Ian Findlay CBE: The uncomfortable truth about climate change

Our Chief Officer says the climate emergency, its causes and its solutions need to be framed through the lenses of health, wellbeing and social justice.

Ian Findlay CBE, Paths for All's Chief Officer

I’m relieved climate change is receiving the global and national attention it deserves and I’m proud that Scotland is leading the way.

For me, this is the biggest issue facing the wellbeing of the planet and consequently our own wellbeing. 
However, I worry that as a relatively (monetary) rich country and people, we’re not being honest with ourselves, or showing sufficient humility.

I believe that the climate emergency, its causes and its solutions need to be framed more through the lenses of health, wellbeing and social justice.

The richest nations and the richest people within nations are the main cause of climate change, but it’s the poorest nations and the poorest within the nations who will suffer first and most.

Just look at flying and private car ownership for example. Transport is now Scotland’s largest source of climate change emissions at 28% and this figure is not reducing. 

On flying, only 18% of the world’s population has ever taken a flight. In 2017, 3% of the population flew.  Regarding ‘frequent fliers’, 15% of adults take 70% of all flights in the UK. A single London to Edinburgh flight generates more CO2 than the mean annual emissions of person in Uganda or Somalia.

The car remains king. Fewer than one in five people globally own a car, but in the UK driving licences have increased by 6% since 2005; car ownership by 5% over the same time and 27% of households have two cars. Scotland is spending over £3billion dualling the A9, which already by-passes all settlements.

So, who are these people doing all the flying and driving? Who’s causing the climate emergency, and who are the people compromising the life chances of the poorest around the globe and in our societies?  Answer: you and me! It’s countries like Scotland.

It’s not the poor who are flying, driving big cars, attending international events and conferences. It’s rich nations that still see the planet’s resources as a commodity for exploitation and are wedded to GDP as a measure of success.

But there’s no need to beat ourselves up. The good news with climate change is it’s also people like you and me who have the power to fix the crisis we’ve created. We’re the ones with the privilege of choice and we’re the ones who create the policies and structures which govern the way our societies operate. We’re the ones who can influence the environment in which we operate, unlike the poor who can only respond to the environment we create.

Better still, we know what the solutions are to this emergency. We know they are cheaper than the ‘do nothing’ options and we know they will be good for the health and wellbeing of our planet and all the people on it.

Sounds like a no brainer. However, it’s not happening because the solutions require deep cultural change at the personal, systems and society level.

For example, we'll need to:
replace GDP with new measures of success such as wellbeing economics;
be less greedy and share wealth more;
work more with nature than against it, i.e. use ecological, not economic, principles for resource management;
be kinder towards each other and towards nature;
invest considerably more in public transport systems to ensure they are a credible, first choice;
and fly and drive much less and live simpler, but, I believe, more fulfilling and healthier lives.

Framing the climate emergency as a health and social justice issue goes to the core of the organisation I’m proud to lead. 
Paths for All’s vision is to create a happier, healthier Scotland where physical activity improves quality of life and wellbeing for all.

We believe in the transport hierarchy. We’re working to get us all out of cars as much as possible and to choose to walk and cycle for everyday short journeys and use public transport for longer journeys.

We want everyone to enjoy the simple pleasure of walking, and, in doing so, reconnect with nature and hopefully commit to greener lifestyles.

We’re also working with policy and decision makers to bring about the system change urgently required for our planet’s and our health and wellbeing. In this regard, I'm delighted that ‘Takes climate action’ is one of the four high-level outcomes in the draft National Transport Strategy that is currently out for consultation.

However, we must ensure that these wise words are backed up with appropriate actions and investment (see my blog on ‘culture eating strategy for breakfast’). 

People like you and me have the moral responsibility and privilege of choice to make the necessary changes. The health and wellbeing of the planet and the peoples of the world are relying on us to act with the pace and scale required to fix the biggest emergency we’ve ever faced.