Environment Minister Sammy Wilson is no shrinking violet.
He is a man who holds strong views and is not reticent in voicing them. It is a trait that, not for the first time, has got him embroiled in controversy. Ever since he took up office he has made it clear that he is a sceptic when it comes to the issue of climate change and man’s role in global warming. No-one denies him the right to hold the personal view that climate change is not caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions, but he must realise that it is a minority view.
Many people feel that he overstepped the mark in banning government television advertisements from the airwaves in Northern Ireland warning of the effects of climate change. He described the adverts as “insidious New Labour propaganda” and accused those responsible for the advertising campaign of “sheer arrogance”. It is a charge that could as readily be levelled at Mr Wilson. While he may be certain in his own mind that campaigns to reduce the
UK’s carbon footprint are “patent nonsense” and will have no effect on global warming, he is denying everyone else in Northern Ireland the opportunity to view the advertisements and to make up their own mind. It is a step dangerously close to censorship.
It should be borne in mind that no government would willingly commit itself to setting up a special department, the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and bringing in legislation like the Climate Change Act on a mere whim. The Government is acting on the best possible scientific advice resulting from years of research. It is true that some sci
entists share Mr Wilson’s view that man’s activities have, at most, minimal effect on climate and that the current global warming is just part of a natural cycle, but they are very much in the minority worldwide. What Mr Wilson seems unable to grasp is that even if reducing energy use and cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions does not materially affect climate change, it is still a worthwhile exercise. It saves people money, reduces use of scarce resources and encourages exploration of new forms of energy production, benefits worth having for their own sake.
Mr Wilson is also flying in the face of his own
party’s manifesto from 2007 on which he stood for election to the Assembly. It stressed the importance of people in Northern Ireland not only looking after their own environment but also playing their part “in global issues such as tackling climate change.” The manifesto went on: “The DUP has supported the introduction of a Climate Change Bill at Westminster and called for year on year targets in order to achieve reduced carbon emissions.” As a candidate Mr Wilson signed up to that manifesto whatever his personal views.
His party leader Mr Peter Robinson made it clear that while Mr Wilson was entitled to his personal opinion, the party would be sticking by its manifesto pledges within the Executive. That was as gentle a rebuke as it was possible to give. One would imagine had a Cabinet member in the Labour government adopted a similar dissident stance on an important issue like climate change, his or her ministerial role would have been very short-lived. That, perhaps, is something that Mr Wilson might care to reflect on.