Calls for climate reparations hit a boiling point this week when tens of thousands of people marched in Glasgow on Saturday, demonstrating against the level of fossil fuel exploration and development that has been taking place across the country, and against the subsequent human and environmental costs the use of fossil fuels has had on society, and on the planet as a whole.
The demonstration took place just days after the arrival of Naomi Klein, the Canadian writer and activist, on her 50-date tour of the U.K. and Ireland, in the hope that politicians would use the public’s increased awareness of the dangers of climate change to demand action on the issue. The tour has attracted criticism for its touring size and pace; critics, including my colleague Emily Thorpe, have argued that large-scale political mobilization does not always have to come from across the political spectrum. But the fact that some of the reasons for climate change, such as resource depletion, are cross-cutting issues needn’t be restricted to just one political party. In Scotland, with its extensive economic dependence on the mining industry, and with opposition to exploration for fossil fuels from public agencies and community bodies, it’s clear the needs of one sector can be represented by another.
The information on the Walk for Climate campaign’s website is not complicated. The country is in the middle of a decade of aggressive and unabated fossil fuel exploration and development, with little in the way of measures planned to ease the effects of climate change.
Since the closure of its coal mines in Scotland in the 1990s, the economy of the country’s north-east has been reliant on the trade in far greater quantities of oil and gas. This wealth has been used to fund projects such as Castlemilk Renewable Energy Park, a solar farm, and Tilted Windfarm, in Stranraer.
Today, Scotland is one of the few countries in the U.K. where there has been any significant increase in resource extraction in recent years. Fossil fuel extraction has grown over the last ten years in Scotland by 71 percent, with an increase of nine in ten tonnes of oil pumped in 2018 (although the global level of fossil fuel extraction is set to decline by 46 percent).
The economics of mining do not stack up to the criteria of a prudent use of public money. The extent of the subsidy from North Sea oil tax breaks provided between 2010 and 2015 to license miners in Scotland has been around 20 percent, even though in absolute terms it’s only a factor of three. The Government is worried that its cost to the taxpayer could reach £30 million ($41 million) by the end of the year.
“The current economic reality of fossil fuel extraction, like the mining industry before it, puts us all at risk of massive economic, environmental and health impacts,” says Susannah Wilson, a member of the Climate Justice Campaign. “If no action is taken to move from fossil fuels to renewables, Scotland’s future – and a sustainable and just way of living in it – is at risk.”
However, several political leaders have expressed a willingness to change the way they do business in order to implement the Paris Agreement. While some have stated they have no intention of doing anything about climate change immediately, nearly all the politicians who addressed the march agreed that there needs to be a major shift in the way the country deals with the problems that fossil fuels present.
“I hope that we see a commitment from the Scottish Government to bring people together to make these changes happen. We have to seriously look at what is known, what is required and who’s prepared to do it,” says Dr. John Bosley, a physicist at Edinburgh University who has studied the decline of the North Sea oil industry. “If we want to avoid irreparable damage to our planet, we have to take much tougher action than we are taking now.”
Read the full story at The Sunday Times Scotland.
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