From carrier bags to coffee cups: individual action on climate change

While most of us now realise that climate change is an urgent problem, it can be tricky to know just how we as individuals can respond. From eating less meat to catching fewer flights, what actions should we prioritise? How much will they cost us, both in terms of money and the lifestyles we currently enjoy? And – perhaps most importantly – are we as a society prepared to take the necessary steps?

This interactive panel event will examine how climate action is understood and delivered on an individual level.

Open to everyone, this interactive panel event will examine how climate action is understood and delivered on an individual level, explaining how our lifestyles translate into carbon footprints that can either be increased or minimised based on the choices we make across many different facets of our lives. Importantly, panellists will present concrete and expert advice to get people thinking about how they can make more environmentally sound decisions.

This event is part of our RSE investigates… climate change series and our regional strategic approach.


Professor Pete Smith 0:00
Thank you very much. Thanks very much for joining us today. This is a Royal Society of Edinburgh investigates Climate Change series of talks. This is the first in the series of talk, which will take place, November to December. And it comes in the wake of Cop26, which was held in Glasgow, as you know, and finished just over a week ago, and many of us are still recovering. So thank you for joining us. We’re going to be trying to cover some of the issues. In today’s today’s session will be about what we can do as individuals to tackle climate change or individual actions can be taken our life lives to reduce our carbon footprint. We hear a lot about eating less meat and catching fewer flights. But what actions should we prioritise, how much they cost in terms of money and lifestyles? And perhaps more importantly, as a society, are we willing to take those those difficult decisions. As I mentioned, this is hosted by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, which is the learned Society of Scotland. I’ve already provided a brief overview of the event. So I’ll encourage the audience to submit questions through the q&a function at the bottom throughout the talks and the panel discussion. And we’ll try and get to those questions and pose them to the panel. So we’re going to run it today as a panel of four. So there’s there’s myself, Iain Docherty, Elise Cartmell and Mhairi Stewart, are going to be on the panel. We will each start by giving a sort of a brief introduction, two or three slides with a maximum of five minutes just to set the scene on the area that we want to talk about. And then we’re going to open it up to questions and answers, and to have a panel discussion. And you can either direct your questions specifically on one person, or if you want to ask more general questions, ask those and we’ll try and tackle them as we go through. Okay, so I’m going to start by giving the first brief presentation, and then we’ll move to Elise and then we’ll move to Iain. And then we’ll move to Mhairi. What I’m going to talk briefly about in two or three slides is the role of diets, how we what we choose to eat, and the role of land in tackling climate change. And the two are related, as I’ll show. Now, the first thing that’s really important to know is that the food system contributes about a third of our greenhouse gas emissions. So we often hear about, you know, emissions from the energy sector and having to move away from fossil fuels. That’s very important, of course, but a third of our greenhouse gas emissions comes from producing the food that we all eat. So a third of all the greenhouse gases. Now of those, over 50%, about 58% of the greenhouse gas emissions come from animal products. So all the food we eat, animal products are disproportionately represented in the greenhouse gas emissions than all those animal products. beef and lamb alone accounted for 50% of the greenhouse gas emissions. And that’s because they’re ruminants and ruminants, when they digest grass and they digest their food, produce methane, which they burp out into the atmosphere. And methane is a very potent greenhouse gas. So that means that the greenhouse gas footprint of ruminant products and animal products in general, is many times larger than plant based foods. You can see that on the next slide. So this is a this is a graph that shows the carbon intensity. So that’s the greenhouse gas emissions in kilogrammes of CO2 equivalents per kilogramme of product. And if you have a look at these pink ones, over on the left hand side of the screen, you can see that it’s the ruminants. So that’s beef and sheep, and they have a greenhouse gas footprint of about 60 kilogrammes of CO2 per kilogramme of product moving over to the right hand side. And we’ve got things like plant based foods like beans and peas and soy over here, which have a miniscule greenhouse gas footprint. So ruminant meat actually has an impact that’s 10 to 100 times greater than plant based foods. So the reason we hear so much about eating less meat and eating less dairy and the news is because shifting product consumption for more more products in on the left hand side, sorry, on the left hand side of the screen. To the right hand side of the screen, i.e. more plant based foods radically reduces the greenhouse gas footprint of our diets.

Professor Pete Smith 4:49
But it’s more than just reducing greenhouse gas emissions per se, because over 30% of the crops that we grow on the planet are fed to livestock rather than humans. And that means that eating less meat and dairy would free up land where we could use for other things like protecting biodiversity, or planting trees or peatland restoration that we could use to tackle climate change. So this would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That’s because when plants grow, they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. That’s the most important greenhouse gas and store it either in the soil or below ground. So the land can be used to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to help tackle climate change. So the land that we free up we could use for nature based solutions. So that’s things like protecting peatlands and woodlands, restoring degraded peatlands and woodland, better managing our woodlands and agricultural soils and creating new native woodland, to help top biodiversity and to help address climate change. So one of the one of the main things that we do in our everyday lives is we go and buy food, and we put it on our plates, and we eat it. So one of the biggest things we can do as individuals, is consider what we’re considered what we’re buying, consider cutting down our intake of meat and dairy, which would reduce our individual carbon footprints. So I’ll leave it there. Thank you very much. And now I’m going to pass over to Elise Cartmell. So Elise is the chief scientists are Scottish Water. And she’s responsible for their scientific and business excellent services. So over to you, Elise.

