Simon Carr: What, action on climate change? On yer bike!

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The Independent Online

Is climate change the greatest challenge facing mankind? Ministers from the PM down tell us it is. If we don't act, we will be facing the greatest global catastrophe since the Black Death. If that is the case, why are we doing so little about it?

During his party conference, when suggested to the relevant minister he might decrease VAT on low-energy light bulbs, he reacted as though this was a one of those beautiful but impossible dream, like wiping out Aids in Africa. "Ah, but it would take three years to get it through Parliament," he said sadly.

There's a new motorcycle called the Vectrix which can get you 70 miles for about 20p; and if the electricity comes from a gas-fuelled power station, the environmental advantage is enormous. The bikes cost about £6,000 and they buzz along perfectly well.

When I phoned up Mr Vectrix and asked whether a government order for 50,000 bikes would allow him to halve the price he rather jumped at it. It's a £150m purchase; not nothing, but the upside of public servants in electric vehicles is a global electric vehicle industry with the Government carrying none of the risk.

Why can't these simple things be done any more? If things are as serious as the political class tells us, why don't they turn down the heating in public buildings by three degrees? No, it's another beautiful dream. There'd be all sorts of reasons why that would be impossible. Best practice codes. Minimum working conditions agreements. Health and safety regulations. Two degrees? One?

We are facing a global cataclysm and yet the Government can't bring itself to ask public servants to come to work in sweaters. Even though the winters are hardly even cold any more. That is the measure of governmental inability.

* Here's a thought: if President George Bush's fortune - his personal, family cash - were dependent on peace in Iraq, do you think he would have sent in more invasion troops? If post-war Iraq had caused his share portfolio to halve, would he be more prudent about his public policy of security and reconstruction?

I ask only because less oil is flowing out of Iraq than before the invasion. Where it was 2.6 million barrels a day under Saddam, it's now around 1.9 million. It's also true that the country has produced 3.7 million barrels a day in its time, and would certainly be capable of producing double that if its untapped fields were developed. That's as much as 10 per cent of world production. Who benefits from low production? Restricted supply means higher prices. Anyone with oil shares has done very well out of the Iraq war. Solid national security and the investment of a fraction of the costs of disorder could treble Iraqi oil production and perhaps bring oil prices down into - who knows? - the $30 range.

Personally, I don't believe that the President is fostering chaos in the Middle East to sex up his oil shareholdings. But I do say that if his public policy were privately impoverishing him that he would have a rather different attitude to the war.

That's quite cynical enough to be going on with.

There's a whopping new poster and press campaign run by the Health and Safety Executive. The full-sized poster features a jogger in a multi-coloured track suit surrounded by snapping paparazzi. If you haven't seen the campaign, I invite you to imagine what caption could possibly justify its expense. What urgent news justifies the cost of its telling? The more I look at it the angrier I'm getting. It makes me slightly nauseous and there's a throbbing between my temples, symptoms normally associated with a futile legal action.

The line on the poster reads "Staying active can help a bad back". This statement falls into the category of "true but useless", because equally true is the statement: "Lying face down on the floor can help a bad back". The small print tells employers to "encourage their staff to stay active" if they have bad backs. And they are told "to act early". The sign-off line is "Whatever your job look after your back".

How is this campaign to be judged?Not on whether absenteeism due to bad backs reduces. That would be a vulgar, bean-counting approach. No, they'll have to come up with some research that shows they have changed attitudes to bad backs. (It's the notorious excuse of malingers.) They'll get some data showing that 28 per cent of employers are now "somewhat more likely or much more likely to encourage employees with bad backs to remain active".

This is admirable for malingerers - but it could be very dangerous for people who have bad backs. My own bad back gets much worse when I run. (I don't run well.) And then there's my blood pressure, severely worsened by this campaign.

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