Three days ago the front page of The Independent had a very big picture of the sun on it. Yes, it was another of those end-is-nigh global warming alerts. This time the headline, provoked by the Government's admission that it had failed to meet its carbon emission reduction target, was "Global warming: Your chance to change the climate." Readers were invited to send in their own personal proposals to reduce climate change.
And they - or rather, you - have certainly not let this newspaper down. Pages and pages of letters have been published - eight on Wednesday alone, and another five today. I don't know how many forests that adds up to, but since the latest scientific evidence suggests that trees actually contribute to the supply of CO 2 into the atmosphere perhaps this should not be of ecological concern.
In a way, the Independent's initiative is a very attractive one. If individuals, despairing of the Government's ability to reduce carbon emissions by legislation, suggest ways in which the objective could be met by voluntary action, then anyone who despairs at the politically fashionable idea of the state as moral enforcer should be encouraged. There is, however, a problem. You, dear reader, have no chance whatever to change the climate.
One of the strangest things about the global warming debate in this country is its quaintly old-fashioned arrogance. When we controlled an empire covering approximately two thirds of the earth's surface, what was done or decided in the United Kingdom indeed had the potential to change the world.
Now, however, we as a nation are responsible for less than 2 per cent of the world's carbon emissions. If these islands were to be vaporised tomorrow there would be no statistically significant effect on the future of the world's climate - even if you believe that man-made CO 2 emissions are indeed the cause of what is commonly known as global warming.
Among the many peculiarities of the Kyoto accord is the fact that the People's Republic of China is effectively excluded from its commitments. Thus China, which is already the world's second largest producer of industrial energy, last year set out on a seven-year programme to build over 500 new coal-fired power stations.
Now, what will be the impact on Chinese political opinion of the individual moralising of this nation? My guess - it's more of a forecast, actually - is: absolutely nothing. If we seriously want to impress the Chinese - and help our own industrial base at the same time - an infinitely more promising approach is to develop cheaper methods of "clean coal" technology which could be sold under licence to China.
The one thing of which we can be absolutely certain is that those countless millions of rural Chinese who currently live without electricity will not be persuaded that they should abstain from the industrial progress which has bought warmth, comfort and good health to the people of western Europe; although if any of this paper's readers who despise the life of conspicuous consumption wish to swap places with a member of the Chinese peasantry, I'm sure they will find no shortage of takers.
A number of the contributors to the Independent's climate change debate argue that it is only through abandoning economic growth that this country will reduce its use of energy. In fact the Western nations have for years been reducing their use of energy per unit of output, but it is certainly true that a shrinking economy will use less energy than a growing one.
One correspondent, Richard Smith, points out, however, that "capitalism is an economic system with a built in motor of growth. It can not exist without constantly growing, without consuming ever more resources. No programme to deal with climate change will do anything ... unless it changes this economic system... To imagine that you can construct a capitalism that does not grow... is a lunatic delusion."
In this letter one sees, I believe, part of the ideological force behind anti-global warming activism. It is based on a horror of capitalism, a hatred of the "wasteful" choice that such a system creates, and a loathing of the profits that are the engine of growth. The environmental movement has for some time - certainly since the fall of the Berlin Wall - hoovered up the people who in an earlier generation would have described themselves as Marxists. It is as if the political traffic lights have changed and red has become green.
Such people - in this country at least - have not thought through the full consequences of their philosophy. Colin Challen MP, the Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group, argued in this newspaper that we should abandon the pursuit of economic growth.
Fine, let us allow our economy to shrink. The consequences will not just be a rise in unemployment, but a dramatic fall in the profits of businesses. Now, where does Mr Challen think the growing money for the NHS and state schools comes from? It comes from taxes, which can be raised only as a charge on profits, either individual - my selling this article to The Independent, for example--or corporate: the Independent Media Group selling this newspaper to you.
If the hair-shirt environmentalists really want a country with increasing unemployment combined with dramatic reductions in government spending they should advocate it openly. I do not believe it would be an attractive election manifesto, although Mr Challen is welcome to try to prove me wrong. James Lovelock's proposal that a dramatic increase in nuclear power is the only way to combine significant CO 2 reductions with economic prosperity is, I suspect, more likely to appeal to the public.
That, of course, makes the assumption that global warming is indeed the looming Armageddon. I am not qualified to know whether it is or not, and nor are the vast majority of people who say that it is, including the Government's Chief Scientific Advisor: Sir David King, who is given to dramatic warnings about the fate of the planet, is not a climatologist, but a chemist (although obviously not in the sense that he sells shampoo and contraceptives).
There is a significant minority of genuine experts in the field who believe that the Armageddon scenario is grossly oversold, especially by climatologists in pursuit of government funding and research grants. Such dissidents are treated as if they were heretics within an established religion-- which in many ways the anti-global warming campaign resembles.
Like many primitive religions it is based around sun-worship, and the fear of natural catastrophe, such as a flood that will drown us all. Its most devoted adherents have that characteristic which is a particularly irritating aspect of the self-righteously religious - that sharing in the belief is in itself a sign of virtue. But even if you are of the true faith, you can not seriously believe in the miracle that you personally have a "chance to change the climate".Reuse content