Professor Elise Cartmell 6:38
Thank you. So the first thing is, you know, really, why should I be here from a water company to talk to you about climate change? So one of the first things to help answer that is to understand what contribution the water industry has on UK carbon emissions. So maybe just have a think, you know, from your knowledge, do you think it’s about 1%, 3%, 6%. And to just give you a feel for where, where we’re coming from here. So in relation to the amount of contribution from the water industry, it’s actually 6%, which is roughly the same carbon emissions as the UK aviation industry. So our emissions come from the collection, the treatment of water and, wastewater. And that includes the utilisation of electricity, but also emissions that are generated as part of our processes. Predominantly biological processes and they produce nitrous oxide or methane, so that the treatment and distribution that accounts for about 1% of our carbon emissions, and the remaining 5% of carbon emissions associated with water is actually the use of water in the home. And in particular, the amount of carbon that’s associated with heating hot water in your homes. So reducing the amount of warm water, especially hot water in homes is a key part of reducing carbon emissions associated with water. So we do actually have a lot to go at in terms of reducing our consumption of water in Scotland. So our long term average of the amount of water that we use in Scotland is about 165 litres per person per day. But during COVID and the last couple of years, we’re now up at 180 litres per person per day. To put that into context, the UK average is around 140 litres. And there are a number of areas in the UK that actually below that so there’s definitely potential water and that will avoid the carbon emissions associated with heating the water in the home and also the carbon emissions associated with treating and distributing water and wastewater. So water saving is not just about saving carbon, and I know I’m gonna sound really crazy in a rather grey November day, but there’s a number of areas in Scotland that are impacted by water shortages. And although there is are wet days in Scotland, the actual percentage of rainwater that we collect and can use in Scotland is just 1%. And just to show you some of the pictures from this year, this is Glendevon, so our reservoir at normal levels, and these are the levels that we were at this summer, at Glendevon reservoir. So we do have a lot of impact. Not just for saving carbon, but also in terms of protecting our water resources. Because we are experiencing water shortages now. And, with the impact of climate change, that is predicted to increase. So just small changes at home can save, you know, certainly significant amounts of water, it’s not too difficult to save, you know, 80,000 plus litres per year, and that can easily save well over 500 to 1000 kilogrammes carbon per year. So having quite a good dent on your own carbon footprint, and also as well the bills associated with water use. So that gives you a bit of information about the impact of the water sector

Professor Elise Cartmell 11:43
where carbon being emitted. I’m really encouraging everyone to use water wisely to protect the resource and reduce carbon impacts. Thank you.

Professor Pete Smith 12:01
Thank you, Elise. That’s perfect. So now I’d like to introduce Iain Docherty. So Ian is the Dean of the Institute for Advanced Studies and Professor of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Stirling, over to Iain.

Professor Iain Docherty 12:18
Thanks very much, Pete. And good afternoon, everyone. And I’m going to speak to you about transport, very briefly this afternoon. And transport is one of the most difficult sectors to decarbonize in the economy. And indeed, it’s probably the one in which we have made least progress since 1990, which, as many of you will know is essentially the baseline year that we used to calculate most of our progress against decarbonisation targets. So transport is responsible for something like 40% and of the overall carbon emissions that we have in Scotland.

