Opinion: Global warming is putting the heat on

Peter Stanford, a writer and broadcaster who sits on various trustee boards

This week I've been confronted with two major reports on global warming that make grim reading - one from a task force headed by Stephen Byers and the other from a group of distinguished scientists. As a result, I've been suffering from the sort of dread and apprehension that nags away in the background, resistant to any medicine because the remedy involves such a sea-change in global attitudes that I can't believe it will ever happen.

Why, for example, would politicians tell westerners that they have to curb their freedom to do what they want, when they want, for the sake of the planet 100 years down the road? So the only alternative to worrying about it seems to be burying my head in the sand. Indeed, the blanking-it-out approach has a cheerleader in George W Bush. He tells us there is no such thing as global warming and that we are all justified in carrying on exactly as before.

Yet the worst-case scenarios covered by Mr Byers and the scientists are so bad that, according to them, the results of global warming will be lapping round our feet in the form of rising sea levels well before 100 years have passed - in fact, well before my old age, if I haven't choked on the sand beforehand. So it is now no longer a problem for other continents and other generations. It's about time we all grew up and took responsibility.

But how? There's unquestionably a role for governments and international bodies in enforcing and building on the Kyoto Accord but, frankly, politicians have a poor record in this area.

The Italians, long-term sufferers from ineffective politicians, have a good word for this collective despair and inertia: menefregismo (Translated literally it means "I couldn't give a fuck").

So step forward the third sector. One of our strengths, because of our roots in the community, our practical bent and our independence from political posturing, is that we can involve and engage people in issues that they would otherwise choose to overlook.

One plausible antidote to menefregismo on global warming is for charities to use their credibility with the public to show how every family can make a difference through practical changes in their lifestyle. Each household's involvement will advance the cause by only a fraction of a millimetre, but eventually, together, we will do enough to take one step up the ladder to protecting our planet that had previously seemed so tall that scaling it was out of the question.

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