Friday, 9 December 2011

Alex Salmond in China: The First Minister Addresses The Central Party School

Alex Salmond recently addressed members of the Communist Party of China on the legacy of Adam Smith and its relevance to climate change.  The speech coincides with the climate change summit at Durban and while neither have been front page news it is good to see Scotland’s First Minister giving prominence to the subject. 

In his speech he encouraged other countries to share Scotland’s ambition to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and pointed to moral and ethical reasons why we should do this: mainly that the burden on climate change falls most heavily on the poor. And he invokes Adam Smiths ‘Theory of Moral Sentiments’ (1759)to explain this:

As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the like situation. Though our brother is on the rack, as long as we ourselves are at our ease, our senses will never inform us of what he suffers. They never did, and never can, carry us beyond our own person, and it is by the imagination only that we can form any conception of what are his sensations.”

It is impressive that the First Minister can lecture the Chinese Communist Party on climate and great that we can take the global high ground.  We have every right to feel  proud of the Scottish Climate Change Act but the challenge is now to ensure that we put this into effect and ask everyone in Scotland, including departments of the Scottish Government how they can contribute to this vision.  In particular, in the same week as Alex Salmond was giving his speech his ministerial colleagues were publishing proposals to increase expenditure on road construction in Scotland.  

This continues the tradition of new road construction that has seen the M74 extension across the south side of Glasgow, new forth road bridges at Kincardine and at Queensferry and proposals to dual the A9 to Inverness.  While this may make driving a little quicker it will almost certainly lead to an increase in traffic and emissions of CO2. 

At the same time public transport in Scotland remains fragmented with incompatible ticketing and no real integration of buses, trains and other means of public transport, making journey complex and more expensive than they need to be. Investment in truly sustainable transport, walking and cycling, remains a pitiful proportion of the total.

The First Minister is preaching a great message but are his colleagues listening?

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