Climate Action in South Scotland: A student’s perspective

Written by Edwina Dominic

On the 6th of November 2021, the University of Glasgow School of Interdisciplinary Studies, Dumfries Campus had the wonderful opportunity to host the COP26: Climate Action in South Scotland event. As the School of Interdisciplinary Studies, we lived up to our name and diverse background and had different views on climate change and sustainability ranging from statistical science lectures to visual artistic perspectives such as a puppet show by Indigo Moon and story weaving by Moat Brae.

The event had various academics and activists presenting on topics relating to the local environment, such as the Threave Landscape Restoration Project and Galloway Glens, who presented on opportunities to help Dumfries and Galloway reach net zero carbon. All lectures were live-streamed, and so it catered to those unable to attend but still keen to learn. This also enabled us to have guest speakers from different countries allowing us to share knowledge across various audiences. Our visitors were not only academics or individuals with scientific backgrounds, but families interested in teaching their children about the environment. Our COP26 event highlighted the importance of green zone events and was educational for all ages. Green zone events are areas for the general public to have their opinions about COP26 heard. This can be through presentations or demonstrations that educate and promote awareness of sustainability and climate change

The day began with a passionate green politics debate between Finlay Carson MSP, Julie Douglas, Stephen Mckee, Laura Moodie, Emma Harper MSP, and Colin Smyth MSP, with Dr. Benjamin Franks from the University of Glasgow facilitating the discussion. After a short intermission, the live streamed lectures began across three conference rooms; throughout the day there were around 33 different presentations from local businesses, academics, activists and we even had primary and secondary school students presenting.

For those that wanted a more hands-on learning experience, the outdoor marquee had University of Glasgow student volunteers hosting interactive demonstrations to engage with the public. The activities ranged from informing individuals about the active role of soils in storing carbon through a peat core collected from Kirkconnel flow, to discussions of renewable energy with a demonstration on the ease of producing hydrogen gas. Additionally, our very own PhD student, Sam Sutter showcased her research on a native species of butterfly. Her research emphasised the importance of preserving biodiversity. Through the use of an interactive map she demonstrated the different requirements for the survival of the butterfly and how climate change and our actions impact their survival. The activities in the marquee concluded with having the public give feedback on things they could do to reduce their greenhouse emissions or mitigate climate change in the region.

Outside the marquee, we had a tree planting event; despite the typical Scottish weather, lots of families grabbed a shovel to plant a legacy. The trees are all native species and will take more than 30 years to grow, and we learned about the amazing resource they are, and how vital they are for carbon storage and purifying the air.

The events had many amazing talks to educate the public about climate change and sustainability in the region. As important as it is to educate the adults, it is vital to have this information engaging for the children too. I believe that is what made our events truly special as there were many family friendly activities to partake in.

In the activity Picturing Polar Bears, art and creativity were used to start conversations regarding climate change. I found this extremely interesting as for a long time art and science were seen as complete opposites. However, this activity proved that the art can assist in imparting scientific knowledge. Families sat down with Dr. Lizanne Henderson as they doodled polar bears and discussed how art can showcase the dangers of climate change. Diane Fiedler, an American artist creates large scale watercolour paintings of polar bears and floats them in the Arctic waters. This is a symbolic representation of the dangers that the Arctic will face with the ice melts. Essentially, she is allowing us to visualise the polar bears that are trapped on melted ice caps. An event like this is more engaging to a younger audience as it requires them to physically be involved as well as nurturing their creativity. Creativity is greatly needed in solving our climate crisis as we have the technology available but lack the vision to implement it.

Other family activities we had were the Moat Brae story-telling and the puppet show by Indigo Moon. The puppet show by Indigo Moon told the story of how humans have impacted the natural environment. It was an interactive show that encouraged children to answer questions and build the story along. It was enjoyable for all ages despite the dark narrative. This was a visual way to explain to children the consequences of modernization with the end giving hope on making the world a greener place.

For immediate change to happen it is important to have adults equipped with the knowledge to choose leaders that will protect the environment. However, achieving sustainability is a long term process that involves everyone at every age being conscious of their choices. Therefore, to ease our way into sustainability we need to start the habits of good environmental practices at a young age.

As a 4th year Environmental Science and Sustainability student, I believe green zone events like these are important. While people generally believe that the only way to make drastic changes is only through blue zone events where the world leaders gathering to discuss policies, green zone events are equally as important, as we the public are the ones that choose our political leaders. Therefore, if we have the knowledge and understanding of how to make the world more sustainable, we can choose leaders that will fight for policies that will improve the environment.

I am a firm believer that every small step will have an impact on the environment, hence the importance in having events that specifically target children as they are our future. I was really happy to see that the puppet show that explores how humans impact the planet had a big turn out from kids and so did the moat brae story-telling.

Here’s to hoping that we will not need big events like this in the future to address the climate issues, and that it will now become a regular discussion in our daily lives.

For more information on our event, including videos and online lectures, please visit www.glasgow.ac.uk/cop26dumfries 


First published: 20 January 2022