Professor Iain Docherty 12:56
And that figure has pretty much remained static over the last 13 years. And indeed, until the pandemic is actually getting worse again, some of our recent trends are really quite negative. The little pie chart you can see at the bottom is the share of different transport modes or means of mobility within that 40%. And you can see that it’s dominated by roads transport, so the private car alone is responsible for 40% of transport emissions. And by the time you add in light goods vehicles and heavy goods vehicles, you get pretty close to two thirds of the emissions, and the transport sector being accounted for by roads transport. If you look at this little diagram, which is essentially a summary of the different proportion of journeys in Scotland, you’ll see that and a similar story, the domination of the car is the means that we get around. But I think what’s quite interesting to note here is just how small the share of some of the other modes are. So if you look at particularly rail and rail uses, we know pre pandemic has doubled in Scotland over many years. And it’s still a fraction of not just car journeys. But indeed it’s much smaller proportion of overall transport than even the bus is. Something else, which I think is often not understood as well as it might be used just quite how small the share of cycling is. It’s less than 2% of all trips. And there is no evidence that that is actually increased during the pandemic, despite the little spike in leisure cycling that we had in the first lockdown in April, May last year when the weather was good, it’s pretty much settled back where it was. And on the other hand, the missing mode out there the one that we do without really thinking about it, perhaps where the most promising changes in terms of our individual habits might be as in walking, which still accounts for something like a fifth of all trips, and that we make. So in summary, transport and travel is about 40% of our carbon emissions overall and that’s a resilient share that hasn’t moved on and about 30 years 40% of that 40% is cars. And if we look at our personal and behaviours in terms of the cars in the economy, what you’ll find out is that for all of the improvements in the technical performance of vehicle engines that have been driven by better regulation over the past few decades, that number has stayed resilient, because we have chosen to buy more bigger cars. And more recently, our reliance on road transport has increased even more, because the number of Van deliveries on the roads has increased really, and quite significantly. And we are all guilty of that, because we all have the Buy Now button on Amazon and other retailing websites more and more and more. Indeed we may wish to come on to the impacts of the pandemic. And what that teaches about the future in the q&a. But the number or the amount of light goods vehicle traffic on the roads is already about 15 to 20%, higher than it was before the pandemics. So we are experiencing some really quite significant growth in transport emissions in that sector, which of course, is not where we want to be. And finally, we may come on to talk about technology in the q&a as well, I think there’s often a view, if you listen to the debates in the media, that technology will come to our rescue. And this is what I call the “my next BMW will be an electric one” fallacy. And if you listen to not just commentators, but even government ministers or even Alok Sharma MP last week, in the press conference after the end of COP when he said that transport behaviour change was about carrots, not sticks and about individual responsibility. Well even if we decarbonize the entire vehicle fleets, made them all electric and all hydrogen it will not be enough first meet net zero because of the embedded carbon in the vehicles themselves and in the supply chain that gets them to us. And that leaves us with a whole set of questions about how long it would take us to do that, given the average car has a lifespan of 14 or 15 years. So that’s me, Pete. And one thing I’ll finish with on transport is that I think this is quite an unusual sector in many respects. One, it’s not got any better over the last 13 years. But it is very interesting also to note that we fully understand what the solutions are, we know how to decarbonize transport, we know what the pathway to net zero is. The problem is that it’s politically difficult to argue for the kind of behaviour change that we need to get there. But it is possible because you’ll see from this photograph, and this is Strasbourg, in France, it is possible to have very wealthy societies and cities that have no private motor vehicles in them at all.

Professor Pete Smith 17:38
Fantastic. Thank you Iain. So now I’ll pass over to our last panel speaker before we open it for q&a. And that’s Mhairi Stewart, so Mhairi over to you.

Dr Mhairi Stewart 17:49
Thanks very much, Pete. So I’ll be clear from the start. I am not an expert on climate change, and not so much on the individual steps we can take to mitigate it. My expertise lies in helping people to engage with ideas with concepts and with each other in meaningful and impactful ways. And very importantly, essentially, to this engage thinking is a two way flow of information. Engagement is dialogue. And engaged practice should be an essential part of our individual and collective armoury in mitigating climate change. Alongside the activities, of course being talked about here. Through being engaged with each other, we can empower ourselves and empower others to adopt behaviours that are amplified into a collective global movements. Now, I want to be clear, I’m not talking about activism here, I’m talking about activity. Activity that motivates and sustains behaviour change. So what does this activity then look like? Well, fairly obviously, we first need to engage individuals with taking positive climate action that includes ourselves. And that primary engagement absolutely has to be based on dialogue and inclusion. When individuals are involved in developing and implementing actions, they’re more likely to feel an ownership over the outcomes of those actions and therefore act to achieve them. On the other hand, where people feel that changes are being imposed upon them, they become more likely to resent or to resist that change rather than to embrace it. But having taken that leap from empathy for a cause to action towards that cause, we need to engage ourselves and others in sustaining this behaviour change. While it’s one thing to become motivated and to make environmentally sound decisions, it’s far harder to in fact stay motivated and maintain behaviour change in the long term. Here’s where acting in an engaged way that is collective and connected can help again, having developed any initiatives together, we need to take responsibility for celebrating the outcomes of these initiatives. Initiatives shouldn’t stop at telling us how or where to recycle, or how to reduce our carbon footprints, or at providing us with the resources to do this. Initiatives should also be engaging us with each other as a group to understand the cumulative effort celebrating and making highly visible how an individual’s behaviour and choices are making that collective difference. And this is really quite critical. If we want individuals to take action and to continue to take action, there must be a mechanism in place to allow the individual to feel a sense of reward of recognition, or a personal advantage to motivate them further. And the thing is, by engaging with and motivating others, we in turn, motivate and engage ourselves. And we can develop a collective resilience in the face of challenges. And there’s some interesting psychology that happens here too. When we’re part of a collective, a crowd or community, group or household. There’s a shift in our identity from a personal identity to a group identity. The collective norms, beliefs and values of the group become our collective, our personal norms, beliefs, and values. And this can be a very positive thing when harnessed. So how do we harness this? How do we do it? I think we need some brave new initiatives. For example, the idea of community hubs has been suggested in for example, the Scottish Government consultation. And these should definitely be co created with communities. And the outcomes should be widely reported on a regular basis. But there could also be a network of hubs facilitating inter hub knowledge exchange, and perhaps more controversial an opinion elements of friendly competition, or perhaps positive challenges could be introduced that gamify our behaviour and evidence or contributions in a comparable way across hubs, as a household or community, or a nation, we need to create transparent and comparable ways to see and to celebrate our individual contributions to a collective effort. So I’ll end on this yes, we absolutely need to take personal responsibility and make individual changes to mitigate climate change.

