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"Report on Low Carbon Scotland: The Draft Report on Proposals and Policies"
Autism (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1
Christopher Harvie (Scottish National Party)
I will deal with two themes: first, where we live; and, secondly, how we move. Housing construction has propelled our economy, keeping our bankers happy, but the United Kingdom's average new house struggles to reach grade C on the EU's thermal efficiency level and consumes twice as much fuel as the average German or Austrian new build. Today, our buildings consume five times more electricity than they did in the 1970s. That is because of the march of the computers and the supermarkets that must be heated and cooled simultaneously and which generate more road traffic.
I support the plans for insulation, but I also support pragmatically improving what we have. Many of our old houses still have wooden shutters or can get them back. It has been the fashion recently to have bare wooden floors, thus putting the people who wove carpets out of business, but a carpet is a form of insulation on the floor. We could have bathrooms with linoleum, which has the great advantage of keeping the bugs away as well—that is a deliberate plug for Kirkcaldy. In fact, we must live more collectively in Burns's sense—in the kirk, the howff and the village hall and in that society of sympathy of Burns and Adam Smith.
My second theme is how we move. The $100 barrel of oil is nearly with us, but it was supposed to turn up in the 2030s. This winter, we have had snow-buried cars and jack-knifed lorries. The wise realise that the age of Henry Ford is over, but apparently they do not include the staff of Stirling Council, 82 per cent of whom go to work by car, or so the energy efficiency action plan tells us. Two
Targets are everywhere. Schemes with even the most ambitious targets can be sent haywire as climate disruption hits home. An example is flooding. Without even touching on inland flooding such as that in Queensland, we find that 10 per cent of the world's population live 60 miles from a coast and within the surge-flood danger area. By 2050, the figure will be 50 per cent. It is a high-carbon business to restore the setbacks of flooding. I have had dehumidifiers working in my house in Wales after a burst water main. Such costs could well smash the most optimistic of our targets. If the Arctic melts, we will have a sea level of 5m more to contend with around our coasts. If the Antarctic melts, we will have 65m more to contend with.
What is going for us? We have Europe's greatest single reserve of natural energy at a time of radical improvement, perhaps sixfold, in generation and turbine technology. Marine turbines are where the steam engine was when Watt and Trevithick got their hands on it after 1760. However, we know relatively little about the way forward, as I found out myself when I wrote "Fool's Gold", which is on North Sea oil. We have lost our industrial advantage and the heavy industries that existed here in the 1970s. Moreover, politically, our management of the issue is diffused over several Cabinet portfolios. It would be a useful step to unify those powers in an energy, infrastructure and efficiency powerhouse ministry to tackle the changes collectively and as soon as possible.
Am I optimistic in the long term? I am afraid that I am not. Like Rupert Soames, I believe that "holding hands singing 'Kumbaya'" feels nice, but that is it. I do not follow Mr Soames on the issue of nuclear power—which Germany, for example, is running down without losing its industrial lead—but I appreciate that Churchills can be both dead wrong and on the ball, and sometimes simultaneously. We need that full-scale entrepreneurial flair if we are to turn renewables into the sort of marketable proposition that has a real chance of getting through.
We face a challenge here. To dramatise it, I must go back to someone from a family of engineers, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Alan
"ye shall taigle many a weary foot, or we get clear! ... But if ye ask what other choice ye have, I answer: Nane. Either take to the heather with me, or else hang!"