Earlier this month I was privileged to attend the Edinburgh Medal address by climate scientist and activist James Hansen.
At 71 years old and having spent his life studying the climate on Venus and “the home planet”, I was intrigued that he seemed to be most proud of being arrested in front of the White House while protesting about the energy policies of the Bush administration, in particular mountain-top removal to mine coal. Dr Hansen sees coal mining and rising CO2 levels from burning other fossil fuels as a major threat to humanity and all life on Earth.
Centuries ago, our ancestors destroyed most of Scotland’s natural forest and many of the creatures in it, which now seems short-sighted, but will the planet be habitable at all when we pass it on to forthcoming generations?
Human behaviour has to change now, and the suggestion given in Edinburgh (and based on a letter to Michelle and Barack Obama) was so simple that it might even work.
The solution is a rising global carbon tax on oil, gas and coal. This would be a popular tax (among the less well off) as the amount collected is all given back, distributed evenly on a per capita basis. In doing this, our collective behaviour will be pushed towards all types of lower carbon activities, as big users of carbon (driving gas guzzlers, long-haul flights, imported food, oil-fired heating) will be penalised more than those using less carbon (smaller cars, car sharing, insulated houses, local food, renewable energy).
There are already many groups in the Borders (such as A Greener Hawick, TweedGreen, A Greener Melrose) working to make the transition to a low-carbon economy easier, some with funding from various government initiatives, which is encouraging. However, individuals, too, need to take positive steps now to save some kind of future for our grandchildren – and to welcome the carbon tax and 100 per cent dividend when it comes.