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Change for change’s sake

A man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Else what’s heaven for?

So, a man who held the exalted position of Environment Secretary for two years is against the Climate Change Act.

Err, forgive my ignorance, but doesn’t the Climate Change Act aim to “protect” our environment from the worst excesses of our westernised, fossil-fuel dependent lifestyle?

Even worse, Owen Patterson made his pronouncements against the Act in a lecture hosted by the climate sceptic Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).

He argued that, unless the Government changes its energy policy away from wind farms and towards smaller scale nuclear power plants and fracking that Britain will struggle to “keep the lights on”.

While there may or not be some truth amongst his rhetoric, Patterson also wants the government to suspend the Climate Change Act and its target for cutting emissions 80 per cent by 2050 until other countries do something similar. In fact, he believes that the Government should be prepared to can it altogether if other nation’s can’t be persuaded to ‘do their bit’.

That’s strikes me a rather like saying – well I’m only going to do it if someone else is doing it too. The sort of thing you might hear at a school PTA meeting about manning the Summer Fete BBQ. Not something you expect from a politician who went into politics, presumably, in order to improve the common good.

I mean, isn’t politics supposed to be the ultimate altruistic career move – allowing your peers and neighbours to elect you so that you can act on their behalf at the heart of Government. And yes, I am painfully aware of how naive that sounds!

Our climate has changed and will continue to change. Whether you believe that this is down to global warming caused by our continued use of fossil fuels or just a general change caused by a million-year-old planet spinning its way in the universe, the fact is that our climate has changed and will continue to do so.

We’ve always had floods and hurricanes and droughts. Are they getting worse or more plentiful? Or are we just more aware of them now? Climate change sceptics think they know the answer, so do those campaigning for action on climate change.

Patterson is right in one area – we do need to ‘keep the lights’ on. However, is tearing up the Climate Change Act going to reduce our need for energy or suddenly make more energy available? Probably not. And really, it would have been nice if a man who once held the title of Environment Secretary could be trusted to actually care about the environment.

The Climate Change Act is by no means perfect but it is a start in ensuring that we go at least part of the way in reducing the effects on the planet of our dependence on fossil fuels. Yes, it has some tough targets, but surely, aiming for them is better than not bothering at all?

Maybe a better way would be for the Government to come up with a way to encourage people to reduce emissions – and help to keep the lights on – by, say, using less energy to, for example, heat their homes. They could give it a jazzy ecological-sounding name, like, The Green Deal. That would work. Surely everyone would flock to take that up and our energy consumption and, consequently, our greenhouse gas emissions would fall.

What’s that? Oh.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Fiona Russell-Horne
Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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