Our common home is on fire

We know everything is screwed.  Between looming environmental breakdown, the collapse of democracies around the world, plastic pollution, mass extinction, social inequality and poverty skyrocketing, and a mental illness epidemic – genuinely, what is going well? Our streets are haunted by austerity. Homicidal xenophobia is on the rise both nationally and at the heart of our government. No one in power is actually doing anything about the very real possibility of our demise at the hands of the 100 companies who emit 70% of the world’s greenhouse gases. What reason do we, as students and young people, have for hope?

If only there was something students could do. If only someone had written a blueprint for a better way of governing our land, generating electricity, building properly so we all have warm homes, eating sustainably, trading ethically – a plan for a better way of living that protects our common home, with young voices at its heart.

Common Weal, a policy and campaigning think tank, has been rallying people around this idea for five years, and they have written us a plan. On Saturday 9 November, they released the first ever fully costed Green New Deal in the world – The Common Home Plan. It’s a plan that looks at the ten central domains of society that need to make radical changes to adequately address social justice and the looming climate catastrophe: buildings, heating, electricity, transport, food, land, resources, trade, learning, and us (lifestyle and culture). This is not a mere promise, set of targets, or laundry list of insurmountable woes; it is a complete, comprehensive plan of action. Common Weal have calculated how long these changes will take, how much each will cost, and the skills and labour needed to make it happen in Scotland. Some of these changes are just big engineering projects – how we build and generate electricity. Some of the changes are about how we govern and the choices we all make in our society. It involves recalibrating our economy to work for us as a system of investment and development rather than extraction and profit. It demands for reforestation of Scotland’s land, and a rapid reduction of wasteful consumption.

One of the biggest obstacles for the Common Home Plan is the sheer number of skilled labourers needed to make it happen. Common Weal has calculated that we will need more than 4,000 plumbers to complete the renovations across Scotland. If the Common Home Plan was adopted, there would be no unemployment for a generation.

This takes us to the fun bit: The Common Home Plan costs £170 billion to implement. Speaking from a student perspective of sitting in overdrafts, living off mashed potatoes, tinnies, and chickpeas, that’s not a fun number to look at. But Scotland’s contribution to bailing out the banks after the 2008 financial crash was £120 billion – and that was found in one year. This is spent over 25 years, borrowed and paid back over 50 years, and with the help of 100,000 jobs created, the income tax generated actually covers most of the annual costs.

This will be a behemoth undertaking. No one is saying otherwise. But there is no other option. We are staring down the barrel of several guns, caught in the crosshairs of seven existential threats; climate change will be the last of the seven to bring society as we know it to an end. We are at the end of this decade, but we are hurtling towards the precipice of an ending of a more fatalist kind. Common Weal has recognised that and written a viable roadmap for the kind of green revolution that we need to survive and see a world worth living in, for all of us.

For those of us who care very deeply about our planet and our society, the Common Home Plan may not seem radical enough. It does not demand a total dismantling of capitalism – it does not demand we make the country carbon neutral by 2020. But I encourage readers to take a leaf through the plan, as it is clear that this would be a mammoth undertaking. This is not a set of targets to aim toward and fail, nor is it a list of deadlines with no notion attached of how to meet them. This is a viable, concrete set of instructions for the kind of green revolution that we need to survive and see a world worth living in. In this sense, it is the most radical of documents – it is an instruction manual.

Over two years, Common Weal worked with experts across disciplines trying to concoct a template for this utopia. They knew that leaving the future in the hands of politician at the mercy of election cycles and with vested interests in the continuation of the status quo would never result in the kind of radical, systemic change that we need to see.

But right now, this is just a plan. It’s my job, along with the rest of the Common Weal activists, Young Team, and campaigners to make this happen – this is not merely a utopic dream, but a transmutable reality. That’s where the students of Edinburgh come in. We, as a voting population, as potential and experienced activists, as the young people whose future this is, have a responsibility to protect our Common Home – a home that this plan could nurture. This Green New Deal is a weapon of progress; we cannot protect the structural causes of our ecological, social, and psychological ills and advocate gradual adjustments, it is time for a radical paradigmatic shift.

We are part of a grassroots network of people all across Scotland working to concretize this plan as policy. We are meeting, strategizing, questioning, organizing, doubting, supporting, laughing, and hoping. We are shaping this movement, and this conversation.

If your student life is missing some action-orientated hope-focused activism, look for the seminar we will be running next semester, where you can learn, discuss, and interrogate everything in the Common Home plan with us.


All quoted facts and figures are from Common Weal.

All of Common Weal’s policy papers and The Common Home Plan are free to download from and