Leader: Global warning

DISPUTES between believers and non-believers have dogged history for millennia, and the current argument between climate change crusaders and climate change sceptics displays the all-too-familiar characteristics of scorn, suspicion and zealotry. As the rhetoric is ramped up as we approach the Copenhagen summit, now is a good time to step back and reflect on some fundamental questions raised by the debate on the planet's future.

That the scientific consensus is firmly behind the notion of man-made global warming is now beyond question. Even if doubts about the science persist – and the sceptics' views are finding a ready echo among the general public – the stakes are too high for us simply to do nothing. If the scientific majority are right, the threat the world faces is of cataclysmic proportions. The prediction we report today from one of Britain's leading experts in the field, that the world population could dwindle from 8.5 billion to just half a billion people if we do nothing to halt global warming, is perhaps the most stark warning yet. To fail to act in the face of clear advice from the scientific community would be perverse.

Scientific wrangles aside, there is in any case a far simpler argument for many of the measures under discussion at Copenhagen. We know this planet has finite reserves of fossil fuels, and we also know that consumption – particularly as the developing world becomes more industrialised – is set to increase. There is a need – indeed a duty – for us to think further ahead, and to husband the resources that remain more effectively than has been the case in past half-century. To fail to do so would be the worst possible form of selfishness and irresponsibility. The shift to renewable energy, in particular, is an unalloyed good and should be vigorously pursued. Scotland can be justly proud of the leading international role it plays in this effort. True, we are blessed with some unique natural assets that allow us to be so ambitious about reducing our levels of carbon emissions – a topography that lends itself to hydro dams and some of the best conditions for wind and wave power generation in the world – but none the less we are a recognised exemplar.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Of course, some aspects of the climate change debate – the cause and consequences of global warming, in particular – are more contentious. And there is a danger that the debate is calcifying into a dialogue of the deaf. Worryingly, there are signs that scientists on both sides of the argument are approaching this subject in a partisan and partial manner, against every tenet of their training. It is, after all, a truism of science that a researcher looking for a particular outcome will usually find what he or she is looking for. Last week's revelations from the East Anglia climate research facility – with allegations of selective presentation of data, for example – can only fuel the fires of distrust. Scientists pushing the climate change argument should take care. The public is already disillusioned with politicians and bankers after a year in which their ineptitude and avarice became all too clear. It would be hugely regrettable if scientists were the next group to have their standing in society toppled.

Last week's announcement by Barack Obama that he will attend the summit – albeit on a stopover to collecting his Nobel Peace Prize – is in some ways an encouraging sign for Copenhagen. But the US president has far to go before he can convince the world that America is ready to take a lead – or even be within sight of the leaders – on this issue. At a time when economic hardship is fuelling American insularity – a sentiment that, if truth be told, Obama exploited during his election campaign – the omens are not good. Or is this precisely the kind of moment when Obama can live up to the billing in his Nobel citation? Could this be an example of what he calls "a teachable moment" for his country? One of his administration's nostrums is "never waste a good crisis". If Copenhagen is to produce more than hot air – pun intended – then it requires the US president to live up to his own rhetoric.

Banks must reform

WHEN reform of the house-buying system in Scotland was first unveiled, it was a development most house-hunters welcomed. The introduction of Home Report packs – comprising a single survey, an energy report and a property questionnaire – was aimed at ending the scandal which saw house-buyers shelling out for numerous surveys during the house-hunting and buying process. The simple idea was that the seller commissioned a single survey, which was then available to any potential purchaser. A sound notion - despite what self-serving vested interests had to pay.

But the system could only work if every part of the purchasing process was signed up to it, and there's the rub. Because, as we reveal today, some of Scotland's mortgage lenders have been refusing to play by the new rules, insisting that buyers commission an independent survey before lending. Even more worrying is the suggestion that sellers are shopping around and picking the highest valuation.

The situation is unacceptable. Banks must, of course, satisfy their shareholders that the money they lend is safe, but they also have a social responsibility. If they do not play ball the system cannot operate properly. No doubt surveyors will now call for the system to be scrapped so they can return to their profitable ways. But a wider public interest demands that the banks – some, after all, in public ownership – are brought back in to the fold by ministers and a way found to make it work.

Wha's like us... Cameron and Mollie Millard

WHEN Cameron and Mollie Millard step up to accept a Children of Courage award this week, they will not just be representing themselves but all other children who unselfishly look after a parent or other relative while growing up.

Cameron is just seven and his big sister Mollie only nine but they will be honoured for the way they look after their mother Wendy, with their breadwinning dad often not at home due to his career in the armed forces. Their mum was diagnosed with cancer three years ago, her spine started to crumble and her mobility was severely affected. Her kids bathe and feed her every weekday at the family home in Arbroath before going to school. She says: "I would give anything to care for my children again in the way they now care for me."

Their father, who has given up active service to be at home for his family, now works for Army Careers in Edinburgh but still faces a commute every morning at 6.30am – only returning 12 hours later – and says the children have seen the family through its darkest hours.

"Mollie and Cameron's positivity keep us all going," he said. "We are so proud of them."

Related topics: