I love Christmas. In the cheesiest, most clichéd way it’s my favourite time of the year. Yes, the capitalist pressure to prove how much you love someone by spending more and more money you don’t have on more and more gifts isn’t great but spending time with family, at church and just doing absolutely nothing are the highlight of my year.
This year though, I won’t stop thinking about what’s a few more days away, the beginning of Scotland’s first Year of Young People in 2018. A whole year of showcasing the talents and achievements of our young people and ensuring their (our!) voices are heard. If we’re serious about generational justice, it will also be a year where climate justice is at the heart of everything we do.
Throughout 2017 we had our fill of devastating extreme weather events. From tropical hurricanes wreaking devastation from Puerto Rico to, for the first time, Ireland, to devastating flooding to the wildfires raging today in California, the climate crisis has been unmissable. We are now 1.1C above pre-industrial temperatures and are on course for 3.5-4C by 2100. It doesn’t sound like much but 2C is the point of no return for life as we know it and we are roaring towards it with abandon.
Climate science is now very clear: if we do not solve this crisis now—in the next five years, during this parliamentary session—it will not be solved. The feedback loops of global warming such as melting ice and permafrost which, in turn, cause more melting ice and permafrost, pushing up sea levels and releasing more CO2 are examples of not an abstract theory of planetary peril but a live, occurring event with consequences that we feel now and which my generation will feel throughout our adult lives.
The climate crisis is the single greatest act of generational and class inequality in history. Like most crises, it’s the poorest and the youngest hurt the most by something they had little to no role in causing. Whether it’s the young climate refugee I met in Lampedusa or the children killed in Puerto Rico, they have all been failed by the leaders of previous generations.
2018 has to be the year we turn this around. It is no exaggeration to say that otherwise, the rest of my life will be defined by a crisis affecting every country and every community on Earth. From Doha to Dumbarton, rising sea levels and extreme weather will destroy homes and wreck lives. Billions of people will have to leave areas such as the Mediterranean which will simply become too hot for humans to live in and the demand for food will far outstrip what we’re able to produce.
This bleak but scientifically sound forecast means that every tax cut for oil companies, every extension to the life of creaking fossil-fuel power stations, every new construction project that drives private car use rather than public transport infrastructure is an act of generational betrayal. My generation will not have the time to pick up the pieces from the mistakes made by those who came before us.
Pessimism won’t save us though. The transformations required to do that are the very same as those which will live millions out of poverty, making our societies healthier, happier and more just. It’s a wonder the ruling class have never been keen on them…
There are a few hard truths for Scotland though. North Sea oil and gas must stay in the ground. Politics doesn’t dictate this; science does. The running battle between London and Edinburgh governments to argue for ever more tax breaks for the industry has been short sighted, cost more jobs than it can possibly save and let down our children. It’s not enough to support renewables if you’re also committed to burning all those fossil fuels.
And our ideas of laudable public infrastructure projects need to focus on massive public transport expansion such as reopening the rail lines closed across the country from the 50s onwards. Building more motorways doesn’t improve traffic flow; it creates more space for congestion as countless studies show, and in turn means more emissions and more climate change.
A publicly-owned, massively expanded rail network would be transformational for Scotland, especially those who can’t afford to drive. That’s why we’ve challenged the SNP to commit to 70% of construction projects being ‘low-carbon’ by 2021.
This better world is jobs-rich, just and absolutely essential. We only have a few years left to set those wheels in motion and change rarely comes from above. Young people across Scotland need to see 2018 as the year to seize power for ourselves, to force the change we know is needed. 2018 can be the year we reclaimed our future.
This article first appeared in The National.