THE ongoing energy crisis has reinforced the importance of energy independence, moving away from fossil fuels and living more sustainably. Last Friday, I visited Stirling University alongside the Scottish Greens co-leader and Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights, Patrick Harvie, where they were keen to show us how they are doing just that and what more they can achieve with more support.

Stirling campus is well worth a wander around itself, with plenty of green space and natural light creating a better atmosphere for students and staff to study, catch-up and meet with others. It has made some incredible advancements in becoming more sustainable, with the university’s carbon emissions reducing by 43.8% since 2007/08, a reduction which exceeded their target to reduce emissions by 38% by 2020.

Almost one third of the university’s electricity, imported through the National Grid, comes from renewable sources. It also pursues 100% landfill avoidance through either recycling or anaerobically digesting waste, or incinerating it to produce heat. Their estates team is making the transition to lower carbon vehicles, including a new fleet of electric cars and e-cargo bikes, whilst it is helping staff and students pursue greener transport choices through Nextbike and Forth Bike bicycle sharing schemes.

I’m proud of Stirling University’s work in this area, and pleased to see the phenomenal strides they have made. The benefits were clear to see around Stirling’s campus – both in lower costs, as well as healthier environments for both students and staff. I am, of course, biased – but it is worth noting that there is great work taking place across Scotland’s university sector as universities seek to become more sustainable.

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On a broader scale, now is exactly the right time to push for greener, more sustainable society. Energy costs were rocketing skywards, even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The energy cap is being increased (twice) this year, plunging millions into fuel poverty.

On Monday, it wasn’t unusual to see the price of diesel be around 168p per litre in Stirling, whilst earlier this month the price of red diesel was as high as 151p per litre, almost three times more expensive than this time last year. I spoke with local farmers and hauliers last week, and listened to their concerns at the extortionate costs. As you can imagine, none were impressed with the Chancellor’s 5p cut to fuel duty.

There are some things that can be done to alleviate the burden on everybody beyond Thatcherite tax cuts. Having an effective fuel duty regulator would be one such measure in the short term to prevent price gouging and prevent exploitation. A sliding tax system regarding fuel duty to prevent exploitation of consumers is one other idea that has been talked about.

The National: A display sign showing unleaded petrol prices at 167.9 per litre and diesel prices at 177.9 per litre at a Esso petrol station in Warwick. Drivers continue to be clobbered by record fuel prices as petrol reaches an average of £1.65 per

These are short-term fixes, but what is needed is much more long-term strategy, and the UK’s seeming strategy of swapping dependence on Russian gas for Middle Eastern is to my mind, quite, quite wrong. Norway makes quite explicit its aim to be a stable and reliable energy partner – using the revenues to fund its just transition (as well as top up its staggering sovereign wealth fund), and in Scotland, we need a mature debate on energy independence and the obscenity of fuel poverty in a country so blessed with energetic resources.

We also need to get more funding into the mix to invest on the scale needed to help society transition. Most individuals and businesses accept that there is a need to move away from unsustainable practices and are willing to go greener.

The problem for many, though, is one of cost.

At a time when haulage firms and farmers can barely afford the fuel to power their vehicles, how can they be expected to buy the tools, equipment and resources needed to be more sustainable? How can farmers afford solar panels when they can hardly afford the fertiliser for their fields?

The climate change crisis is too big to leave to the market alone. To help individuals and businesses go greener, it is crucial that government provides some of the assistance and resources necessary. Infrastructure investment, such as more charging points, as well as better and more reliable public transport services (particularly in rural areas) is vital.

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The UK Government could do more to invest in renewable subsidies and greener transport, instead of nuclear weapons and writing off £4.3 billion worth of Covid tax fraud.

Solar and wind farms are now cheaper to build than oil and gas fields, with the cost of wind farms dropping by 71% in the past decade, and solar by 90% in the same time period. Providing government subsidies to make homes more energy efficient would lower household energy bills – as well as reduce our overall carbon emissions.

As I wrote in this paper back in October of last year, the Scottish Government is working on many of these areas with the Just Transition Commission. It is vital that in the process of going green we create jobs rather than destroy communities. Speed, though, is of the essence.

We have a narrow window to prevent a fuel a poverty disaster which brings the country to a halt and leaves bairns freezing in their homes during the winter months. As we wrestle with the energy crisis, it’s time to strike whilst the iron is hot. The best time to begin the just transition was many years ago; the next best time is now.