TODAY the Scottish Parliament debates the Climate Change Bill, which is in part an effort to put flesh on the bones of what Nicola Sturgeon had to say about the subject during her keynote speech to the SNP Conference in Edinburgh a month ago.

Describing how impressed she had been by schoolkids skiving off on a Friday to show their concern with climate change, she said: “As First Minister of Scotland, I am declaring that there is a climate emergency. And Scotland will live up to our responsibility to tackle it.”

What Nicola avoided mentioning was that up to now our record in these matters is mediocre. The latest year for which reliable figures have been worked out is 2017, when total emissions fell by 3.3%. But we took part in an EU scheme that in effect allows power stations and industrial plants to “trade” their greenhouse gases, meaning that adjusted emissions – those that are used for setting targets – increased by 3.7%. So we are not as virtuous as we suppose.

At the SNP Conference it was therefore prudent of the First Minister to avoid detail on the exact nature of the emergency she declared, or of what she meant to do about it. Instead she has left it to her Environment Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, to write amendments into the Climate Change Bill introduced at Holyrood more than a year ago. It had since trundled through the usual legislative procedures with no sense at all of anything imperative about it. Roseanna’s main change to it would call for targets on achieving net zero carbon emissions to be met by 2045 instead of by 2050. Still nothing all that imperative, then.

I confess I am somewhat underwhelmed at this. Nowadays, emergencies seem to be multiplying all over the place. Like many overused words, emergency is starting to lose its meaning, till it indicates little more than a mess or a snag.

The World Health Organisation has just posted a web page declaring emergencies in air pollution, physical inactivity, drought (or else inundation), antimicrobial resistance, vaccine hesitancy, an influenza pandemic, Ebola, Dengue and HIV. At this rate of emergency, we’d be lucky if there were any of us left by 2045.

I would have guessed that, on the contrary, there are today more human beings healthier than ever before, though no doubt that’s just me wool-gathering. But surely some sense of urgency is essential to an emergency? – “the house is on fire and, if you don’t get out now, you will burn to death.” Yet, if it’s climate change that counts as the big emergency in Scotland, we stretch the definition to mean “maybe in 26 years’ time”.

There are other people underwhelmed by the Scottish Government’s measures, though for a different reason. They have been getting up to no good on the Black Isle, one of the nicest corners of the country, pretty but largely free of tourists, if now beset by militant Greens intent on saving us all from ourselves.

The only blot on this tranquil landscape appears when you drive over the brow of a hill towards the northern end of the peninsula. There you can often see the Cromarty Firth congested with the oil rigs which have been brought in from the high seas to this sheltered inlet for repair and maintenance.

In the last few days the peace and quiet have been disturbed by protest as, in a sort of cat-and-mouse game, environmental activists have repeatedly occupied a rig, and been removed by the police in rather risky operations. During one of these escapades the executive director of Greenpeace UK, John Sauven, commented: “Our climbers are back on the oil rig and determined to stay for as long as possible. BP are heading out to drill a new well giving them access to 30m barrels of oil – something we can’t afford in the middle of a climate emergency.

“We can’t give up and let oil giants carry on with business as usual because that means giving up on a habitable planet and our kids’ future. The UK Government has announced a target of net zero greenhouse emissions by 2050 – we have started to enforce it.”

You see what happens when use of language becomes too loose, an offence of which I had already accused the Scottish Government in last week’s column. Other people seize on it and twist it to make it mean what they want it to mean rather than what you thought it meant. Sturgeon and Sauven both use the term climate emergency, but does she mean the same by it as he does? Put it a different way, are

30 million barrels of oil desirable for Scotland or undesirable? She says one thing, he says another. Dialogue becomes impossible if we reduce it to sloppy slogans.

In fact I do not believe Nicola can possibly think 30m barrels of oil are a bad thing. The falling oil price was one of the rugs pulled from under the feet of us Yes voters in 2014. Now the oil price is rising again, that is at least one of the pitfalls removed as we advance towards indyref2.

A big reason why the referendum of 2014 was lost lay in the revelation by the international commodity markets that oil prices can go down as well as up, and that when they go down they may take political causes with them, including Scotland’s own. People who voted Yes have to rejoice at every shift that brings the day of freedom nearer. But suppose there is a conflict between this and a climate emergency? Which do we choose? I think we should be told.

With declarations from the Scottish Government so void of content, I can only turn to my esteemed colleague and environmental enthusiast Lesley Riddoch. In a recent column she warned that one of these days we will no longer be allowed to drink cow’s milk (not least because cattle will in any event have vanished from the Scottish countryside).

Steak pies, like those traditionally eaten at football grounds, will therefore no longer be available either. For sustenance through a freezing afternoon on the terraces, punters will need to chew tofu. It will not even be worth their while to ease the ordeal by dreams of Benidorm, because summer flights to the sun will long ago have been banned as well. Surely Scots, afflicted by summers like the one we are having just now, should be entitled to an exemption.

And Lesley is the soul of moderation, in that she assumes it will be 2050 before this Green paradise is ushered in. By contrast, the protesters of the Cromarty Firth demand net zero carbon emissions by 2025. I’m beginning to think we should call their bluff.

With more than three-quarters of our present energy consumption coming from fossil fuels, that goal is in essence impossible, or achievable only at such vast cost to, and impact on, our living standards, that trying to reach it would destroy the public case for genuine action for a generation and more.

We would have time to take the measure of this climate emergency, and judge what to do about it free of groundless hysteria and empty rhetoric.