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If this is a global crisis, whose responsibility is it to fix things?

If this is a global crisis, whose responsibility is it to fix things? It’s been 25 years since the landmark ‘Rio Summit’ when the world first got together to recognise the size and scale of the environmental problems we face. Since then, progress towards coordinated international action has been glacially slow – in fact, things have got worse. 

The global nature of the problem has become an excuse. Over and over you will have heard that since the whole planet is affected, progress is only possible through international cooperation. This has provided a convenient get-out clause, a reason to wait for ‘someone else’ to roll up their sleeves and get started. But it hasn’t happened, and there is little sign that it is going to happen in the foreseeable future. 

And yet there is something very fishy about the argument that only ‘international cooperation’ can tackle the environmental crisis. If we look at the activities that contribute to the crisis, many (in fact most) are not global at all. Our houses aren’t global – if we’re building them so they leak energy for no good reason then that’s on us. Not much of our electricity is global and in Scotland we could have achieved zero carbon electricity by now if we’d tried. For most of us transport is local – we have no-one else to blame for the slow roll- out of electric vehicle charging infrastructure. 

Who is responsible for the way we produce food? Who is responsible for the way we manage Scotland’s land? Whose responsibility is it to stop the plastic we throw away from getting into our waterways and being washed out to sea? Who is to blame if we throw away nearly a third of our food, uneaten? If we’re shopping the planet into ruin, how can we point the finger overseas and ask someone else to take responsibility? Do we expect ‘someone else’ to plant the trees that capture and store carbon when we have such an incredible amount of land ideal for forestry? 

Of course there are things we can’t control; if another country wants to produce food by exhausting local water supplies and leaving that land dead in the future, we can’t stop them. But should we be buying their food? We can’t prevent a factory in China from belching fumes into the air or gushing polluting effluent into the seas, but no-one is forcing us to buy the unnecessary and disposable plastic novelty goods it is making. We avert our eyes from the damaging impact of our consumption of goods manufactured elsewhere and while we clearly can’t (yet) avoid every product with a negative environmental impact there is plenty that can be done to reduce the harm of what we buy and what we use. 

And there are some problems we simply haven’t solved. For example, carbon-free air travel (particularly long distance) is not around the corner. International travel is enriching and valuable and we don’t want to lose it. But perhaps we could come up with more creative solutions – if many people could take their summer holidays by clean hydrogen ferry, perhaps they could be given extra holiday days to make up for the longer travel time. 

There’s another reason we need to stop looking somewhere else for solutions – the way the environmental threats will be tackled will be different everywhere. In Scotland we have enormous renewable wind potential, while in Africa there is incredible renewable solar potential. In Scotland we don’t need to worry quite as much about water management, while this is a massive problem in southern Europe. In South America the first task is to protect the rainforests, while in Scotland one of our first priorities should be to plant new forests. And the way you would get clean heating to homes in the very densely-populated south of England will probably be very different from the way you get clean heat to homes in the much less densely-populated Scotland. 

The ‘one size fits all’ approach to resources is exactly why we have created economies that are so harmful to the environments in which they exist. Rather than trying to work with the natural cycles of where we live, we have tried to work against them. The future economy can be just as innovative and productive, but we must also learn to exist sustainably with the local environments in which we live. 

And there is one more responsibility that falls on us – to accept that we are the generation who must roll up our sleeves and not leave it to someone else. Too much of our faith rests on the idea that ‘something will come along’, that someone or other will invent something or other to make our problems go away. It’s a comforting thought, but it’s a lie. If a technology does not exist, by the time it’s created, then tested and piloted, evaluated, and finally rolled out, it will be too late. With a few minor exceptions where there just isn’t any current technical solution, nothing in the Common Home Plan uses anything other than contemporary technology which we know works. Belief in non-existent technologies is like an opiate that numbs us to the urgency of the problem and we must kick our habit. 

So the Common Home Plan is for Scotland, for now, created with the specific natural advantages and disadvantages we possess very much in mind. It is a plan tailored for our geography, our population spread, our natural resources, our potential and our era. The Plan does not specify what constitutional or international political systems are needed to deliver it. Common Weal believes that Scotland needs to be independent to achieve this; others will disagree. It is for each of us to explain how we would deliver this change in the future we advocate.