Life should not feel normal: Treating the crisis as a crisis

Throughout our project Shared visions of a sustainable Scotland we will be issuing updates based on our conversations with our co-visionaries in Scotland. Below are some of our thoughts as we head into the first workshop later this week.

The disparity of response between the COVID-19 crisis and the climate crisis put them into stark contrast. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, speaking about new coronavirus measures on 22nd March 2020, stated that "life should not feel normal" and if it did, you should ask "if you are doing the right things".

The same question could be asked of our response to the climate crisis.

What would it look like if we made the brave and necessary changes to really treat the climate crisis as an actual crisis? Changes that would transform how we live, work and think that really felt different and looked different to the status quo.

Our upcoming workshops with co-visionaries from across Scotland will be focusing on three connected topics: Sustainable work, sustainable industry & sustainable environment.

A venn diagram showing the intersecting areas of interest

Good, fair and sustainable work

We know that jobs will change over the coming years and although some of these new jobs don’t yet exist, the direction of travel can be estimated, if not predicted.

Nesta has done a range of work in this area:

Organisations such as Carnegie UK Trust are interested in the areas of inequalities in Work and Wellbeing and In Times Of Crisis as well as looking at what can and can’t be considered Fair Work.

The online community Zebras Unite is exploring alternative routes to funding high-growth businesses and calls for a more ethical and inclusive movement to counter existing startup and venture capital culture.

Interface is interested in “getting the people together” by linking up businesses of all sizes to match them to Scotland’s world-leading academic expertise to help them to grow.

Questions we will be exploring include:

  • How can working practices be drastically different?
  • How can we address skills gaps and transitions to ensure that jobs of the future are adequately filled and unemployment is mitigated?
  • How can we predict and prepare for emerging markets that we don’t yet know?

Industry 4.0 - the technology revolution

We are living through the fourth industrial revolution (or Industry 4.0) – the fourth period of intense technological advancement that humans have experienced. This revolution is already dramatically shaping our world and has the potential to define the future of our society, economy and public services.

On this topic we have looked at how Civil society must be central in the fourth industrial revolution and have attempted to track some of the developments, like Mapping the UK drone industry, as well as commissioning research into public attitudes to the fourth industrial revolution across Scotland in our recently published Shift+Ctrl report.

Other organisations involved in this area include The Data Lab, who are leading on the development of an AI Strategy for Scotland, and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, who are providing specialist support for technology and advanced engineering sector as well digital and innovation support to Highlands and Islands businesses. Construction Scotland Innovation Centre’s vision is to champion innovation and connect Scotland's construction industry to deliver transformational change.

Glasgow City of Science and Innovation whose ambition is to raise the profile of Glasgow and the West of Scotland as a world-class and distinctive destination for science and innovation and The Institute for Future Cities, based at the University of Strathclyde, looks to unlock the potential of cities to enhance quality of life.

We will be asking questions such as:

  • How can our cities, buildings, infrastructure and habits look radically different?
  • How can we re-imagine homes, transport, electric vehicles and beyond?
  • What is the ambition and role for our towns and rural communities?

Sustainable, smart environment

Technology has a role to play when it comes to protecting and improving our environment, both the natural world and how we engage with it. Nesta’s Rethinking Parks programme supported organisations to develop innovative ways of managing the UK’s public parks. It included the GreenSpace Scotland project exploring the contribution that parks and greenspaces can make to decarbonise the energy system, ParkPower. We funded a partnership between Scottish Wildlife Trust and AI firm Space Intelligence to analyse satellite data to enable better decision making for nature-based solutions, reforesting and connecting wildlife habitats across Scotland.

Organisations such as Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation work to support innovative projects and kick-start new ideas through their low carbon hub and took a lead on the Edinburgh Climate Commission’s Forward, Faster, Together report.

Sustrans Scotland works to create safe, attractive, healthier places for populations to benefit from and Creative Carbon Scotland are working to put culture at the heart of a sustainable Scotland.

We will be looking at how we can do more than simply protect our wildlife and natural spaces from harm, but how we can use nature-based solutions to help us achieve our sustainability aims. And how do we ensure fairness is at the heart of all of these things, that our efforts to create sustainability don’t entrench inequality.

New narratives and renewed vision

New and emerging technologies may be able to help to achieve much of this. But often the problem is not one of limited technical ability or an absence of available data but rather a limited imagination and an absence of vision.

I have been delighted to see an emergence of positive thinking and conversations about the future during the last few months of lockdown. Perhaps people are having the time and space to dream a little more than before.

The RSA’s online event series Bridges to the Future, or States of Change’s dialogue series on How Not to Waste a Crisis are great examples of inspiring debates about positive futures. And reports such as Commonweal’s Resilient Scotland and the Edinburgh Climate Commission’s Forward, Faster, Together set out practical approaches to moving towards a low-carbon future in Scotland which build on the Climate Emergency Response Group’s 12 immediate actions for Scotland’s response to the Climate Emergency.

As we start to grapple with the realities of post-lockdown society, we are left to address the issue that was with us before it started; the underlying health condition of an unwell planet. We will be asking questions and encouraging creative responses to explore visions and radical ideas that can help us to seize this opportunity in Scotland to imagine and create sustainable working practices and sustainable industry and that can ensure we have a sustainable environment.

When faced with the scale of global climate crisis “life should not feel normal”.


Kyle Usher

Kyle Usher

Kyle Usher

Mission Manager (Scotland) - A Sustainable Future

Kyle is Nesta’s Mission Manager for Scotland working on the A Sustainable Future mission and based with the Scotland team in Edinburgh.

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