Dr Mhairi Stewart 22:42
And part of that action has to include ways, finding ways to continue engaging with these behaviours in order to keep up our collective motivation and to permanently change our collective behaviour.

Dr Mhairi Stewart 22:58

Professor Pete Smith 23:03
Thank you very much Mhairi. So I’m going to open up to questions now. We’ve had a few questions already. coming in the q&a, if anybody, any participants on the call, would like to put further questions in for us, I’m going to pose them to the panellists as we go through. So let’s start with you. Mhair, there are a couple of that have come in on yours. So the first one is from Dave, who says, How much impact on personal decisions to negative government decisions have? Example roadbuilding, cutting air duty, freezing petrol duty, encouraging meat imports from the other side of the world? Do they also give a political message that we don’t need to change our habits?

Dr Mhairi Stewart 23:48
This is a personal opinion. And I say yes, I think it can be very demotivating. And this is why I think we need to have consultation from the individual community level in developing policies and practices. It may well be that imported meat for whatever reason, and rightly or wrongly, is cheaper. And there may be reasons for, you know, potentially good reasons to have cheaper meat in the supermarkets. But that doesn’t make it necessarily the right thing to do. So there should be policies in place and policy consultations in place to understand how we can actually create a just way of having cheaper foodstuffs in the markets if that is one of the motivators. And of course there may be many other motivators.

Professor Pete Smith 24:43
Yeah, okay. And Dave says some changes need to be forced on people with clear benefits. For example, the carrier bag charge, where does the government intervention and regulation and rules fit within this sort of personal decision space?

Dr Mhairi Stewart 25:01
Absolutely, I’m not necessarily against having regulations and rules and force. Although I do see, David also said that he meant encouraged. And actually, part of that encouragement could be in terms of that collective thinking, that collective Why are we having carrier bags? Why are we charging for carrier bags? It’s something that I remember, I can’t even remember when it came in so long ago now. But, I personally, was fine with it. But it was still hassle. It was still a hassle, you forgot your bags, you left them in the car, you left them in the house from the last shopping. But it’s now become commonplace. And part of that is that collective psychology of it’s the norm. This is what we now do. This is how we move it forward. So yeah, put those regulations in place. But in parallel and bridging between have a way of developing that collective psychology towards this is the right thing to do. This is why this is why it’s an advantage to me as well, not just to everybody else.

Professor Pete Smith 26:14
Thanks Mhairi. Iain, a couple for you, actually. The first one is a point of clarification. So on transport. On the slide, I think you showed the percentage of journeys undertaken. How does that relate to the distanced travelled?

Professor Iain Docherty 26:30
That’s right, it’s pretty close. I mean, that there are, there are particular journey lengths where one mode tends to do better than other. So as you might imagine, we tend to use trains for longer trips than, than buses. That makes sense. You can see that in everyday life. But there’s, there’s there’s not a lot of difference in terms of the overall impact between trips and journey length.

Professor Pete Smith 26:52
Okay, thank you. I forgot to mention who submitted that that was Gordon. And we have another one here from David, who says free or very cheap, and reliable public transport will encourage people to reduce car use, instead of raising costs of cars, e.g. in the highlands, the bus service is expensive and very unreliable, giving people no real alternative. What do you say to that?

Professor Iain Docherty 27:16
Still, there’s a lot of things bundled up in there. And the first thing is that there is no way that we can get to net zero in the transport system unless we travel less, right it is certainly not possible to do by changing the kind of motorised vehicle that we use to get around. And there’s a number of reasons for that the most important one is that given the timescales we’re talking about, so net zero by 2045. And remember, 75% of the way towards it by 2030 (will be getting to be near that in the transport sector) we simply cannot be reorganise, the transport system enough to transparent we do have insufficient quantity from one mode to another. In round terms, for example, if you had a model shift of about 5%, from car to rail, we’d have to double the size of the capacity rail network. So just thinking that we can shift from one mode to another isn’t enough, we really do have to stop travelling around as much. And by motorised means, and I’m really interested in the political dimension of this debate. Already, and, and things that become accepted myths, you know, when they’re not, they’re not often true. So when you hear about the debate of the impacts of this kind of personal behaviour change on transport people immediately go is what about essential journeys? Or what about the highlands? Or what about rural communities. So for example, in Scotland, most people who live in what we call rural Scotland actually live in small towns. And most of the journeys that people have no small towns undertake can be done on foot or on bike just the same as they can be in larger settlements, it’s actually a very small proportion of the trips that are that kind of long distance rural trip where there’s absolutely no old alternative that people think about. And in rural Scotland, I think it’s undeniable that the route towards net zero is going to be more based on electric or hydrogen road vehicles, than it’s going to be on public transport because we’re never going to have a bus service that’s good in most of the highlands or the South of Scotland as you get in a central belt.

