Leading Article: Making good on good intentions


Now the days are growing longer again, this is a good moment to pause and take stock. Even our Stakhanovite Prime Minister has retreated to North Queensferry to lick his wounds and reflect. And The Independent on Sunday can look back at the past year with some satisfaction. On all the issues on which we have campaigned, we sense a transition from good intentions to action.

Our campaign for a better deal for British armed forces stepped up to a new level. This grew out of, but is not directly related to, our opposition to the Iraq war. Our call to renew the Military Covenant, the formal promise by the nation to look after the men and women who risk their lives on our behalf, has been taken up in all parts of society.

We have continued our campaign on mental health now a slightly less unfashionable field than it was when we started six years ago. The Mental Health Bill was substantially amended after our guerrilla war against its draconian provisions. The NHS has begun a big shift in favour of "talking therapies" rather than prescribing antidepressants as a way of tackling the causes of low-level mental illness. And this was the year in which the IoS finally had to choose between this campaign and our longer-standing demand for the decriminalisation of cannabis. We decided that the connection between stronger "skunk" and adolescent psychosis meant that cannabis should remain an illegal drug.

Campaigning has a positive side, too, and this is the time of year to celebrate that. Our Sunday lunch campaign sought to build on the truism of the psychology of family dynamics: that eating together is central to a fulfilling communal life.

We have continued to lead the way on environmental issues, drawing attention to the risks of radiation from mobile phones, Wi-Fi and similar sources. The IoS was the first to report new evidence that people who have used the phones for more than a decade are more likely to get brain cancer, and to reveal that the head of the Health Protection Agency has been pressing for a study of the effect on children of Wi-Fi in the classroom. Our concerns were endorsed by the EU's chief watchdog and have led to an admittedly limited official study of Wi-Fi in schools.

We campaigned above all on the issue of climate change. Attitudes have shifted markedly during the year, with the world's leading sceptic, George Bush, finally accepting not only the science of global warming but also in principle the imperative of government action. That change was not a change of heart: it was pressed on the White House by outside forces. The lesson that should have been learnt is not that Tony Blair's persuasion worked, but that standing up to and isolating the President pays dividends. This newspaper repeatedly condemned President Bush, while pointing out the sainted Al Gore's failure to tackle the issue when he was in office.

Over the past year, the few remaining sceptics have tended to slide from denying humanity's contribution to climate change to saying that there is nothing that can be done about it. Yet some of our biggest news stories of the year such as Gordon Brown's go-ahead for the massive expansion of offshore wind power confound that pessimism.

Mr Brown's policy on green issues is a curiously assembled kit of parts. Only this month he sought clumsily to advertise the fact that he had without advertisement installed solar panels at his home in Scotland. He has chosen the bold course on wind power, yet appears to be committed to a new runway at Heathrow. The Bali conference achieved agreement in principle, yet Mr Brown has seemed detached from it.

We have courted controversy in the past year by continuing to say complimentary things about David Cameron, the Conservative leader, whose commitment to green politics appears to be genuine but inconsistent. Its main effect has been to act as a welcome spur to the Government. Let us hope that the new year brings a greater coherence to Mr Brown's green agenda.

In the spirit of such optimism, let us eat, drink and be mutually supportive in as environmentally sustainable a way as possible, of course. Today, we offer a guide to a lower-carbon Christmas, and a prediction that more people than ever will change their behaviour to reduce their impact on the planet's resources. This year has seen opinion around the world come to the point where people recognise that their behaviour has to change, and they are looking to governments for leadership.

We wish all our readers a happy and green Christmas and express our optimism that we will all make good our good intentions.

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