Paul Vallely: First step... change the light bulbs


I've finally done it. This week I shelled out £4.99 for a lightbulb. A Phillips Softone 6 Year Ambiance Energy Saver to be precise. It gives out the same light as a 60 watt bulb but uses only 12W. I've been meaning to do this ever since someone told me that if every household in the UK switched three ordinary bulbs to low-energy ones it would be the equivalent of taking 2 million cars off the road. But until this week I've never quite got round to it.

That is the real poser about global warming. Though we all keep reading apocalyptic articles about climate change most of us do not really believe them enough to actually do anything about it. A recent survey found that 70 per cent of us now accept that air travel harms the environment, but that the majority have taken at least one flight in the past year.

But a few weeks ago I reached my personal tipping point. Our household has always put out copious amounts of wine bottles and newspapers for the recycling men. But we've now taken to recycling plastic bottles, tins, drinks cans and glass jars too - all of which has, admittedly, upped our consumption of water and washing-up liquid. I've also rearranged the electrical plugs under my desk so that the TV, computer, printer etc can all be switched off with a single switch-flick at night.

The thing is, I'm still not entirely convinced, it's just that I've decided to err on the side of caution (especially since discovering that a mobile phone charger, even with no phone attached, adds £26 a quarter to the electricity bill). The Stern report on climate change has only underscored my instinct that a lot of the current hyperventilation about climate change is a combination of intellectually dishonest political posturing.

We've been subjected recently to a lot of point-scoring about Britain's domestic record. The Tories say the UK is belching out more carbon now than in 1990. No, say the government, greenhouse gases are down. They're both right because carbon emissions are up (though not as much as they would have been without Labour's Climate Change Levy which has cut output by 28 million tons) but greenhouse gases, which also include methane and nitrous oxide, are down overall.

Yet since Britain is responsible for a mere 2 per cent of global emissions all this is pretty academic. Yes, it's right that Tony Blair can claim to have set a good example - cutting overall gases by 7 per cent over the past 10 years while increasing the economy by 25 per cent. And yes, he needs to do a lot more if he is to maintain Britain's credibility when he is arguing with other world leaders.

But what Stern so lucidly demonstrates is that all of this - like my recycling - is really a side-show. The problem is global. A ton of carbon emitted in Bangalore is as dangerous as a ton of carbon emitted in Birmingham. If Britain closed all its power stations tomorrow, within 13 months China's emissions would have filled the gap we'd created.

That means the real battle must be fought internationally not domestically. Unless Tony Blair and Gordon Brown can demonstrate the political acumen, which they showed over Africa at Gleneagles, to win worldwide support for a global cap-and-trade system, all our domestic efforts will go for naught. And my increased greening of the Vallely household will be about as much use as David Cameron cycling to work, with his briefcase and suit being chauffered on behind.

Mother's hope for hounded star

There is a moment in The Queen in which a member of the public says about Princess Diana that we all hounded her to death with our insatiable prurience. The movie came to mind yesterday morning listening to the mother of "troubled druggie rockstar" Pete Doherty.

She called him Peter, as mothers do. And she was complaining, to Aled Jones on Good Morning Sunday, that what she found hardest was the way the press dogged his every step, provoking him as he staggered through attempt after attempt at rehab. "Why don't they leave him alone, and just allow him to recover?" she asked with poignant innocence. "What more do they want to find out?"

Nothing, of course. Pete is just another puppet in the tawdry tableau that is tabloid Britain - and which cares nothing for the fact that behind Potty Pete is the Peter for whom his mother has such desperate hope.

* We forgot to change the alarm yesterday and, instead of being woken to the news, got Radio 4 an hour earlier and heard someone telling a story.

It was about a raven, perched on a branch in the cold dawn, with the bloody body of a nestling in its beak. It sat unmoving - ominous, unperturbed, untouchable - as the parents of the dead chick screeched helplessly around the tree. Out of the woods a flock of other small birds, of many varieties, fluttered to join in the anguished cries of the tiny parents.

It was a moment of deep darkness. Strange how potent myth is, in the half-light of reluctant wakefulness. But the story continued. As the sun rose, a solitary sparrow began to sing, hesitantly, then joyfully at the beauty of the warming day. The rest joined in. Because life is sweet and sunlight beautiful.

I got up and changed the clocks.

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