Dominic Ashmole’s View – Climate solutions are mostly low-tech

Thursday April 8th 2021

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Midlothian View Holyrood Challenge: This View has been written by Dominic Ashmole, the Scottish Green Party's candidate in the Midlothian South, Tweeddale & Lauderdale constituency for the Scottish Elections on Thursday May 6th 2021

I am a fan of both science and technology. Indeed, I’ve spent more than 20 years working for an Edinburgh healthcare technology company that produces software for radiologists, surgeons and other hospital staff. Recently, I helped to secure funding for a multi-million pound Scottish healthcare research programme. As a result, several companies are now collaborating with Scottish universities and NHS boards to make Artificial Intelligence software that may improve and expand cancer screening programmes and speed up the diagnosis and treatment of stroke.

Of course, throughout the pandemic we have seen the power and potential of the country’s science base. Despite all of the bumps in the road, the roll-out of testing and especially of multiple vaccines has been impressive.

But the pandemic tells another story too – of the warnings that were ignored and the preparations that were not made. We could and should have had a better plan for one of the highest-ranking known public health risks.

Which brings me to my point. Scientists have been telling us for decades that the world is heading towards climate breakdown. And more recently, we’ve been hearing also of a “nature emergency” – an era of mass extinctions caused by human impact. And yet greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere relentlessly rise (despite all the talk) and our forests and oceans continue in dangerous decline. Nowadays, I see scientists practically weeping online as they watch this unravelling accelerate, with no believable action plan from politicians.

The Scottish Greens recognise that technology has a huge part to play in helping us step back from the brink. Indeed, our co-leader Lorna Slater is a renewable energy engineer, and part of our proposed £10bn Green Recovery investment programme is allocated to creating high-quality, unionised Scottish jobs in renewables. But let’s not kid ourselves. It’s not really technology that we lack, it’s political will. The main ways to slow climate breakdown are to stop putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and to suck up some of what we’ve already put there. To oversimplify, we should burn less oil, and plant more trees.

These solutions are not high-tech, not “sexy” and perhaps not likely to generate huge profits for international investors and a rich elite. But they’re effective, labour-intensive, local, and fair.

The Greens plan an enormous, public-funded investment in warm homes – upgrading insulation and converting to low-carbon heating systems – fighting fuel poverty at the same time as tackling climate change. Meanwhile we will develop an urgent programme to repair nature, in consultation with rural businesses and workers.

Global market forces and perverse subsidy regimes have for too long been allowed to misdirect some aspects of our land management. However, I know first-hand that my rural neighbours and friends have recently been quietly making positive changes. Now is the time for those proud beginnings to be dramatically accelerated. It’s been estimated that to avoid runaway climate change (which would imply “fundamentally unliveable conditions” according to US Climate Envoy John Kerry) we need to be reforesting an area the size of Iceland each year by the end of this decade.

For all our sakes, let’s make sure some of that happens here in Scotland.

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