Blog by Mike Robinson, Chair of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland
In January 2024 one story truly dominated the news headlines and the public imagination. A twenty-year long saga of injustice, in fact a tragedy, brought so expertly to life by an ITV drama. I am talking of course about the Post Office scandal.
For two decades there has been overwhelming evidence of injustice, full knowledge across Parliament and dishonesty on behalf of big corporations, and yet the sub-postmasters are still waiting to seek resolution and compensation for having their lives and livelihoods ruined.
Why it took a drama series to finally gain the political attention it should have had years ago, is quite mystifying. It challenges a fundamental assumption that many people I speak to have, that our government and our legal system are ultimately benevolent, and will do the right thing and protect innocent people when they are threatened or wronged.
The drama has sparked a level of genuine public outrage which politicians can no longer ignore, but why did it have to come to this? I’m sure everyone now hopes that this wrong can at last be righted, and hopefully the political momentum means this is now inevitable. But what else have we known about for years, which is harming people and largely being overlooked, and may continue to be, until the level of public outrage finally forces politicians’ hands?
Politicians have known about climate change since the 1980s. They have been meeting about it internationally for at least 28 years. The science has become more and more compelling and the impacts ever more evident. And yet, like the Post Office scandal, the response has been muted, lethargic and reluctant. In fact in many cases it has been positively antagonistic.
Sitting here in a café with Storm Isha (or is it Jocelyn?) battering the windows, it seems obvious that the signs of climate change are with us now, and will only get worse. I feel contemplative for all that 2024 has in store. This year will see many elections globally, leading to fears of a seemingly universal political rise in the fortunes of unhinged autocrats and extreme right-wing candidates.
The general election here in the UK will shape political life for the rest of the year, with signs already that almost all environmentally positive action will become a political football. The cost of living crisis, struggling public services, or decaying infrastructure are the results of government decisions at all levels – not because someone built a wind turbine or imposed a low emission zone.
The problem for all of us is that action on climate change isn’t ultimately optional. We are already seeing regular flooding and will see more. We are seeing increasing drought and storms, food shortages and all the other highly predictable results of a warming climate. Climate should not be a political issue. It is a scientific fact. It is a moral and ethical issue of justice and thoughtfulness. And it is in everyone’s interest to tackle it.
Last week, SCCS asked the main parties in Scotland to join with us to show commitment to tackling climate change during 2024. Labour, the Greens and the Lib Dems all attended as did the SNP First Minister. The Conservatives were unable to. Within all political parties there are people who support action – we need their voices to be listened to, and for leaders in every sector, in our communities and public bodies, to reinforce this essential and moral need, to come together around key issues and do what is right.
It is vital that people are reminded that the moral, ethical and scientific necessity is front and centre and the issue is lifted beyond the petty political level. We can argue about what we do first to tackle climate change, but we are harming ourselves and society if we think we can ignore it entirely. Addressing this crisis is a life decision, not a political one. And it’s the only sensible course of action.
Most of us, I believe, want our leaders to be benevolent, to do the right thing and to protect people when they are threatened or wronged. The Post Office scandal has perhaps reminded us though, that we cannot rely on our political leaders or institutions without actively holding them to account and demanding better. 2024 then is a year for genuine leadership, but from every sector of society. It is a year for collaboration and not polarisation. For holding politicians to account. For action and not excuses. Lives depend on it.