WHILE wallowing in the slough of climate change despond – due to a news item suggesting the world was likely to record at least one annual average near-surface global temperature of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels within the next five years – I had cause to pick up a book of essays called Not Too Late.

The book – co-edited by Rebecca Solnit and Thelma Young Lutunatabua – is an antidote to climate change defeatism. Solinit and Lutunatabua are the ying to the likes of writer Paul Kingsnorth’s yang. Kingsnorth thinks we can’t fix climate change and should focus instead on how we live through it. “Hope, like despair, is something of a distraction: it gets in the way of a clear view of the horizon," he has written.

Solnit and Lutunatabua, on the other hand, are big advocates of hope, which Solnit says “navigates a way forward between the false certainties of optimism and pessimism, and the complacency or passivity that goes with both”.

The pair also believe that – alongside engineers and scientists, creating eco-friendly technology – the climate change movement needs story-tellers; people who can imagine a world driven by different values; a world in which we see ourselves as citizens rather than consumers, and where the renunciation of negative commodities – pesticides, fossil fuels etc – is recast as the embrace of better health, social solidarity and an improved relationship with nature.

READ MORE: Dani Garavelli: A good death is an extension of a good life

I felt briefly uplifted by that thought, and the pair’s insistence that the shift of the climate change debate from the fringes to the mainstream was in itself something to celebrate. Right up until I caught the backlash against Glasgow City Council’s new Low Emission Zone on the next day’s radio, and remembered that many people’s desire to improve people’s health and save the planet (and sometimes also my own) stops the minute it requires something of them.

They may be roused by David Attenborough’s call to action, they may embrace No Mow May, and the excuse it offers to avoid a chore they’d rather not be doing anyway, but when it comes to a measure that disrupts their daily routines they will produce a hundred reasons why it can’t or shouldn’t be done.

Glasgow’s LEZ zone (aimed chiefly at meeting air quality targets) isn’t even all that ambitious. Applying only to petrol cars and vans registered before 2006 and diesel-powered cars and vans registered before September 2015, it is much less strict than Oxford’s zero emissions zone where no petrol or diesel vehicles are allowed at all. In Glasgow, blue badge holders are exempt, while those who live within the zone, and taxi drivers unable to gain access to a funded retrofit, have an extra year to comply.

Most of the objections I have heard so far sound as if they have been picked off a shelf, and shatter under scrutiny. For example, some critics claim the LEZ is a tax on the poor who are more likely to drive older cars. But we know from studies that low income families in Glasgow are disproportionately unlikely to have access to a car at all and disproportionately likely to suffer from asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease exacerbated by air pollution.

The Herald: A van drives over a Low Emission Zone signA van drives over a Low Emission Zone sign (Image: FREE)

Those same critics have compared the Glasgow scheme – which is based on penalties for flouters – unfavourably to London and Birmingham, where drivers can choose to pay a daily charge to bring their car into the LEZ. But the London and Birmingham schemes are skewed towards those who can afford to bypass the regulations. The Glasgow penalties may be high – rising, as they do, with each repeat offence – but they apply to everyone across the board; having more money won’t allow you to carry on polluting.

Equally dubious is the scaremongering over the night-time economy. Are we really to believe most people on a big night out are travelling into town in older cars or being picked up by others in older cars afterwards? That the outlawing of a small proportion of vehicles is going to bring pubs, clubs and restaurants to their knees? Those fears are not borne out by the experience of other places. A study of the first six months of Birmingham’s LEZ found nitrogen dioxide levels had fallen by 20% and there had been no knock-on impact to the economy.

The biggest disincentive to going into Glasgow at night (or the biggest incentive to drive) is the unreliability of public transport: erratic buses, train services that stop before 11pm, a limited underground network that stops operating around 6pm on a Sunday. Of course, the council needs to look carefully at special cases – last week Homeless Project Scotland, which needs its van to run its soup kitchen, was granted an exemption until its new vehicle becomes available. But with the money raised from the LEZ ring-fenced for activities that help reduce air pollution and/or contribute towards achieving climate change targets, it should surely be a win-win policy, particularly if pressure is applied to ensure funds are directed towards improving public transport.

READ MORE: Dani Garavelli: Busting the myths around new rape trial plans

As Solnit says, it’s odd to view the outlawing of toxin-producers as a sacrifice rather than an opportunity. But this seeping negativity isn’t confined to LEZ zones – it’s everywhere.

You can see it in attitudes towards recycling, cycle paths and 20-minute neighbourhoods – which ought, post lockdown, to be viewed as idylls of healthy and sustainable living, but which are at the centre of a conspiracy theory that says governments are using them to seize our cars and control our lives.

The extent to which individual negativity is fomented by those with power and money could be seen last week in the response to Sir Keir Starmer’s announcement that, if elected, Labour would block all new oil and gas developments.

A policy to be serenaded you might think. But within 24 hours, the Daily Mail was smearing Starmer with banner headlines claiming environmental entrepreneur Dale Vince – a substantial backer of Just Stop Oil – had given £1.5m to the party. As a result, Starmer was no longer a pragmatist charting a sensible course for the ailing environment, but “a gift to Putin”; a man in the pockets of those crackpot campaigners “inflicting misery on law-abiding members of the public” by pouring paint on our art works and disrupting our snooker.

That is what the world is up against. It’s frustrating. Solnit doesn’t try to claim it isn’t. She just tells us not to always look for instant results; to remember how even campaigns that fail in the short term – like the protest at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline – can effect change in the long term.

The Herald: Glasgow's Low Emission Zone Glasgow's Low Emission Zone (Image: free)

It was Standing Rock that inspired Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to run for Congress, where she pushed for the New Green Deal, which failed, but became Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act, which in turn became the Inflation Reduction Act, which was less ambitious, but better than nothing.

One can also take solace in the achievements of the divestment movement which pushes organisations – churches, universities, governments – to move their money from fossil fuel companies on ethical grounds, and has succeeded in getting $41 trillion divested.

Yet none of this offsets the feeling of panic that descends when the most meagre attempts at progress are met with opposition. Because you can make an argument that the Glasgow LEZ (and the other LEZs being rolled out in Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen) are badly timed; that Brexit is driving up the price of new cars as we are being hammered by a cost of living crisis, just as you can make an argument for road investments. But the climate change clock is ticking. Hurricanes and floods are on the rise. The planet is on a countdown.

There is no other time but now.

READ MORE: All your questions about LEZ answered