Fleur on Innovation and Climate Change

In this blog Fleur, a volunteer on Young Scot's Content Collaborators Panel, shares why we should be talking and thinking about innovation when discussing the climate crisis. 

“Necessity is the Mother of Invention” – Ester Boserup

Over 200 years ago, Thomas Malthus predicted our population would get too big compared to our ability to produce food. He said population outstripping food supply would cause famine, until enough people died so that there would be enough food for everyone alive. He was, it’s fair to say, a bit of a pessimist.

A few decades ago, Danish economist Ester Boserup took a more optimistic approach. She believed that when we’re faced with a problem like population outstripping food supply (“necessity”), we will do everything we can to overcome it (“invention”).

We’re now faced with a different problem: Climate Change. But Boserup’s words still resonate – we’re faced with a problem, now let’s overcome it.

Bye Bye Cars, Bye Bye Petrol

In Scotland in 2030 or perhaps earlier, you won’t be able to buy a new petrol or diesel car. These cars, known as Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) cars, create greenhouse gasses including CO2 which leads to climate change. In the UK, around a quarter of CO2 emissions are due to transport. Cutting out ICE cars is a huge step forward in limiting further damage to the climate. Mother Nature is giving a thumbs up.

Life in Plastic, It’s not Fantastic

Petrol is derived from oil and most oil in the UK is used for transport. The Law of Supply and Demand suggests as we move away from using oil, the market will likely collapse, and oil prices will initially fall (too much supply and too little demand) and then rise (too little demand to profitably continue to supply).

We use oil in things like plastics too. It’s everywhere and we’re increasingly aware of the impact plastics have on our environment and our health. Plastic is on beaches, landing grounds, in fields, in streets and on the hills. Fish get trapped in plastic beer rings and birds swallow plastic bags. Sir David Attenborough showed us the extent of the plastic problem.

If oil becomes more expensive, plastics will become more expensive. Manufacturers will be faced with a choice: use expensive plastics or find alternative packaging. If manufacturers opt for plastic, they will either have a smaller profit margin, or make products more expensive. Customers may not want to pay more for the same product, and environmentally-conscious customers will shy away from these plastic-wrapped products too, leading to a less successful business.

This may present a great Boserup-style opportunity to find an alternative packaging that is cheap, clean, plentiful and fit their customers’ wishes. We’re faced with a problem, now let’s overcome it.

The quest for sustainable packaging is already underway, and market pressures will make them more commonplace. Old favourites are resurfacing like cardboard and glass; but cardboard is weak and glass is heavy. There are new kids on the block too, such as bags made from potato starch, wrappers made from algae and boxes made from mushrooms.

Taxi!

The societal shift away from ICE cars may go hand in hand with other innovations, and if we consider the bigger picture, there can be positive environmental implications. Advances in technology may lead to self-driving cars becoming the norm. While it would be easy to picture everyone owning a self-driving electric car in the same way as everyone owns an ICE car now, there is potential for innovation. Picture self-driving taxis.

If you’re going somewhere, summon a self-driving car which can take you to where you need to go, cheaply and quickly. Would you still want a car, which needs maintenance, insurance, energy, road tax and an MOT? How about public transport, where you need to wait at a particular time in a particular place, to be taken slowly to somewhere near your destination?

Self-driving taxis and efficient route programming could reduce the number of cars on the road, reducing traffic, air pollution and sound pollution. Just like our taxis now, they would be a shared resource – once you’ve been dropped off at your nan’s, the taxi would be summoned by another customer. You wouldn’t need a car sitting empty in your driveway, meaning fewer resources are needed to manufacture cars, having less environmental impact.

Another green bonus would be space efficiency. If all we have on the roads are self-driving taxis which constantly circulate, the space we use for car parks can be repurposed. There is a potential for green developments and community projects like rewilding, urban farming, allotments or local markets. Imagine your local supermarket letting you pick your own veggies just outside its doors; your town centre having a “best of local” market; your driveway becoming a colourful, bee-friendly flowerbed.

"Most conversations about climate change revolve around how we need to change, both on a small scale by living greener lives, and on a big scale by getting policymakers involved. There are measures we need to take, but let’s leave a space at the table for innovation."

Maybe Everything Will Be Alright

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our times, but historically, we’ve been able to think our way out of sticky situations. Most conversations about climate change revolve around how we need to change, both on a small scale by living greener lives, and on a big scale by getting policymakers involved. There are measures we need to take, but let’s leave a space at the table for innovation.

Read other environmental blogs or visit our COP26 page to find out more about climate change, the climate crisis and the environment.

Young Scot supports young people to share their own voices, views and opinions and works with partner organisations and professionals who are experts in different topics. The views expressed in this blog are those of the young people, organisations and/or individuals who have taken part in the blog, not necessarily the views of Young Scot.