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Director’s Note — October Newsletter

Published 22 October 2021 by Colin Howden

So how does one process COP26?

Transform Scotland’s director Colin Howden muses on COP26, and what might make it on to the agenda for our meeting with Scotland’s new Minister for Active Travel.

It would be easy to issue a new stirring call to action from the world’s leaders. But these have been done before, and we don’t appear to be any closer to resolute action being taken. (I, for one, have been doing so for the past quarter of a century, and with no obvious result.)

So don’t think I’ll waste further words on that topic here. (For those of you who are expecting proselytising about transport and climate policy then I would direct you to my piece in last month’s newsletter, where I expounded on such matters at considerable length; nothing of substance has changed since I wrote that piece.)

Instead I’m going to cast forward to our meeting next month with the new Scottish Government ‘Minister for Active Travel’, Patrick Harvie MSP.

At that meeting, I’m sure we’ll want to talk about our new ‘Active Freeways’ report & how the cash from that newly-won ’10%’ spending target will be disbursed. But we at Transform are all pretty well versed in active travel policy, so I don’t feel in need of further detailed preparation in advance of our meeting.

I’ve worked with Patrick — or “The Minister” as I’m told that I’ve now got to call him — for the best part of the last 20 years, most notably as part of the JAM74 campaign against motorway construction in Glasgow. (We lost.)

But during that time, I’d observe that The Minister has always seemed to be more interested in discussing science fiction and fantasy film & TV than anything as mundane as sustainable transport — and I refuse to judge him harshly on this point.

So instead, I’ve decided that I might concentrate Transform’s preparation on this topic. After all, some of it has been considerably more insightful about our environmental crises than most of our political classes and the vast bulk of the mainstream media.

The Minister is a noted Whovian. Being marginally older than The Minister, I could decide to hold forth on the Tom Baker era when he was but merely a babe in arms. But environmentalism has never been a dominant theme of Doctor Who, and I still remain worried about the Tardis’ power source and emissions. We have also yet to form robust policy on time travel. And I can think, on a day-to-day basis, of more troubling monsters than the Daleks.

So maybe something more Earth-bound, and clearly environmental in inspiration?

[Note: there’s one spoiler here — but that film is from 60 years ago. As Mark Kermode would say: “It’s a sledge, she’s a guy, he’s a ghost.”]

How about Bong Joon-ho’s ‘Snowpiercer’ from 2013? On the face of it, it has impeccable sustainable transport credentials, being set entirely on a train. But a train that circumnavigates the globe? Two centuries after the first railways, we still don’t even have a direct rail route from Scotland to Paris.

I also don’t think British politics has yet reached the stage depicted in ‘Children of Men’, Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 epic sci-fi thriller, although some of the border policies now being deployed by the current UK administration does make one wonder whether that film is being used as an inspiration rather than a cautionary tale.

Perhaps ’Soylent Green’, the dystopian sci-fi from 1973 starring Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson? If one can get past the pungent male chauvinism and police procedural genre tropes (this must be one film that could actually benefit from a remake), the film made a pretty good stab at predicting what environmental despoilation might look like in coming decades: soaring temperatures, the destruction of nature, and the killing of ocean life. OK, maybe not the food source bit — but there’s still time.






No, I think the best source must still be the 1961 sci-fi disaster movie ‘The Day the Earth Caught Fire’. The premise of the film, the impacts of nuclear weapons testing, can be explained by the film’s Cold War-era setting — but the soaring temperatures depicted could be the stuff of a climate thriller. The closing scenes, with the print presses ready to roll on one of the two possible endings — “World Saved” or “World Doomed” — still resonates now, and even more so in light of what may or may not be decided in Glasgow in a few weeks’ time…