Duncan McLaren reflects on the media response to our new report 42% Better.

Today one of my colleagues pointed out that when he came to work for Friends of the Earth Scotland his previous workmates told him they knew what FoES was against, but not what we were for. It’s not an unusual view. It’s a lot easier for us to get in the press when we resist things like nuclear power, or GM food, than when we support home insulation, more cycling facilities, or anaerobic digestion. And there are a lot of problems out there for us to expose, and bad ideas for us to resist.

That means that all too often we are seen as negative, and characterised as trying to scare people into action. So it’s really pleasing to see that our recent efforts to highlight the positive benefits of action to tackle climate change – in terms of better health, more jobs, and a fairer society – have attracted good coverage in Scotland’s mainstream media. Here in the Herald, here in the Scotsman, and here on the BBC website (as well as on Radio Scotland news).

The report, ‘42% Better’, identifies extra jobs in energy efficiency and public transport, health care savings arising from reduced obesity, improved mental health and reduced respiratory disease, and

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social inclusion gains from reductions in fuel poverty amongst the many non-environmental benefits of a strong climate policy to meet or exceed the Scottish traget emisisons reduction of 42% by 2020. Even in the limited case studies examined, the estimated value of the health benefits alone exceeds £2bn.

For example, improving and insulating the homes of those in fuel poverty in Scotland, could avoid an estimated 180,000 cases of anxiety and depression each year, and cut days lost to work and school as a result of respiratory illnesses by up to 25%. The increased levels of fitness resulting from raising cycling rates to Danish levels could save over 1,600 lives a year, and help cut obesity rates in Scotland in half, especially if supported by the widespread adoption of low-carbon, low-meat diets.

The Scotsman even made this the topic of its main leader article today, noting that Friends of the Earth Scotland “has struck out with a more positive message: that Scots could see major health and economic benefits if we make the changes necessary to hit ambitious carbon emission targets.

From the standpoint of changing attitudes and behaviour, this should help counter the image of a campaign whose sole persuasive weapon was a long list of terrible consequences that would befall us if targets were not met.

This new approach may well prove more effective, not just in winning over hearts and minds, but in catalysing the millions of micro-actions in everyday behaviour needed to make a difference.

Certainly much of the advice will be helpful in promoting healthier lifestyles and can be welcomed as a programme for a less wasteful and more sensible way to work, play and live.

The leader also sounded a cautionary note about our arguments for government cuts in capital spending on projects such as road-building, noting correctly that prolonged recession will not help the green cause. However major road developments offer relatively little economic benefit, while also increasing emissions. So we believe that when capital spending is to be cut, the opportunity should be taken to focus the remaining spend where it will do most good for emissions, health, equity and the economy – such as green energy, energy efficiency and public transport.

As the Scotsman said “It is positive actions, not self-harming curbs to vitally needed improvements, that provide the best hope for a better life and a healthier planet.

42% Better can be downloaded from our website here.