When Argyll and Bute council’s planning department asked David Blair if the huge wooden ark he had raised on a hillside overlooking the Kyles of Bute was a permanent structure, he did not think long about his answer.
“I told them it’s not permanent in the same way that humanity won’t be if we don’t take action on the climate,” says Blair, with a laugh that does not diminish the urgency of his message.
Built from European larch, the 20-metre-long, six-metre-high boat frame stands about half a mile up the road from the village of Tighnabruaich, on the Cowal peninsula, in a field that Blair – a woodsman by trade – has taken as a grazing let for a year, and near a convenient parking spot so that visitors can stop off to investigate.
“It is a beautiful structure,” he says, “and I hope it stands as a symbol of strength and urgency. I thought I’d have to put up signs explaining it but its already being well visited and the majority interpret it to be about climate change, sea levels and Cop26,” the climate conference taking place in Glasgow this year.
The elegant structure was built by Blair and other members of Tighnabruaichs’s Extinction Rebellion chapter over the two-week period of the Impossible Rebellion this month, a series of climate protests across the UK calling for an end to investment in fossil fuels.
With world leaders, as well as representatives from global civil society and indigenous communities, converging in Glasgow this November for Cop26, Blair says he wanted to do something in advance “to up the game, and raise awareness”.
“I thought of an ark because we know the story of Noah and the great flood from nursery school, and I wanted to make that deep connection with people.”
He hopes their efforts will encourage other Scots to do everything they can to raise the energy and pressure on decision-makers before the conference, in particular at a time when it can feel individual efforts are meaningless in the face of such a monumental crisis.
Blair admits there have been “a couple of negative comments locally, but that’s to be expected”. At the local Church of Scotland, the minister talked about Noah, the ark and sea level changes today in his latest Sunday sermon, while a couple of local schools are planning class visits.
As for the planning department, Blair ponders whether his ark should remain in situ until 2045, when the Scottish government has pledged to reach net zero carbon emissions. “I hope it encourages leaders to think big and be bold.”