Professor Pete Smith 29:14
Thank you Iain. Another one. Related to this before I go to Elise. Jackie says having lived in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe, streets dominated by cars and cyclists, dangerously dodging vans aren’t inevitable. But personal choice is non existent when trains are three times the cost and the journey time of cars or even flights. How can we achieve radical integrated affordable transport? Big question for you.

Professor Iain Docherty 29:44
This is this is also a whole collection of uncomfortable truths in many ways. And the first thing is that actually the Netherlands isn’t that much of an exemplar in carbon terms. The carbon emissions of the transport sector in the Netherlands are not especially much better than ours. And the reason but that is what’s called the mode of everything problem. And so although they have vastly more trips by bike, than we do they also have more car trips, for example. So they just travel around more, and the overall impact of that on on the environment is almost as bad as the equivalent UK figure. So you know, lots of, and lots of countries across Europe are grappling with the same issue, which is that we have to travel less. And interestingly, one thing I probably should have said in answer to your last question is that, since we started measuring this, which is about 150 years ago, now, we all travel around for roughly the same time every day to do the same things. So we still travelled to go to work, to go to education, to access health care to see other people and care for them, we spend roughly the same amount of time travelling because we’ve always done what we do is we use the available technologies to travel further to do it, you know, so instead of the corner shop, we travel to a supermarket, instead of living closer to where we work, we live in suburban estate, we can reverse these things on the affordability question. And that’s a real issue of how you count it. So it’s often said that transport is more expensive in the UK, than it is elsewhere. That’s true for some journeys and some trips. And the classic example of that is when you begin to compare train and air prices, because actually, that’s really not always the case, despite what you might read in the media. Where I would strongly agree with that question is that everyday transport in the UK is really quite expensive for a lot of people. So if you imagine and think about the number of cities inthe continent, they are moving towards this idea of the 365 year old ticket, where you pay the equivalent of a Euro today, and that gives euro per day. So that gives you access to the entire network. And anybody who pre-pandemic paid more than 3000 pounds for a rail season ticket between Glasgow and Edinburgh will know how far away from that we are.

Professor Pete Smith 31:54
Thanks Iain. One for you Elise, from John, what are the prospects for improving the capture of rainwater? Above the present very modest level of 1% Is it simply the need to increase more reservoir capacity over the next 10 years, and to reduce general waste of water in domestic and industrial use? And maybe you could also comment on some of the other questions that the very efficiently asked by typing, typing them into answer.

Professor Elise Cartmell 32:25
I’ve remembered to go off mute this time as well. So this is an improvement. So yes, John, you’re quite right, we could increase the amount of rainwater we could utilise by increasing reservoir capacity. Where we are with that is that that will obviously increase quite significantly, our carbon emissions, both through the construction and operation of the reservoir. So where we want to get to is just what you articulated is really reduce the water demand so that any new requirements for water instead of building new reservoirs, we could deliver those by reducing the amount of water that people are using reducing the amount of water that we use within Scottish Water and also reducing our leakage. So we need to work with developers as well and our customers to really start to put in low water use you know white goods and showerheads utilising less water in the garden using water butts, etc. so that we get that, you know, per person water usage down, you know, ideally, if we could go to 80 litres per person, you know, from the the 180 that we are at the moment, this would really enabled us to the future. And then the other questions that were asked were around the water billing. And, you know, this is something that, is really quite, quite challenging. So, water bills, as people know are put in alongside the council bills and are based on the house band. So the build savings that you can get are more associated with your energy bill if you’re using less energy to heat, water. But we do need to find ways in Scottish Water and working, you know, with our customers and communities to see you know what other engagement methods we can use to help encourage people to use less water, which don’t involve the direct linkage with the bills as we don’t currently metre for water use in Scotland, which is not the case in England and Wales. But there are no plans to alter that. So we do need to find different ways of, you know, getting people to know how much water they’re using, and, and working all together to try and reduce that news.

