A cynical political weaponising of the environment - Ewan Aitken

Ewan Aitken, CEO Cyrenians ScotlandEwan Aitken, CEO Cyrenians Scotland
Ewan Aitken, CEO Cyrenians Scotland
​One of the best pieces of youth work I ever did was a spontaneous trip up the Campsie Fells over 40 years ago when I was a “detached youth worker” (meaning I hung around street corners rather than working in a youth club) in Ruchill, Glasgow.

For reasons too complicated to explain, I found myself one morning with access to a free minibus. I nipped around the various places the young folk I knew hung out and said, “fancy a trip?” They were different days, of course – no consent forms, risk assessments etc., just, “You up for a trip? Aye. Let’s go then”.

What I remember most of that day is a brief moment when we got to the top of the hill. The view was glorious, and suddenly the lads were quiet. It was a moment of collective awe, broken eventually by yet more of the dogs’ abuse which passes for teenage conversation. But it was not forgotten. In quieter moments for months to come, one or other of the group would remember it to me with fondness.

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Silence and the outdoors, two of the most precious things we have. John Muir, the 19th Century Scottish environmentalist said: “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.” He could have been writing about those lads up there in the Campsie hills.

We don’t give ourselves enough time to be silent and in awe. But it’s only when we are silent that we can see the world differently – as it might be, not as it is. Not just how the physical world could be, but how we ourselves might be in this world of ours. I saw that moment of silence on the hilltop change those lads when they least expected it. It was precious because it was about them and their lives.

Unfortunately, having said silence changes lives, I cannot remain silent about the cynical political weaponising of the policies which will keep the environment, not just hilltops and green spaces, but the world as we know it, safer for the young people of today and tomorrow. Rolling back the already limited commitments to reduce our national carbon footprint for short term political gain is selfishness in its most extreme.

If the last government hadn’t decided to “get rid of the green crap,” we’d have been a world leader in clean energy and avoided a lot of the rises in fuel bills over the last couple of years. If we slow down our efforts to shift to electric cars and new ways to heat our houses, it will cost us all more – and the poorest the most. If we don’t improve the air quality in our cities, even more people will die of respiratory diseases.

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It won’t be easy. The infrastructure and investment needed is huge and will stretch us, but waiting for the market to solve it all, as our present leaders at Westminster suggest, is a recipe for disaster. They need to stop, be still and listen, see the job of leaders is to do what’s right, not what they think is best for them. The environment is not a political hill to die on, it’s the very air we breathe to live.

Ewan Aitken is CEO Cyrenians Scotland

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