Transition UStA Chair, Maria Cooper, gives us her view of this landmark youth engagement event:
The morning of November 26th saw a buzzing atmosphere in the Edinburgh Corn Exchange. Scottish youth had gathered for an inspiring day of speeches and workshops on climate change and how Scotland will deal with it in the future. The event was hosted by the 2050 Group – a collection of young Scottish professionals with a vision of global sustainability and decrease in carbon emissions. They are the manifestation of a vision of youth and continuation of Scotland’s 2020 Climate Group.
The 2020 Group stems from the recognition that the 2009 Climate Change Act is a task bigger than government, which needs to involve business and 3rd sector as well. It represents 100 organisations across Scotland committed to helping the government achieve its 42% greenhouse gas emissions reduction target by 2020. However, as pointed out by the 2020 group’s chair Ian Marchant in his opening speech, most of their members will be drooling in a nursing home by the time the Climate Change Act’s more ambitious targets should be met in 2050, which is why they have identified the need for a new, more youthful, group focusing on 2050.
The 2050 Designed by Me Youth Climate Summit in the Corn Exchange was a first opportunity for the 2050 Group to engage with Scottish youth and get input and ideas for how they will work in the future. Their aspiration is to create a new social movement in Scotland consisting of young leaders showing the way to tackling climate change, with the specific aim to get our voices heard and influence decisions ahead of the 2015 UN Climate conference in Paris.
The day included a variety of workshops, ranging from leadership skills and exploring behaviour change to the science about climate change. There were also interesting speeches from, amongst others, Chris McGinnis, chair of the 2050 group; Evan Williams from the Climate Reality Project, on the science and consequences of climate change; and Aileen Macleod, the new Minister for Environment, represented by Mary MacAllan, who emphasised the political commitment of the Scottish Government to dealing with climate change.
What is the role of Transition in this context? I went along out of curiosity and noticed in particular one thing. Many of the discussions and speeches were framed around disaster narratives: floods in Pakistan, droughts in Ethiopia, people losing their homes and possessions in New Orleans etc. etc. No doubt many people feel inspired by these stories to go out and change the world. However, I think it requires a very driven and inspired person to be able to stomach these narratives without feeling despondent, and many of the less environmentally engaged people in Scotland might instead choose to turn a blind eye in the face of such challenges.
As my Transition brain kicked in, I started thinking: Perhaps we can learn from other challenges we all face, such as riding a bike or driving a car. When you first learn, you are told not to stare into the ditch at the side of the road and the disastrous consequences of steering into it – if you do you will end up veering towards it. Instead, you’re told to keep your eyes on the road and focus on where you want to go.
This is what I would ask of the 2050 Group. Be aware of the ditch, but keep your eyes and focus on the road and goals ahead of you. There are plenty of organisations and groups exploring this ditch in great detail, with very important results. In my opinion though, if you want to get people moving along the road, you’re better off getting them to look where they’re going. What kind of life and society do we envision in a Scotland that has adapted to climate change? Let’s focus on the things we want to see in the future: healthy, happy communities perhaps?, a clean and flourishing natural environment?, thriving local economies?, and let’s steer towards that. This, I think, is how the 2050 Group can get more people inspired and involved, and perhaps create the new social movement they aspire to.