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Home finance will play a part in green future

Climate change, and as a result green politics, has come of age. Last week saw at least one big news story per day on the environment.

There is a strong argument that hitherto, talking about saving the planet has been the preserve of the chattering classes, who have the time and money to knit their own muesli.

But when the Sun has a Green Goddess expert giving energy-saving advice to readers, you know it is starting to permeate mass culture.

It started with junior government minister Ian Pearson, in a manner reminiscent of 1980s student politics, calling Ryanair chief executive Micheal O’Leary the “irresponsible face of capitalism” for the airline’s refusal to take action on carbon emissions.

Pearson may have a point but it opened up a political row which led to another set of headlines.

During a subsequent interview, Tony Blair was asked whether he would give up long-haul flights to help tackle emissions.

He replied: “I think these things are a bit impractical actually to expect people to do that you know, I’m still waiting for the first politician who’s running for office who’s going to come out and say it [that people should not fly] – and they’re not.

“It’s like telling people you shouldn’t drive anywhere.”

Again true, but the green lobby came out in force to condemn the Prime Minister, with Jonathon Porritt, his sustainable development adviser, saying it was “muddle-headed”.

But Blair’s comments are born of a nervousness among leading politicians that people are more resistant to changing their lifestyles than the green lobby and some politicians are prepared to admit.

And this was at the heart of the problem being discussed by the building industry and housing minister Yvette Cooper last week.

In December’s pre-Budget report, chancellor Gordon Brown caught everyone on the hop by announcing that zero-carbon emission homes would be free of Stamp Duty.

A zero-carbon house is defined as one that produces as much energy by using solar panels or wind turbines as it consumes.

Homes that offset the carbon emissions they produce, by planting trees, for example, are described as being carbon neutral.

There are sound reasons why government policy is focussed on this. The UK’s 21 million homes are responsible for nearly 30% of the country’s carbon emissions. The government hopes to reduce this by 60% by 2050.

But there have been warnings that energy-efficient homes can cost 10% more than traditional homes, pricing them out of the reach of younger or first-time buyers.

The week ended with an almost apocalyptic vision from the European Union of global climate chaos, with a report forecasting war, famine and mass migration.

The Europeans were quickly acc-used of being hysterical by US car giant Chrysler, which lik-ened their actions to those of Chicken Little, who runs around in circles crying “The sky is falling”. Chrysler’s view is that climate change is “way, way in the future”.

The truth is probably somewhere in between, but the evidence shows that action is required and at some point that action is likely to include financial deals that make the UK’s housing stock more energy-efficient.

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