Professor Pete Smith 35:53
Thanks Elise, there are a couple of here on the chat for me. So I’ll cover those now. Heather says how different is Scotland’s footprint in terms of non intensive cattle, that’s hill sheep, and the potential for deer through culling, and from other parts of the UK global proportions given by Professor Smith. So the answer to that is that we sit somewhere on those large aerobars. The problem is with with non intensive cattle, or grass fed cattle is that they tend to take longer to get out to slaughter weight, because they’re, they’re fed non intensively and they’re eating just grass not concentrates, they go up to slaughter weight more slowly. So they’ve admitted more greenhouse gas emissions before they get to slaughter weight before they’re killed. So when you divide the amount of meat that you get from, from a from from an animal, by the total emissions during its lifetime, those tend to be higher for extensive systems, ie the pasture systems than they do for intensive systems. Now, that’s not to say I think we don’t have we shouldn’t look at this through greenhouse gas glasses, we have to consider other things. Because there are obviously many animal welfare benefits, ecological benefits, and others of raising the animals in the way that we do in Scotland. So it’s not just a matter of the greenhouse gas balance, we have to look at other things. But the greenhouse gas balance if we just look at the greenhouse gas balance alone, that is not better in Scottish systems than it is in other parts of the world. So that that doesn’t really save us from the Scottish livestock industries point of view. And Phillip says, Are there any feeds for ruminants that reduce their methane gas emissions? Some foods are gassy, than others. He obviously lives with a vegetarian or vegan, but I’ve not heard of any research on that for cows. The answer to that is yes, there are dietary additives that can be used. Garlic is one that’s been tried in the past as a dietary additive. And now there are more technical ones, propionate precursors and ionophores which are added to feeds which interact with the organisms and with the digestion system in the rumen of the livestock which do reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The problem with those is that the microbiota in the rumen tend to adapt after a little while. So it tends to give you a short term reduction, which then returned to normal levels. After a few weeks. There are some dietary additives, which seem to have longer lasting effects, one based on seaweed, which has been trialled at the moment and is being used in Ireland. And this seems to have a longer lasting effect. But the other problem is to do with since we have our animals here spend a lot of time out on the grass, you can only get these these dietary additives into the ruminants, when you’ve got them inside when you’re feeding the concentrates. So for that proportion of the year that they’re outside and eating grass, there’s no real way of getting those in those dietary additives into the animals. So it’s got a limited potential, I think to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So that’s the quick answer to those two questions. Now, I’ll come back to come back to you now Iain, one from Matt. Bus companies are subsidised by council tax and the government, which I only recently knew, rural places have less bus time running, due to demand in inner cities of the UK. Hence why another reason other than carbon reduction of the government are pushing people to get back on their bikes or to walk. Do you agree with that statement or could you comment?

Professor Iain Docherty 40:00
Yeah, and thanks. Thanks for that question. I want to say a few things, actually, in response to some of the other answers to have some furious agreement between sectors. And it all, it all comes back to this issue of who pays for what we need to do? And, and that, of course, is an issue that we haven’t really begun to address in the public debate yet, I think because it’s really unpalatable to a lot of people. So in the transport sector, you know, there is no better example of some were really added to that the polluter pays, is one that has been severely ignored. And for a long time, so for example, the road now the most important example is the road network is just about the only major utility that we don’t charge for it point of use. And we’re all aware of the history of innovations or failed innovations, like the congestion charge in Edinburgh, etc, in an attempt to change that. But for me, at least, we’re never going to be able to do everything that people have asked about in terms of decarbonizing the diesel vehicle fleet, making public transport substantially better than it currently is. And reducing the impact of cars not just on the environment, but on the economy through congestion. And on other aspects of wellbeing and health and safety. And including the accident issue unless we have fewer of them. And that’s going to take some sort of pricing. And it’s always going to be true to say that public transport provision is never going to be as good and rural this is a it’s an urban ones. I think that’s a fact of life just then given the the economics of the operations. What I would say is, perhaps this is somewhere technology might be our saviour. So again, depending on how things about the pandemic play out long term, if there’s ever an example, where autonomous vehicles and automatic cars may actually transform the accessibility of some places, it’s not the kind of picture you’ll see about cities of the future. It’s in very remote, rural areas where it’s very hard to get conventional public transport system to stack up. So you know, that’s one example where we’re technology might come to be our saviour, but, you know, who pays is a really important question. I don’t see any way to do this without having some proper form of national road pricing. Again, you can imagine how much fun and games the politics of that are going to be.

Professor Pete Smith 42:22
Yeah, good luck with persuading them to do that one. Another one another one for you, Iain, since you’re on, Jackie says what implications if any, are there for tourism in Scotland, especially in the highlands? Regarding the travel to get there? So long haul flights, long car journeys, etc.

Professor Iain Docherty 42:43
Yes, it’s another really fascinating and important question. One, one thing that we’re really bad at doing in the transport sector, and you’ve heard me talk about them how resilient a problem of carbon emissions are, how we have not done very well to reduce them. Is that we’re really bad at calculating what the economic impact of kilo carbon emitted actually is. So if you look at key sectors of the Scottish economy, and tourism is obviously one of them, but increasingly higher education, and the number of overseas students that we that we have, and who bring lots of revenue, not just education system, but to our cities increasingly, and the economic value of those trips and those trips in an aeroplane is incredibly high. We don’t really measure that very well. And one of the things that makes me nervous, actually about our debate on aviation, is that we seem to equate somebody who’s coming to Scotland as a net beneficiary to our economy spends money here, as equivalent to a non essential trip that somebody makes back and forward to London that can easily be done by train, for example. So I think very quickly, one of the things we’ll have to do, if we’re going to be able to manage the future of key sectors like tourism is to become much better at understanding what the economic impact of different sorts of emissions of carbon and different sectors are. And to me, that’s a really important research challenge that we should be facing up to quite quickly. And just to come back to the, to the implications of that for transport in particular, I’m actually quite nervous that you’ll cut the wrong kinds of aviation too quickly for that reason. But that’s all the more reason to go even faster and harder, in terms of how we reduce our car miles because lots of those are just not essential, and we do know how to replace them without any damage to the economy.

