Dominic Lawson: This is a Government which doesn't really believe in the threat of climate change

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It's a brave reporter who challenges Arnold Schwarzenegger face to face. Who knows what physical retribution the former Terminator might wreak? Yet one man was brave enough to trade (verbal) blows with the Governor of California last week.

It followed the revelation by the Los Angeles Times that Schwarzenegger – who after Al Gore is the US politician most identified with the "battle against climate change" – had been commuting almost every day by private jet.

Let me share with you this extract from a transcript of a news conference, as released by Schwarzenegger's office: "Governor, there have been reports coming out that you're flying up and down the state on a daily basis in a [private] jet...How do you reconcile your public rhetoric on global warming versus your personal lifestyle choices?".

"Are you always that positive? What a positive guy! To me it's very important that I serve the people of California but also at the same time that I serve my family... do the homework with the kids, spend time with my wife and everything."

"So global warming is for other people to worry about, as long as you can afford carbon offsetting?"

"You're absolutely correct. Global warming is very important and that's why we're fighting global warming... in all kinds of things we are promoting."

Schwarzenegger might be a hypocrite, but at least he is not charging the public: it's his own private jet and he's paying all the bills. In Britain, where the New Labour government vies with the Governor of California to be seen as a "leader in the battle against global warming", such moral inconsistency is entirely funded by the taxpayer.

Yesterday it was disclosed that two Cabinet ministers, Ed Balls and Shaun Woodward, used chauffeur-driven ministerial cars to travel 150 yards from Downing Street to a dinner party for Labour donors. The chauffeurs waited outside and then after dinner drove the pair, separately, a further 300 yards to the House of Commons. This has come to light because the Conservative MP Justine Greening has written to the Cabinet Secretary arguing that since the event was a Labour Party fundraiser, official limousines should not have been made available – at least for the first 150 yards of this 450-yard round trip.

The more obvious, but less party-political point, is that if ministers truly believe what they say about the dire threat of irreversible and murderous climate change through man-made carbon emissions, how could they simultaneously behave in such a casually wasteful manner? Surely they cannot be so wicked as knowingly to condemn another African to a premature death through thirst – or whatever the latest climate-catastrophe theory insists – in order to avoid walking for a quarter of a mile down Whitehall?

I think it is more likely that the ministers, deep down, don't really believe the conventional wisdom that such consequences flow from being driven everywhere in limousines – but of course they would do anything rather than confess that: better even to be thought a monumental hypocrite than a "climate change denier".

If I am right, it would explain quite a lot about Alistair Darling's first Budget, which was pre-sold as being "The Greenest Budget in history". The allegedly passionless Darling emoted impressively about the scale of the problems posed by man-made climate change: "We need to do more and we need to do it now. There will be catastrophic economic and social consequences if we fail to act."

So he deferred the increase in duty on petrol that had been originally scheduled for this Budget; instead he promised that from 2010 cars with the biggest engines would face a one off levy – amounting to £950 for top-of-the-range 4x4s.

This is, of course, not rational if you really believe that unpredictable weather is caused by the consumption of petrol. In that case you would continue to concentrate solely (and proportionately) on the actual use of petrol, through excise charged at the pump, rather than on the size of a car's engine. The new levy, however, qualifies as an "eye-catching initiative", just as does Mr Darling's threat to make retailers charge the public for disposable bags, even though this will do nothing to reduce carbon emissions.

Mr Darling's promised measures to make homes "greener" amount to a similar exercise in spectacular tokenism. Under all the rhetoric about "zero-carbon" houses, the Chancellor's actual commitment was for grants of £26m for such improvements as loft insulation, solar panels and roof-top wind turbines. This means that if every household in England and Wales were to implement such measures, each of them would get an additional grant of one pound. Since a wind turbine costs thousands of pounds to install ( assuming you get the planning permission), and takes more than 50 years to recover those costs through fuel bill reductions, I fear that Mr Darling's solitary pound will not have a decisive influence.

So the Green lobby has been united in denouncing Mr Darling for failing to deliver on his promise to deliver a Budget which would help to save the planet. To be fair to the Chancellor, to have satisfied them would have been politically suicidal. He is clearly – and rightly – concerned with the rise in "fuel poverty", as energy costs have soared.

Ministers have even waved the (probably illegal) threat of some form of statutory price controls at electricity and gas suppliers, and have – not so very long ago – bleated to Saudi Arabia to bring down the price of oil by increasing the supply of crude to the market.

Yet if the Government really believed that the planet was being brought to premature extinction through the consumption of fossil fuels, it would be encouraging the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Counties (Opec) to keep on squeezing the consumer, and thus choking off demand. It would be happy that, partly as a result of the Saudis' refusal to boost production, domestic fuel bills could rise to the level at which people might decide to keep the central heating switched off and instead wear balaclavas and mittens indoors.

It would, admittedly, be a brave Government – and a short-lived one – which told voters that a bit more shivering in the cold is the price we must all pay to ensure that the inhabitants of the Southern Hemisphere don't have to endure even hotter weather than they do already.

It would be an even more bizarre Government which implemented such policies even though its members couldn't quite believe the stories of catastrophic man-made climate change in the first place. This Government is not actually deranged and neither does it have a death wish: so it will continue to ensure that its policies don't match its rhetoric.

All the same, I do think that its ministers might, for their own benefit, get out of their gas-guzzling limousines and walk a few yards every now and then – if only to prove to an increasingly sceptical public that theyreally do believe what they say.

d.lawson@independent.co.uk

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