Can we afford to miss the boat?

The ‘Ark’ in Tighnabruaich stands more than 20 metres long, six metres high and over five metres wide, with a bench seat all the way around the base where people to sit on and think about what is in front of them. Photographs: David Blair

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Before global leaders decide the fate of the planet at COP26, a ‘Biblical scale’ sculpture of Noah’s Ark has been built overlooking the Kyles of Bute, to provoke thought about the climate crisis projected to put Oban, Lochgilphead, Inveraray and Fort William under water within 30 years.

The structure in Tighnabruaich, designed by local environmentalist David Blair ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow’s SECC, stands more than 20 metres long, six metres high and over five metres wide, with a bench seat all the way around the base for people to sit and think about what is in front of them.

‘With COP26 coming to Glasgow in November, the Ark was an idea whose time had come,’ said David, who first conceived of the artwork 20 years ago.

‘Its massive scale reflects the great challenge we face, to galvanize the world’s governments to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

‘Argyll and Bute Council has not declared a climate emergency, even though much of the road network will be threatened by sea-level rise by 2050,’ he added, pointing to a website, coastal.climatecentral.org, showing how projected sea level rises will affect coastal communities in the next 30 years.

The projection shows large parts of Oban, Lochgilphead, Inveraray, Crinan, Campbeltown and Fort William inundated with water, as well as much of Paisley, Dumbarton, Stirling, Falkirk, Alloa, and Leith, making many residential areas uninhabitable.

‘The Ark is a form that most people will connect with,’ he explained: ‘Its synchronicity with Noah and the great flood resonates with sea level rises due to climate change, with many species and habitats threatened with extinction.

‘My hope is that it is a story that went to the heart rather than the brain. I think people get numb to all the disasters.’

David, a woodsman who has lived in Tighnabruaich for more than 25 years, saw the climate crisis coming a long time ago, and decided to help as much as he could by living sustainably.

He owns and runs the Dunbeag Hydro Scheme, and is involved with the charitable Kilfinan Community Forest Company.

‘I have lived with this as the background for the last 20 years,’ he said. ‘It has steered my life. You cannot ignore it now. It’s out there every day.

‘I do not want to scare people, but is it kinder to not let them know? I should have been building a shed; I need a new shed. It is easy to ignore it and think it will be alright. But I cannot – it is far too serious. It is going to change everything about how we live.

‘It is in the governments’ hands now. The governments of the world are not taking it seriously enough. They need to make sweeping changes.

‘It does feel like this is the last best chance we have got. If it fails, I do not think we are are going to pull this around. We are on the edge.

‘We might be passed the turning point where, whatever we do, it will make no difference. I am concerned humanity will miss the boat.

‘We need to do all we can to encourage governments to act. Governments respond to people. They need to take action, and take it now.

‘The art is all I can do to raise the debate where I live. It’s what I can do. I had access to the wood and knowledge how to put it together.’

Designed by David, the Ark was built with brother Rob and friend Scott Smith during the two weeks of the XR Impossible Rebellion in London.

The Ark is made from a European Larch tree felled locally to avoid the spread of the fungal disease Phytophthora ramorum.

‘There is a lot of the disease around here,’ he said. ‘The fear is that it gets into the sitka spruce, and that is the forestry industry gone. It is just being felled to waste.

‘There are huge holes in the hillside. I feel we are going to lose larch from Scotland probably in the next decade or two. Climate change is exacerbating this disease.

‘Without thinking big and taking bold enough action, a million species are threatened with extinction, including a third of all tree species,’ he added.

‘The Ark is a call to action – we cannot afford to miss this boat. Climate change is by far the greatest threat that humanity, and most of life on Earth, has ever faced, and it is only us that can do anything about it.

‘Think big, be bold, act now.’