Professor Pete Smith 44:27
Thanks Iain, there’s another one for you, but I’ll give you a rest and come back to you. So Elise, there’s one for you. From Philip again, reducing toilet water use what proportion of water is used by flushing the toilet. He says he likes the slogan, if it’s yellow, it’s mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down. What do you say?

Professor Elise Cartmell 44:50
Great. Well, it’s always good to have a toilet conversation. So the use of water in toilets the Energy Saving Trust did quite a bit of work to examine that. And it looked as about 22% of water use in the home is associated with toilets. So, yes, you know, using low, low water use toilets, not flushing them as often Yeah, that will definitely make an impact. And also what will make an impact in relation to carbon is the use of the toilet. Sorry, I will stop about toilets eventually. But the three P’s, another slogan, pee, poo and paper, a lot of carbon is associated with our team’s going moving round the country to unblock the storage network. So what we call chokes, and predominantly that’s caused by people flushing wet wipes, which, you know, cause no end of problems within the network. So, yeah, how people use the toilet reducing the amount of water? Yep, definitely will help and, and make an impact there.

Professor Pete Smith 46:19
Thank you, we’ve managed 40 minutes without talking about poo, which is good for me. So Iain, if you’re rested here is one for you. You said the top transport measure needed in Scotland is to reduce travel i.e. motorised travel, what realistic measures do the Scottish government need to take to make it likely that people will reduce their travel in the next few years.

Professor Iain Docherty 46:47
Thanks for that question. So, and the Scottish Government’s already got a policy commitment to do this. And that’s the the commitment to reduce the number of car kilometres on the roads by 20% in a decades, and that’s exactly what we need to do. And that target is research based, it’s based on this idea that we know, our carbon budget for different modes to achieve that zero is and we know that we’ll have to have less traffic, and we’ll have to have a smaller road vehicle fleet. So that’s, you know, a perfectly robust and evidentially derived target, what they haven’t done yet is say which policy interventions are going to make to get help us get there. And they are committed to publishing a roadmap. And pun probably intended there. About how we hope we’ll get there within the next few weeks. Personally, I see no way that that’s possible without pricing. I hope that’s what they decided to go for. And, you know, that would be really interesting, if and when that comes to fruition. And I say if and when because one of the other challenges that transport sector we all have is as consumers here is that as the transition away from fossil fuel vehicles, becomes real, an increasing proportion of the fleet is electric and hydrogen vehicles, the tax take from fuel taxes is going to obviously decline quite significantly. And there are various estimates about how much and how quickly that will happen. You can be sure the Treasury will not do without that money. And so I think some kind of pricing mechanism is inevitable for that reason, and probably quicker than we realise. So partly, the answer to Dave’s question there, Pete, I think is that we have to go ahead, get stuck in and do that, but do it in a way, which is fair. And you know, we’ve talked about fairness earlier on. And in the road pricing debate, there’s always this, you know, knee jerk reaction, but it’s not fair well, actually, it really is because about a third of our fellow Scots don’t have access to car in the first place. And so do something to help them become more mobile and participate in the economy more easily would be about the fairest thing we could probably do it in the transport system. Very quickly. So picing definitely. And beyond that, I think it’s really welcomed to see the commitment to the idea of 20 minute neighbourhoods. And that was written into the national planning framework before. Consultative draft that was published, I think, just last week. And so you can see, I think, in planning policy in Scotland now a much stronger commitment to doing again, you know, this is something we know that we can do, and we know what the answer is. And it’s about making it easier for people to walk and cycle and have more of the facilities that they need to close to hand rather than travelling in a car, increasingly a large four by four to an out of town shopping centres or supermarkets. So I think the policy rhetoric is actually quite a good place. Let’s see if the actual interventions that will be required to back out come to fruition.

Professor Pete Smith 49:35
Thank you an anonymous attendee notes them Mhairi had a comment to make, and she’d like to hear he or she would like to hear it. Mhairi, did you have a comment to make? Your muted sorry.

