Human swan: Why an eco campaigner 'flew' into Falkirk this week

An eco-campaigner dubbed ‘the human swan’ flew into Falkirk to meet local people, including school pupils, who are finding practical solutions to climate change.

By Kirsty Paterson, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Tuesday, 7th September 2021, 9:10 pm

UN ambassador Sacha Dench was on the final stages of an epic flight round the coastline of Britain using an electric paramotor when she landed at the Kelpies on Friday.

The visit to the iconic sculptures was just one stop on her 3000-mile journey, which is not only raising awareness of the dangers of climate change but also finding out more about the innovative work being done to combat it.

She said: “I am meeting people who are truly focused on answers to the climate crisis – not problems – and as such are inspirations to all.

UN ambassador Sacha Dench flies into Falkirk

“We’re trying to answer the question: we drove the industrial revolution, can we drive the green revolution too?”

The answer to that question was a definite ‘yes’ from the first local company she visited.

Her first stop was Celtic Renewables in Grangemouth to see its new biofuels refinery. which will transform waste – from industries such as whisky distilling – into low-carbon chemicals.

This green technology could, they say, soon replace thousands of petrochemicals currently used in our homes every day, from cleaning materials to food production.

Professor Martin Tangney OBE, founder of Celtic Renewables, said he was thrilled to host Sacha as part of the challenge.

He said: “We believe we are part of the Net Zero future, and in bringing our first plant into operation we will show that low-carbon biotechnology can be both commercially and environmentally sustainable.”

Net Zero is reached when the amount of greenhouse gasses put into the atmosphere is the same or lower as the amount of greenhouse gasses taken from the atmosphere.

Grangemouth is home to some of Scotland’s biggest polluters, so the quest for ways to do things differently, while keeping jobs in the area, is vital.

And Sacha was keen to hear from a group of young people who are using their ingenuity to come up with ground-breaking low carbon ideas that will help companies across the Falkirk Council area make the transition to net zero.

At the Kelpies she met apprentices and graduates – all aged 18-24 – involved in the Fuel Change Challenge, which aims to “unleash the underestimated skills and energy of Scotland’s youth”.

By partnering with educators and businesses, the young people are working to solve real-life carbon challenges that local firms – including INEOS – are facing.

Their aim is to find creative solutions that will work in the real world – and the young people who met Sacha are confident they have workable solutions that might even save firms’ cash in the long run.

However, they weren’t the youngest people there to speak to Sacha about their activities.

Pupils from Larbert High School were also anxious to meet the activist and keen to share how their school is leading the way in tackling climate change.

Larbert High is the first school in Scotland to promote ‘carbon literacy’ – which means pupils will learn about the topic of climate change whether they are in a science class or studying art and drama.

And the most surprising thing they’ve learned so far, they say, is how little people actually know about climate change.

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The pupils – Isla Houston, Erin Hendry, Milie Robertson, Gabrielle Pascoe, Erin Henderson, Catriona Small and Erin Summers – believe that people “know what is happening but don’t necessarily know how to change it”.

“A lot of people know about it but they don’t know it’s actually happening now – they think its something in the future,” said Isla.

They are keen to get the message across about how small changes – such as switching off lights and recycling properly – can make a big difference.

But they also say its important not to get complacent.

“Take litter, for example, yes, we need to put our rubbish in a bin,” said Catriona. “But we also need to understand that if you put it in a bin, it’s still going somewhere, it doesn’t just disappear.”

Like Sacha, they believe that it’s not just the problem that needs highlighting – there needs to be more focus on the solutions.

“We have got a very small window to try to fix it and people need to wake up,” said Erin.

The young people’s stories are just some of the inspiring examples of innovation and change that Sacha has collected on her journey, which began in Glasgow in June and has taken her through the Lake District and around Wales, the West Country, Devon, and Cornwall.

Her adventure will end in Glasgow too, when she attends the forthcoming COP 26, presenting a collection of stories gathered on her flight.

She hopes she has inspired people along the way – such as all those involved locally with Forth Valley for Net Zero Campaign, who have been following Sacha’s journey with great interest.

It inspired them to come up with their own challenges in the run up to COP26.

The leader of Falkirk Council, Cecil Meiklejohn, said: “We are honoured that Sacha visited our world famous Kelpies.

“Falkirk Council is a key partner in the recently launched Forth Valley for Net Zero campaign, which brings public and private sectors together to highlight all the great initiatives by businesses, educational establishments and our local communities to help us achieve this target.”

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