Leading article: The dilemma of global warming

Sunday 23 October 2011 08:28

The difficult decisions in life are not between right and wrong but between two, or more, conflicting rights. Nowhere is this better illustrated than by the case of the massive onshore wind farm for which the Scottish Government has just refused planning permission on the Isle of Lewis.

The decision required the striking of a balance between a number of issues, all of which could be said to point persuasively in countervailing directions. The need of a remote rural community for hundreds of extra jobs is clear, which is why the plan had the backing of the local authority and the region's businesses. But so is the importance of preserving biodiversity in a Peatlands Special Protection Area known for its rare and endangered birds. The principle of subsidiarity decrees that decisions should be taken at the lowest level possible consonant with good government, which means that Edinburgh was right to take into account the 11,000 official objections made to the wind farm proposal, many of them from local people. But equally the need to increase the amount of energy generated from renewable sources is an increasingly pressing one.

Politics is about taking hard decisions. Scottish ministers argue that it is possible to say "No" in this case and still be committed to a target of generating 50 per cent of Scotland's electricity from renewables by 2020. But there can be no doubt that turning down this 650-megawatt wind farm, which has already been six years in the planning, makes that task trickier.

There can, of course, be other ways of creating jobs, though those who turned down the plan must now say how that employment should be created. And though the scientific evidence demonstrates that, so long as sensible precautions are taken, wind-farm developments can take place on peat bogs, perhaps it is true that the proposed 181 turbines would have devastated the peatlands and the rare birdlife. It is, in the end, right that it should be local people who make the decision.

But what we all have to guard against is thinking globally, but acting like "nimbys" when it comes to local matters. Many of us are all too liable to talk passionately about climate change over dinner and then go off to book the cut-price airline tickets for our next foreign holiday.

What we all have to face up to – and the people of the Western Isles are not exempted from this – is the fact that if we keep dodging difficult decisions locally then global warming will continue apace. Inevitably we will then all pay the price. And the rare birds and peatlands of the Isle of Lewis will not be spared.

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