BRITISH Gas executives have been celebrating this week, with the company posting eye-watering profits of £969 million from just the past six months’ operations. This is a 900% increase at a time when so many of their customers have been plunged into poverty by skyrocketing bills.

And they weren’t the only ones: their parent company Centrica raked in record returns while oil giant Shell reported £3.9 billion of profits from the last quarter.

Contrast this news with the current reality of wildfires in Greece: hundreds of people walking for miles through choking thick smoke and flames, homes and communities destroyed, lives and habitats lost.

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That contrast could not be starker: death and destruction compared with exceptionally wealthy people in high-powered corporate offices celebrating and patting themselves on the back at a job well done.

These may be very different settings, but the two scenes cannot be seen in isolation. The wildfires are just one consequence of the environmental plunder and profiteering by the likes of British Gas and Shell. The more fossil fuels that are burnt the worse the crisis will get. The ferocious fires in Europe are not the first, and they won’t be the last.

Climate breakdown does not happen overnight. It is a consequence of decades of terrible decisions, poor political leadership and global inaction.

The National: Flames ravaged Greece as temperatures soared amid climate changeFlames ravaged Greece as temperatures soared amid climate change

And climate change is already a matter of life and death for millions of people around the world. It is a real crisis that exists here and now.

UN analysis shows that two million people have died as a result of extreme weather over the last 50 years, primarily in the global south. This will only intensify.

The policies and decisions that led us to this point have not been driven by ignorance or naivety. Like the governments who have supported them, oil and gas companies have known for decades about the devastating and deadly impact of their work. They have been driven by one thing above all: greed. It is greed fuelled and supported by complicit politicians in an economic system that says it is OK to exploit and extract more of the planet’s resources regardless of the consequences.

There are steps we can and should all take to cut our environmental impact: reducing unnecessary use of resources, recycling our waste, reusing bags and other materials, cutting our meat consumption, buying local, and so on. But none of these will actually prevent climate breakdown.

Individual action cannot replace the urgent, systemic action and change we need.

Indeed, the focus on individual action is a distraction from what needs to happen. And it puts the responsibility on individuals, many of whom have done little to contribute to the crisis.

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It is no wonder that oil companies like BP have been so keen to push concepts like “carbon footprints” so strongly. They want us to believe that environmental catastrophe is down to us as individuals. If we only were to tweak a few aspects of our lives and lifestyles it would compensate for the horrific damage they inflict on our environment on a daily basis. Yet, even if we were to treat individual carbon footprints as a credible measure of climate responsibility, the distribution of emissions is still hugely unequal.

According to research from Oxfam, billionaires emit one million times more greenhouse gases than the average person.

While the damage is being done by a small number of very wealthy companies and people, the cost is being felt by working-class communities and vulnerable people around the world, particularly in the global south.

It is a common trope for reactionary talking heads to imply that environmental issues are “elitist” or “middle-class” issues.

But what could be a starker illustration of inequality and a broken system than a society where millions of people are facing fires and droughts while a small number of very rich people are touring the world in private jets?

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Climate change is definitely a class issue. In Scotland, and in every country, the people that are paying the price and having their health, welfare and safety put at the greatest risk are the working class.

Decarbonising our economy is not just about ensuring a cleaner climate, as vital as that is. It is also about creating good jobs, security, opportunity and fulfilment for working-class communities around the world. Transforming our economy can be good for everyone.

Whether it is those being hit by wildfires or workers in areas like the North East of Scotland, which I represent, who have driven the oil and gas sector for so long and must be at the heart of a just transition.

There can be no separation of climate justice and social justice, not when the two are so entwined.

That is why, in the Scottish Greens, we talk about people and planet together. How can we have social justice while people are having their homes and livelihoods destroyed by the catastrophic impact of fossil fuels being drilled and consumed thousands of miles away?

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What about the families being displaced and driven from their homes by ecological breakdown while extremely wealthy oil and gas chiefs pour themselves champagne and revel in their ill-gotten dividends?

We will only ever have one planet. We cannot afford to continue with business as usual. The costs are too great: deaths due to air pollution, displacement or extreme heat, failures in food harvests, irreversible loss of biodiversity and nature.

One thing is certain: change is not optional but imperative. And our hope, love and solidarity must be with the people, communities and ecosystems on the front line of the crisis.