Leading article: This flood of ideas has put the cynics and fatalists in the shade


The global warming debate launched by this newspaper earlier this week has already generated a stunning response. Hundreds of your submissions are pouring in every day, each bursting with ideas and opinions on what is perhaps the most fundamental challenge our planet has yet faced. This response has been heartening because it shows an increasing number of people - and not just in this country - engaging with the question of climate change as never before. It also serves as a powerful rebuke to the twin forces of fatalism and cynicism.

Those who are cynical about Britain's efforts to tackle climate change often make the point that this country is responsible for only 2 per cent of total global carbon emissions. They argue that this shows Britain does not bear much moral responsibility for the problem. But this is a grave misconception. Two per cent is a huge amount of C0 2 for a nation the size of Britain. Our total emissions are almost equal to those of the entire continent of Africa. If anything, we bear a rather heavier burden of responsibility than much of the rest of the world.

Fatalists are also fond of citing this 2 per cent figure. They argue that this shows Britain cannot make much of a difference on its own. The only solution, in their minds, is a multilateral agreement on capping global emissions - something they regard as unlikely considering the obstinacy of the United States on this front. In the meantime, they argue, there is no point in doing very much. But, again, this is misguided. What is to stop Britain becoming a leader in green growth? What is to stop us pioneering ways of increasing energy efficiency and utilising renewable power? Why can we not develop ways of using the tax system to change behaviour radically?

Both the fatalists and the cynics underestimate the power of persuasion. If Britain can prosper with a greener economy, others will follow. And the more people are made aware of the facts and implications of global warming, the more chance we have of slowing its process. There is a great deal of potential waiting to be mobilised in this cause, as the overwhelming response to our debate indicates.

Of course, global agreements such as Kyoto are crucial. But those of us in developed countries have a moral responsibility to take a lead. How can we persuade historically poorer nations such as China and India that they must grow in a sustainable manner if we do nothing to clean up our own act?

There has been a failure of leadership in this country. We note that two of our most prominent advocates of action to curtail climate change, Tony Blair and Prince Charles, have spent much of this week pumping out carbon into the upper atmosphere by flying. The prince is on a tour that has so far taken in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and India. Mr Blair has chosen to deliver three speeches in three different continents. Clearly world leaders need to use air travel. But like all of us, whether taking business trips or holidays, they need to consider whether their journeys are strictly necessary.

Public policy has been a failure too. The small print of Gordon Brown's supposedly "green" Budget last week anticipated the building of more runways in Britain. And the Government was forced to admit on Tuesday that its target of reducing UK emission levels 20 per cent below 1990 levels by the end of the decade will be missed. This admission is already being seen as something of a turning point.

The strongest theme in our global warming debate is that the political system is lagging behind public opinion. Our leaders seem to be faced with a stark choice: either they respond to a rising tide of opinion demanding urgent action or - in the end - be swept away by it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Polish minister Rafal Trazaskowski (second from right)  

Poland is open to dialogue but EU benefits restrictions are illegal and unfair

Rafal Trzaskowski
The report will embarrass the Home Secretary, Theresa May  

Surprise, surprise: tens of thousands of illegal immigrants have 'dropped off' the Home Office’s radar

Nigel Farage
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie