In the lead-up to Christmas, a decision with profound effects on our pockets and environment emerged, putting water customers on the first six-years of a 20-year-long water charges escalator. Those charges will more than double to finance significantly increased consumption of capital spending by Scottish Water. More asset replacement and £6 billion of new assets. With every pound of that spending comes carbon emissions. With a green wash applied, it is billed as a strategy to achieve net zero emissions from one that was developed to answer the question of how to quantify and sustainably finance growth in asset replacement spending.
The answer the regulator arrives at seems straightforward: just sink your hands deeper into the pockets of customers who cannot take their custom elsewhere. It is the answer of monopolists down the ages – something regulation was generally invented to guard against. Eleven responses were received to the consultation on the proposals.
In the same week, Greta Thunberg was commenting on the anniversary of the Paris climate agreement. She pointed to decisions still 'speeding in the wrong direction', demanding that 'action needs to be taken right here and now' as our forever carbon budget rapidly depletes. Greta has many millions of followers.
Later that week, David Attenborough spoke of his hopes for the planet. Though born almost 80 years apart, he and Greta Thunberg stand on the same ground in calling for urgent action before it is too late for our planet. He spoke in particular of the 'finite' nature of the planet's resources and the need for 'restraint'.
Greta Thunberg and subsequent generations will inherit today's decisions affecting their planet. They will come to pay the costs, both financial and environmental. So, what might that generation make of Scotland's first longer-term public investment strategy since the declaration of our climate emergency?
There is likely to be a smiley face for important actions to promote greater biodiversity and natural carbon storage by planting more trees and ensure healthy peat bogs in our water catchments; and actions to generate more renewable electricity while also reducing electricity use.
There might have been another for prioritising eliminating the significant over-consumption of water Scotland has compared to independent standards, except building more infrastructure takes a higher priority.
There might be a welcome to a 2040 net zero target and the ambition to go further later. Or might that fall into the categories Greta Thunberg decried as 'dangerous narrative that gives [only] the impression of progress' and 'hypothetical targets'.
The activists of Greta Thunberg's generation might conclude that exactly the wrong strategic questions were addressed. Instead of asking how we finance our appetite for more capital consumption (and thus more immediate emissions), perhaps the questions the planet needed answered was how to make our existing assets last much longer; how to show restraint, use less water, ensure our consumption of capital reduced over time; and promote the new thinking, innovation and incentives required to meet those more challenging and more sustainable goals.
But surely moving to net zero sorts all that – you can consume more as long as you somehow net off the emissions? This is where Greta Thunberg and fellow Fridays for Future activists are hottest in calling out today's decision makers. They rail at the inter-generational unfairness of this equation, consuming our forever carbon budget now, while planning to do better later (without guarantees we actually will). They may see this as the most egregious aspect of the water regulators strategy, leaving them with an impossible equation to reconcile when it is all too late.
In seeking to guarantee an increased rate of capital consumption, the economic regulator has set rigid expectations on the minimum amount of resource that must be available to finance increased spending: promoting greater consumption as a matter of regulatory policy.
The verdict of the Thunberg generation could be harsh: a forward strategy that sought to answer the wrong questions for their generation; that didn't show the 'restraint' David Attenborough advises; that set incentives to create more emissions now; failing the good ancestor test by consuming more in the face of the science and well-articulated pleadings from our children.
Claims of an ethical approach might be dismissed as putting the needs of the planet first is probably the only ethical and economically efficient option. A forward strategy that might be held up more as warning than example? If that is their judgement, I take my share of responsibility as I was for a time part of the process which was given access to the issues. I was motivated to be at the forefront of arguments to take the environmental issues much more seriously. But I erred in thinking that committing to a net zero approach was enough.
In my view, the strategy has unsustainable costs for families over time and will not endure. To address that, the concerns of one of our most distinguished citizens and our inspiring younger generation, we need to move beyond systems that stoke consumption, hold restraint as a key virtue, and act as if Mother Earth is in the room when making decisions.
Peter Peacock has previously chaired the Customer Forum for Water and is a former Scottish Government Minister