CHE).

As the closest local ecological organisation to COP26, we extend a warm welcome to delegates and friends from across the globe. However, it's also our role as engaged scholars to critically analyse the discourse around climate change.

Founded in 1972, originally at the University of Edinburgh, CHE emerged during the first major flowering of the modern environmental movement, alongside that year's publication of the Club of Rome's still influential 'Limits to Growth' report.

We've been involved in education, research and action for social and ecological justice ever since- both (occasionally fractiously) as part of the mainstream university system, and now as an independent educational charity and worker's co-operative.


What is human ecology? You'll get as many answers as there are human ecologists- but essentially we consider the relationships and ruptures between nature, culture, society and economy- how each effect, create and contain one another.

Over the years, we've developed a distinctive 'Scottish School' of radical human ecology: one which includes a grounded understanding of people and place, and sets traditional ecological knowledge and indigenous ways of knowing alongside a firm grasp of the latest science.

This work is rooted in the Scottish generalist tradition of the 'democratic intellect'- education should not just create intellectual elites, but should contribute to full human flourishing in a fair society where all can participate.

This approach to knowledge has produced many engaged and deeply committed graduates from CHE who are making contributions across the nation and beyond. We've quietly woven our small thread of human ecology into the tapestry of modern Scotland- from creating the first sustainable procurement policy for the fledgling Scottish Parliament, to work on race, identity and belonging, land reform and community development.

We've brought together government planners from Papua Province, Indonesia with Scottish rural development workers to learn how grassroots leadership can work with government to build capacity that enhances community resilience. Misak indigenous leaders from Colombia have shared knowledge of how they reclaimed their ancestral territory from colonisation with Scottish islanders.

Ongoing courses and public talks- mostly online during the Covid era- have built a community of active learners, who also benefit from a growing library of published books and articles generated by the CHE network.

It's not easy to take this holistic view in a modern higher educational culture in which the head of a Scottish university recently vowed to eliminate 'vanity courses' which were not strictly aligned with producing economic growth.

However, there’s some advantages to independence. It's meant that we've allied with other like-minded educationalists to form an emerging Co-operative University steering group, and we work closely with our friends at GalGael in Govan, who combine culture, craft and community, to rekindle humanity through 'demanding common tasks'. Other collaborators include the Enough! Collective, a group of thinkers and practitioners working to change harmful cultural narratives underpinning the climate crisis.

We maintain convivial relations with our colleagues within higher education, and many CHE graduates, fellows and associates occupy distinguished positions within universities, NGOs and the business sector.

Our role also allows us a bottom-up look at COP26, asking the difficult questions. We’ve official UN observer status at the talks, and we'll be closely following the proceedings. Our early analysis, however, is that- aside from the glaring inequality of hosting a glitzy jamboree, sponsored by major corporate carbon emitters, in a city wounded by poverty where delegates from the majority world will struggle to be heard- there seems to be little appetite for reckoning with the real causes of climate change.

We suggest that it's impossible to get to net-zero while maintaining a consumerist, extractivist globalised civilisation in which exponential economic growth is a prerequisite- we can't just put a renewable energy battery in the same old machine.

Purely political, technocratic or engineering solutions are not adequate to the complexity of the problem. 'System change, not climate change', the activists will chant on their march on November the 6th, and they're not wrong.

The climate crisis is really a crisis of what it means to be human today- how our values, identities and beliefs create behaviours that will either undermine the basis of life as we know it, or restore and repair the damage we’ve caused and create alternative ways of being in the world.

We’ll be exploring these themes during our COP26 public gathering at the Pearce Institute from 1st-12th Nov, where we warmly invite you to join us for a season of talks, events and workshops, bringing together Glaswegian communities with our partners, including guests from indigenous territories- so often on the frontline of the worst impacts of climate change, yet having contributed the least to the problem- to get to the heart of the matter, full details of which will appear on our website

More widely in Govan, our allies at GalGael are convening a ‘Govan Free State’: a temporary autonomous zone as a provocative creative response- find out how to join the craic at

As we celebrate our 50th anniversary next year, thoughts turn to what the next 50 years may hold. ‘Glasgow’ could become a global synonym for the place where the Earth community collectively got a grip and learned to live within our planetary carrying capacity. Or it could be the name for another catastrophic failure of nerve and missed opportunity.

In any case, with whatever comes to pass at the UN summit, we’ll do our best to contribute modestly to our shared understanding of human ecology and prepare for our collective future on our one fragile world. We’d welcome your membership and engagement.