What coastal erosion could mean for St Andrews

Monday 13 October 2008

An environmental expert at the University of St Andrews has warned that the year 2050 could see the town’s famous golf course crumble into the North Sea.

Professor Jan Bebbington, Director of the St Andrews Sustainability Institute, propelled herself forward in time to visualise the effect of climate change on Scotland in the next fifty years.  Her report will be one of several launched at an event at the Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh tomorrow (Tuesday 14 October 2008).

In an essay commissioned by the David Hume Institute, Professor Bebbington visualises a town where locals `remember the sorrow the last British Open played in St Andrews¿ and a car-sharing nation of vegetarians.

The report also predicts a country with evolving values, ‘respected and trusted’ political leaders working form a virtual parliament, and Celtic and Rangers players sharing the same carbon-neutral diet.

Professor Bebbington was asked to write an imaginary speech based on the assumption that Scotland had attained an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in 2050.   Several authors, including St Andrews Rector Simon Pepper, wrote as if they were delivering lectures at a World Carbon Forum to inspire countries which have fallen short of their targets.

Though her imaginary essay describes Scotland as a `happier place than it once was’, Professor Bebbington, a Professor of Accounting and Sustainable Development at St Andrews, writes, “We are living in a time of profound change, given the broader carbon performance of the globe.  Like many of your own countries we have had to adapt to more severe winter storms, to more flooding, coastal erosion and also rising sea levels.

“We limited the effects of some of these impacts by banning building in high risk areas (some 20 years before the actual impacts were felt), progressively investing in strengthening our infrastructure and making a managed retreat from vulnerable coastal locations.  This was still a painful experience, especially as we lost many historical sites on coasts (for example, many of you will remember the sorrow at the last British Open played in St Andrews).”

Professor Bebbington predicts the achievement of `low carbon living’ through the use of technology; the importance of individual and collective behaviour change; as well as changes in culture, values and expectations.

In what she describes as the `Scottish Carbon Enlightenment’, Professor Bebbington writes about a `huge array of social experiments’ in which peoples desire to live low carbon lives `unleashed creativity on a grand scale’.

Professor Bebbington, who is also Vice-Chair (Scotland) for the Sustainable Development Commission, predicts Scotland’s `most significant partnership’ developing with India, with their infusion of technological and cultural knowledge being `critical’.

The report also touches on the nation¿s political climate, with the prediction that decision making will devolve to wider groups of people, resulting in a `sea change of attitudes of the populace towards the political process’.

With the academic’s estimated world population of 9.5 billion in 2050, Professor Bebbington believes that we will move towards a `largely vegetarian diet, with meat being eaten sparingly, but with great relish’.  She also predicts a move towards buying hardwood furniture made in Scotland, from timber grown in Scotland.

Though the report suggests a drop in Scotland¿s population due to emigration, Professor Bebbington  also predicts a World Climate Change Migration Programme in which the nation is allocated 580,000 `climate change refugees’.

“The world in which the speech is being delivered is one where dangerous climate change has been unleashed, albeit that the full impact of this has yet to be experienced.  Scotland is, therefore, still going to be subject to global climate change despite its reduction achievements,” she states.

The report concludes, “We do not know what lies around the corner as the earth systems go through tipping points.  What we do have, however, is an understanding of how the human social systems can evolve to cope with whatever environmental, economic or social shocks arise.  We have not got all the answers for all societies at all time.

“What we have, however, is the confidence, courage and resilience to find ways to live, live well and live well with others in this chaotic world we have made for ourselves.  A combination of technological change, behaviour change and cultural adaptation will provide a platform for building a low carbon and hence more sustainable society.”



Copies of the essay Carbon reduction trajectories: the Scottish story by Professor Jan Bebbington are available from the Press Office – contacts below.

The full publication ‘Reducing Carbon Emissions – the view from 2050’ is available via www.davidhumeinstitute.com

Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews
Contact Gayle Cook, Press Officer on 01334 467227 / 462529, mobile 07900 050 103, or email [email protected]
Ref:  Old Course 131008
View the latest University press releases at www.st-andrews.ac.uk

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