We – and by that I mean the human race – walked out of the doctor’s surgery last November with an expert report. It did not make good reading. We are in poor health; radically change our ways in the next 12 years or face catastrophic social, economic and environmental consequences. The more we change the better the outcome and the less likely the catastrophe. Incidentally the changes, if made now, will bring us multiple benefits.

The report on a climate emergency given by the United Nations expert Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has provoked an unprecedented response: not from us adults who are supposed to be mature, offer realism, and keep our children safe: but from our school children who are supposed to be enjoying a carefree here and now. They went on strike.

They have understood: 12 years is not long; the cost of inaction is dreadful; the benefits of action can be great; they are the ones who will suffer the most from inaction, along with others who have done the least to cause the problem.


Tom Ballantine is Chair of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland

As one banner put it: “Your mess; our problem.”

We should not, must not, “normalise” this as something children apparently do … and then ignore it. It is shocking. It should command our immediate attention.

This is not the first time that humanity has sought to appease, ignore, divert, or exploit in the face of impending disaster. It is the first time that the consequences of that attitude have had such catastrophic, to infinity and beyond, implications for this and subsequent generations.

So what to do? Scotland has its own legislation on the climate emergency in the making right now. The key Scottish Parliamentary committee on Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform recently summarised both the risks we face and – the ray of sunshine behind the clouds – the opportunities we have if we act immediately.

As key expert Professor Jim Skea of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) put it in his evidence to the committee: “Everything you do now will buy you benefits further down the line.”

Certainly, we need really ambitious targets for drastically reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, particularly over the next 12 years. Government, institutions and individuals have their part to play in supporting those targets and over things like transport, our homes, businesses and land.

Our transport has to change. The petrol driven, CO2 pumping, air polluting, health damaging, congesting car has to become a thing of the past.

Electric cars have their place but much more so do public transport, walking and cycling. The plane, the biggest transport polluter per mile of all, has to be seen more as for necessity, not as a luxury for ever more frequent journeys to ever more distant locations.

We all need to heat our homes but new and existing homes must be made super energy efficient – perfectly possible – with lower costs for you, me and the planet. Our businesses premises need to be the same.

On the land, to counterbalance emissions we put out, we can plant more trees to take them up, and cherish our peatlands.


More can be done to deliver lower greenhouse gas emissions from our agriculture.

Positive changes are already being made on some of the greenest farms that can lower costs to farmers and deliver higher quality products to us. But this needs to be scaled up and supported.

Farmers here, and around the world, are already seeing the impact on their land and livelihoods of inaction; those who are not acting must surely join those who are.

Our government can make better actions easier but as individuals we still need to choose them. Every individual has a part to play: on the transport we use, making our homes energy efficient, and what we choose to eat (less meat and more local seasonal produce is the simple answer there).

The blight of climate change is here but the worst of it is still just avoidable. It is not something for someone else – “environmentalists”, “poor people” in other parts of the world, children.

We all live here. We all need to play our part. And the bigger the emissions consumer, the richer the nation, the bigger the part they need to play.

Stop, listen to those who know, be honest about the seriousness of the situation and what needs to be done, do it before it is too late. That sounds like a lesson we should not need our children to have to teach us.

Tom Ballantine is Chair of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland. www.stopclimatechaos.scot


The Herald’s Climate for Change initiative supports efforts being made by the Scottish Government with key organisations and campaign partners. Throughout the year we will provide a forum in The Herald newspaper, online at herald.scotland.com and in Business HQ magazine, covering news and significant developments in this increasingly crucial area.

If you are interested in contributing editorially or interested in becoming a Climate for Change partner, please contact Stephen McTaggart on 0141 302 6137 or email stephen.mctaggart@heraldandtimes.co.uk