Guilt. It’s not just the best black comedy from Scotland in years. It’s the overwhelming emotion amongst many older adults as COP26 begins.

Everywhere we look the climate crisis stares back at us – and it feels like our collective fault. From the news and special COP26 newspaper supplements to TV documentaries about the natural world - once a source of distraction but now a vivid, urgent reminder of a planet under threat.

It’s ironic. Advances in underwater, Arctic and wildlife filming have peaked just in time for us to fully appreciate the astonishing biodiversity of a planet we have failed to safeguard or share. More guilt.

It lurks behind embarrassment over Boris Johnson’s Kermit the Frog speech, suspicion about his carefully seeded pessimism about COP26 outcomes and the understandable moaning over congestion, diversions and even Covid upticks in Glasgow. Behind all of this, older generations know what COP26 is really about.

It’s the planet’s report card on the way we’ve led our lives.

And the verdict on the 40-plus cohort who’ve driven everywhere, eaten meat at every meal, surrounded ourselves with oil-based, energy-embedded, fairly pointless consumer products, and thrown food, cans and slightly outdated white goods into landfill is pretty grim.

We’ve had custodianship of the planet. And we have manifestly failed. Guilt.

It’s understandable, it’s justified - but it’s not all bad. Guilt can be a form of energy, a spur to action and even a sign of hope. Only societies with some green consciousness would register this constant nagging collective voice. Yet guilt could also be the biggest block to progress at COP26 and beyond, if it causes the generations who benefitted from the fast-fading oil era to switch off or allow themselves to be diverted by the posturing and squabbles of world leaders.

We cannot be immobilised by guilt – for two good reasons.

Firstly, there is still a path away from global warming, but it will only be taken by politicians if voters pile on the pressure. Voters are generally an older demographic. So, change won't happen if we give up or look away.

We need to believe in the capacity of humans to engineer more sustainable ways of life and acknowledge the destructive force of the Great Consumer Age we experienced and – let’s admit it – often enjoyed. We need to educate ourselves and view 2050 through the eyes of children who will be adults and parents in that distant, difficult, climate-distorted decade many of us will not reach.

So, there’s no use flinching inwardly every time COP26, Greta Thunberg, or the climate crisis gets a mention. The middle-income, 40-plus generations of the developed world have indeed worked our way through the world's resources at an alarming and climate-changing rate - in patterns of industry physically built by forebears who obtained little comfort or reward from their hard labour. But we inherited.

Many of us have had comfortable lives our grandparents could only dream of, but now we discover the planet and our children will pay the price. If we give in to guilt and fall into fashionable detachment or weary cynicism.

Instead, we must look the Age of Consumerism squarely in the face, acknowledge our (largely unwitting) role in that, its impact on the planet and our responsibility to make sure the Age of Bling, Loadsamoney and Keeping up with the Joneses is finally over. Our job as adults is to accept, adapt, think deeply and drive change.

Because this isn’t hopeless. If it was, we could all take to drink and pull up the duvets. But scientists and engineers are way ahead of the public – the Glasgow-based Ibioc network for example has quietly been developing renewable materials to help industry quit oil-based ‘feedstocks.’

The public in turn, is generally ahead of most politicians on the need for properly planned immediate change. And ahead of all these groups (and even campaigners like the inexhaustible David Attenborough) stands one savvy, life-affirming group of dogged campaigners. Our children – the second good reason adults must engage with COP26.

Kids are certainly scared about the future but they’re also too well-informed to accept defeatism or platitudes from us. Blame social media. Blame schools. Blame the whole education process and its focus on the hard facts. Kids are on their toes and won’t be palmed off – as a documentary on BBC Scotland this week is set to demonstrate.

Black, Black Oil opens with children plonking furry toys and household objects before the camera, stating defiantly that all are made of oil.

The documentary’s arguments are formidable. Rice production looks set to collapse by 2050 as the Mekong Delta is submerged by rising seas – ditto pension income since so much has been invested in oil, gas and fossil fuel related industry. On the other hand, investment experts acknowledge that wind and solar energy are now demonstrably cheaper, safer and a better bet for investors than fossil fuels. It’s powerful stuff.

So, we mustn’t look away.

The end of the Oil Age demands that adults get politically engaged now to encourage and enable the activism and far-sightedness of our children and grandchildren. They need optimism, belief and solidarity for the road ahead – and older generations cannot become a drag. If our political system isn’t fit for this purpose, we must change it.

Easier said than done, of course. Some believe that building a new sustainable society, infrastructure and industrial processes must take priority over re-thinking Scotland’s constitutional future. Others believe this enormous task demands urgent disentanglement from a state grounded in inequality, hollow words and market-based solutions.

Whatever – the independence debate now plays out against the reality of climate change and the arguments made over the next two weeks, in the Dear Green Place that was once the ‘Workshop of the World.’

A lot was given to us, then experienced and exhausted by us. Now a lot is expected from us. Above all, we mustn’t flinch from the climate crisis – but feel the guilt and do it anyway.

Black Black Oil, airs on BBC Scotland channel 10pm on Wednesday November 3.

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