The future is in their hands

15th February 2008 at 00:00
How many lightbulbs does it take to light a committee room in the Scottish Parliament? Emma Seith finds out at a policy-shaping seminar on climate.

The inuit answer to chewing gum is cubes of blubber; packs of huskies sit outside every house in the Arctic, instead of cars; going to the toilet is complicated when it's - 30 degrees outside; and scientists get very smelly after months on an ice cap with no chance to wash or change their clothes.

As climate campaigner Ruth Dawkins described her adventures in the Arctic, the secondary pupils in the Scottish Parliament's Committee Room 4 were engrossed. However, Ms Dawkins - campaign co-ordinator for Stop Climate Chaos Scotland - also related the less light-hearted details of her trip.

While staying in the Inuit town of Illulisat, she learned that the glacier had retreated 12km since 2002 and hunting and fishing, on which these communities rely for survival, are under threat because of rises in air and sea temperature. She also described making her way to Rode Bay, a smaller community: 10 years ago it was reached by sled, now it can only be reached by boat.

Ms Dawkins was speaking to pupils on the day they invaded parliament for the event Our Environment, Our Future. Their mission was to discuss issues ranging from climate change and flooding to sustainable development and renewable energy. And deputy presiding officer Trish Godman MSP promised that their comments would help shape future policy.

A report on the views of the 100-plus pupils from 16 schools will be submitted as formal evidence to Scottish Parliament enquiries on climate change and flooding.

Ms Godman, who chaired the event, said: "This is an ideal opportunity for young people to explore important environmental issues and to learn about how they can help shape future policy."

In their quest to identify the issues important to them, the pupils heard evidence from experts like Ms Dawkins, WWF and the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

The teenagers did not take the experts' word as gospel, however. They questioned ceaselessly: will flooding and temperature rise be the only consequences of global warming? What's the next step after we meet our targets to cut emissions? How do we know the changes in temperature we are experiencing aren't just cyclical? How do you convert people to the cause? Why, one pupil asked, is it necessary to have 80 lightbulbs to light a committee room?

Euan Sked and Robin Sherriff of West Calder High describe themselves as activists; they take part in protests but also do their bit turning off lights and picking up litter.

Speaking after the workshops Euan, 17, said: "There is a lot you can do yourself, but we have still got massive problems with countries like America, who produce the most emissions but still don't do anything about it. I just don't think that's good enough."

MSPs including Rob Gibson, Patrick Harvie and Robin Harper were on hand to lead the sessions and tease out what mattered most to the young people.

"This has highlighted the complexity of the argument; the different sides to climate change," said Mark Glaire, of Dunblane High.

In spite of the complexities, however, the youngsters managed to reach a consensus and announced their priorities in the chamber. They wanted to encourage more people onto public transport by making it more appealing. Amanda Truscott, of Inverurie High, said: "I live in a village with 12 buses to Aberdeen a day and you can guarantee only four will turn up. Then, when they do, they are old and dirty and smell of mould."

Nuclear power was not seen as a long-term solution but as a means of making the transition from fossil fuels to renewables. Cara Gaffney, of Dunblane High said: "Some people feel the risks attached to nuclear are too great, but it is efficient - it is a good stepping stone."

Awareness of global warming must be raised, they felt. James Spray, of Dunblane High, said: "A lot of the problem is people thinking this is too big. We need to make them aware they can make a difference."

And proper plans need to be made for those living in homes in danger of flooding. Lewis Edwards, of Kinross High, said: "We can't prevent it, so we have to know how we're going to manage it."

At the outset of the day, Ms Godman described it as an "ideal opportunity" for youngsters to input into future policy in Scotland. It is fair to say they truly seized it.

Have your say: www.scottish.parliament.ukourfuture.

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