Instant Quantum

Member of the Month: Paperboats

We’re delighted to shine a spotlight on Paperboats as our first Member of the Month for 2024. Kick start your climate action for the new year by getting involved in their inspiring campaign and make a boat of your own or get your school, library or community involved. See their website for details and to keep in touch with their campaign by signing up to the Paperboats newsletter.  


Tell us about your organisation/community group.  

Paperboats is a collective of writers and artists focussed on nature and environment at a time of accelerating climate and ecological breakdown. We are Scotland based, but global in outlook, and write to affirm the astonishing life of this planet. We run gentle activism campaigns with an uncompromising message: the era of fossil fuels must now come to a just end.

What inspired you to take your first step into community climate action? 

At the start of 2023, a group of us with a loose connection to Stirling University, gathered to share our concerns about the speed and ferocity of the climate emergency and its impacts on Scotland’s nature and the wider world. We found ourselves dismayed at the lack of meaningful political action. The COP process in particular, hijacked by fossil-fuel lobbyists, has failed to deliver change proportional to the scale of the emergency, condemning those on the front lines of climate change to a precarious present, and resulting in epidemic levels of climate anxiety in our own young folk. We wanted to join those raising their voices for a rapid and fair transition away from fossil fuels. Our overarching message is to keep climate hope afloat, and we take as our inspiration, the poem What the Clyde Said After Cop26, written by Scottish Maker, Kathleen Jamie

The humble and fragile Paperboat is both the symbol for our movement and the tool we use for activism.

What’s the one community climate action you’ve undertaken that you think had the most impact? 

On the 23 November 2023, we came together for an action outside the Scottish Parliament: 1000 Paperboats, 1000 Climate Hopes. In advance of this, we worked with schools, libraries and community centres to collect climate messages from people across Scotland. Musicians Karine Polwart and Stephen Deazley composed a song delivered on the day by the newly-formed and 80 person-strong, Paperboats Choir. Poems specially written for the occasion by Kathleen Jamie and Hugh McMillan were recited, and then we each set our own fragile climate hopes afloat on the ponds outside the Scottish Parliament. The thousand plus paperboats and climate messages were packaged and delivered to the MSPs representing the constituencies in which they were collected. This was the start of what we hope will be a sustained campaign to politicians of all parties – a shot across their bows. 2024 is likely to be a UK election year and we are aiming to making a flotilla, a navy perhaps, of paperboats as a warning to current and future political leaders at Westminster, that if they fail to commit to serious and sustained action on climate change, they will no longer have our support. We hope to extend this campaign to financial institutions who continue to fund fossil fuels. 

What story from your community would you like to share? 

The response to our 1000 Paperboats, 1000 Climate Hopes campaign was overwhelming and we found ourselves inundated with parcels of boats filled with thoughtful and heart-rending messages. The notes from children in particular demonstrate the vital role that nature plays in their lives. They care deeply about wildlife, clean air and trees. Adults are desperate for green jobs, warm homes, sustainable energy and a fair transition away from a fossil-fuel reliant and growth-based economy. The people of Scotland desperately want change, but feel that it is not coming fast enough. When given an opportunity to raise their voices, they will, but many are uncertain of what they can do.  

Throughout our actions in 2023, we attended many events to give out paperboats offering a simple way for people to send a hard-hitting message to their politicians and financial institutions. This movement is just the start and our climate hope for 2024, is that anyone receiving a paperboat will recognise it as an urgent call to action.

What’s your advice/tips for other community groups wanting to start to take collective action against a changing climate? 

Given the urgent nature of the climate crisis, we wanted to act fast. We set-up very quickly with no resources except the time, ingenuity and meagre finances of our volunteers. We got some things wrong, but listened to feedback and adjusted on the way. We have no formal constitution or committee, but work on the basis of a self-organising system. Our collective organises via a messaging app. Anyone with ideas, can take them forward under the Paperboats banner if they are hopeful, non-violent, legal and speak to our four broad themes: climate, action, writing and Scotland. 

From the beginning, we have followed our instincts by walking away from opportunities that didn’t sit right with us and followed-up those that did, and that we had the capacity to take forward. This more intuitive way of working by following paths of least-resistance, has led to some remarkable collaborations that we could not have expected nor planned for.

Our advice to those wanting to take action: just do it!

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

We are a small group with few resources at our disposal. However, we have demonstrated that we can do a lot with a little. Our principle campaign at present is based on engaging schools, libraries and communities to create paperboat yards for making and sending messages to political leaders as a means of keeping the climate emergency at the forefront of policy. We have a free digital toolkit that we can share with anyone who would like to join this campaign. It’s simple, effective and kids especially, love it!

Our ideas for the collective currently outweigh our capacity to follow them up. In short, we could do with some help – particularly in the areas of social media and fund-raising. We are currently seeking funds to pay writers from the front-lines of the climate emergency to share their vital stories.  

If you can support us in any way or have ideas as to how the Paperboats collective might collaborate with your community or organisation, please get in touch at: hello@paperboats.org

Twitter: @Paperboatswrite

Instagram: @PaperboatsWriters

Facebook: @PaperboatsWriters

Website: paperboats.org