Dr Mhairi Stewart 49:51
I did. Thank you very much. And it was really interesting listening there because one of the comments that was made earlier was that sometimes people just don’t care. And so we need ways to motivate them. And we’re talking about persuading people to use public transport to make more sustainable decisions, use less water. I don’t disagree with any of that. But for me, we need to recognise that there’s a whole interlinked ecosystem of needs and priorities that people have, which of which climate change might not, in fact, be top of the list. Perhaps their concerns around transport to work or mental health. And perhaps some of the initiatives tackling these might include traffic calming, connected timetabling or public transport, more opportunity to exercise or community connectedness. But the thing is, all of these are, of course, ways an individual can also combat climate change. And this way of then asking the community and then recognising how their priorities can be supported. And then thinking laterally and evidencing back to them back to the communities how any changes they’re making can be positive in ways well beyond their initial priorities, as well as to the immediate priority. This is a primary mode of engagement. And I think we can’t forget that communities have to be part of that conversation. So that we can help them to and to evidence, how they are contributing in ways that they don’t even know yet and helping in ways that they don’t even know yet in order to get them to motivate them to then contribute more.

Professor Pete Smith 51:33
Excellent. Thank you Mhairi. Now, I’m going to put put you all on the spot. Because we’ve we’ve the questions have all been answered that we’ve been asked. So you have one or two minutes or something, I’ll come to Elise first, just to give you time to think we’ll find finishing talking. Just some some finishing statements, anything that you’d like to get across or come back on, or the takeaway messages, I’ll go Elise, then Ian and then Mhairi, and then I’ll say something myself if we got time.

Professor Elise Cartmell 52:09
Thank you, Pete. So I think for for me, cop 26 is finished, I would argue that the actions that that have been agreed are not going to achieve that 1.5°C limit. So we really have to all of us have to move from talking and saying, you know, what we need to be doing to actually just getting on and, you know, making a difference. I mean, huge numbers of people are already doing lots of things to support climate change. And, you know, as Mhairi says, there’s so many pressures on all of us to, you know, how we go about things. But I would just encourage everyone and myself, I’m trying to do the same to just make, make a start, keep going with anything you’re already doing. And then just make a start and just chip away. And from a selfish point of view from Scottish Water. Saving water is one of the easy ones. It’s not like maybe giving up your favourite meat dish. Saving water is relatively pain free. And, you know, fairly easy to do. So. Yeah, I would say that. Yeah. Let’s all just keep going. And let’s make sure we are taking action together. And yeah, thank you for the opportunity to be here and get some really good really good questions coming through as well. Thank you.

Professor Pete Smith 53:56
Excellent, thanks Elise. Ian?

Professor Iain Docherty 54:00
Thanks Pete. Listening to Elise there, I’m tempted to start off by saying that the first most important thing to do is to be aware of our own hypocrisy in all of this. And so you know, I’m a bit of a petrol headed burger loving, individual like anybody else. And so you have these conversations, and you reflect on your own choices. And I think it’s really important to hear comments like Elise has made there just to challenge ourselves about our own personal lives. And, you know, these, these changes start with pretty small ones, sometimes, and you might even find that you like the changes you’ve made. And you know, we’ve talked about this, of course, there is going on about some of the other and changes that have that have happened over the years that we thought were going to be really difficult and to bring in and get public acceptance for them. We talked about the smoking ban and and transport. If you go back long enough, you can think about drunk driving and seatbelts and speed limits even as things that were, you know, seen as beyond the pale at the time, and now we’ve become pretty much accepted. I always answer this question Pete with a really simple response, which is please can we just walk about a bit more, it’s the easiest thing that we can all do to reduce our reliance on motorised transport to make sure that we spend more of our income in our local communities, where the multiplying effect of that is much higher than giving it to the chains, which are in car dependent locations. And best of all, it’s the single most important simplest thing we can do to improve our own health. So please just put on a decent pair of shoes and go for a walk.

Professor Pete Smith 55:27
Brilliant, thank you. Mhairi.

Dr Mhairi Stewart 55:30
Yeah, thank you. I’d like to be associated with the comments of the previous speakers. But I’m going to take a slightly different tack on this as well. And I’m going to say it’s really interesting, the learning that has come out about how individual and group behaviours observed during the pandemic can hold real learning and how we tackle this. There was a fear in many circles, that there would be a breakdown of individual responsibility in terms of anti COVID measures through some sort of behavioural fatigue setting in. But contrary to this, in most quarters, and actually a collective responsibility has emerged. Through lockdown, we had 4000 new community aid groups started, we have volunteer numbers were boosted by 5 million, it was 5 million new first time volunteers. So despite the many other issues we have with COVID response, what we can see is the emergence of a collective resilience, which is in turn shown that a collective social identity around a challenge. And a collective determination to combat combat a problem has kept up personal motivation to be part of the solution. And I want us to reflect on that as well as we go forward.

Professor Pete Smith 56:56
That’s fantastic. Thanks Mhairi. Now we’re out of time. So I just like to say thank you very much to our panel, Elise, Iain and Mhairi, and thank you to Hannah and Nazia for organising this event on behalf of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and thanks to all the participants and thanks for your excellent questions, which I hope we’ve answered adequately. So thank you, everyone. Thanks for joining and have have a great rest of the afternoon. Bye.



Thursday November 18th, 2021 14:00-15:00