Forty years ago in the sweltering summer of 1979 I got myself arrested at Torness. I was one of hundreds protesting against the construction of the nuclear power station. For my efforts I got to spend a night in the cells at Dunbar nick.
As the then Thatcher government was keen to point out, we didn’t stop Torness. But I’m keen to point out that it was a tipping point. The time when nuclear energy lost its halo. The time when mainstream opinion realised it was actually a very expensive, quite dangerous, and of course non-renewable form of energy.
I hope that today’s Extinction rebels can achieve the same kind of tipping point. The context is mightily different of course. Back then people would look at you as if you had two heads if you went on about the environment. Nowadays at least there’s common agreement that we have a problem. The question is not what needs to be done but how fast we need to do it.
That’s why Extinction Rebellion has my support. They have succeeded where a thousand worthy newspaper articles have failed. We’re now talking about climate change and how to tackle it on something like the scale we need to. And me being late to a meeting because North Bridge is closed seems a price worth paying.
Some say that you don’t need to disrupt things to get your point of view across. I think the events of the last couple of weeks show that a bit of imaginative, colourful, non-violent protest is exactly how to get your message across.
And as the Speaker of the House of Commons pointed out recently, unless someone breaks a rule sometimes then nothing will ever change.
We all know there’s a problem. And things are changing. I’m proud of the action taken by the Scottish Government to make this country a world leader in the fight against climate change. But we need to go faster, do more. And the big question is whether we can accelerate our actions fast enough to turn the corner before catastrophe is unavoidable.
We should try. But it will mean changes for all of us. And it will require a combination of individual action and government policy.
Take three examples: We need to stop eating red meat. I know, it’s terrible. But growing plants and vegetables on this earth and then feeding them to animals which we will eat later is just madness. All so we can satisfy some instinct in our lizard brain. We have to stop it. That means you. That means me! And we really need to use regulation and price control to make this happen. It is ludicrous that kilo for kilo beef costs less than green beans.
Secondly we need to fly less. Time for massive investment in the railways. Left to the private sector we get projects like HS2 designed for business, not for people. Connecting the provinces to London, not linking every part of Britain with every other. I wish the Scottish Government had the power to do what is necessary but it doesn’t. Just one of the reasons I believe we should become an independent country with real economic power.
And finally we need to wind down our fossil fuel industry. Again things have changed mightily. There was a time when my party based the economic case for independence on oil and gas. No more. Now the remaining extraction from the North Sea is seen as a bonus, not a core contributor to an independent Scottish economy. But we need to stop kidding ourselves that there is any long-term future for this industry. We need to invest in becoming the world leader in decommissioning, shifting skills and technology into marine renewables and in the meantime finding ways of using hydrocarbons in the transition which emit less carbon dioxide.
None of this is easy. All of this is necessary. Come on the rebels.
Tommy Sheppard is the SNP MP for Edinburgh East