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26 July 2013
Everyone else is doing it so why cant we?

Everyone else is doing it so why cant we?

A few years ago I remember a TV news piece asking ordinary Americans about the rise of gas-guzzling SUVs like the Hummer.

The delicate suggestion was being put to the motorists of a country that has always had big cars for big roads, whether driving such a beast was the most environmentally-responsible thing to do.

“It is my constitutional right to drive this” was the reply.

That response seems to be one of those insurmountable obstacles to tackling issues like greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

One of the most common challenges offered to issues like the pursuit of renewable energy or setting targets to reduce carbon emissions in Scotland is “what’s the point?”

Even if within these borders emissions were cut to a mere puff of air, there are countries elsewhere with vastly larger populations – and therefore churning more pollution.

Barack Obama’s speech this week may have changed that.

In announcing his new national climate action plan, the US President said “I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing”, saying people should look beyond the bi-partisan political debate over climate science that has emerged and find a way to stabilise the amount of carbon emissions being emitted every year.

While one of the central arguments over the pursuit of cleaner energy is the potential cost – here this includes subsidies for wind energy for example, or the financing for the UK Government’s Green Deal and its impact on electricity bills – Obama said that in America he believed industry would find a way to cope.

“When we restricted cancer-causing chemicals in plastics and leaded fuel in our cars, it didn’t end the plastics industry or the oil industry,” he said: “American chemists came up with better substitutes.

“When we phased out CFCs – the gases that were depleting the ozone layer – it didn’t kill off refrigerators or air conditioners or deodorant. American workers and businesses figured out how to do it better without harming the environment as much.”

On Thursday, the Scottish Government publishes the final draft of its Second Report on Proposals and Policies, setting out how Scotland will reduce its emissions by 2027.

When the draft document was published, environmental groups complained that it did not contain enough firm policies to sufficiently cut emissions, made all the immediate by the fact that the first two years annual targets have not been met.

In Obama’s speech he set out big ambitions, such as planning to double the energy use from wind and solar power.

Scotland has set itself tough targets, deliberately lofty ambitions to show it is taking the issue seriously, but as has already been shown, the actions still have to be taken to meet them.

It is a question of, as Obama said, having “the courage to act before it’s too late”.

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