Britain is preoccupied with minor, almost trivial energy-saving initiatives, rather than addressing the big issue of how to reduce the 80 per cent global dependence on fossil fuels for power, heating and transport, according to the chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Speaking at a public meeting in Shetland, Dr Richard Pike claimed that the beneficial effects of turning off standby lights, switching from bottled to tap water, washing clothes at a lower temperature, or having car tyres at the right air pressure, paled into insignificance when compared with what was happening at the supply end of energy provision.
Dr Pike added that even halving the carbon dioxide emissions of road vehicles in the UK would only reduce the carbon footprint of the country by about six per cent, because other modes of transport (air, sea and rail), industrial and domestic heating, and electricity generation have such high energy demands, relying largely on oil, gas and coal.
He also called the oil and gas companies to task for their reaction to global warming. 'It is incongruous that some oil and gas companies see global warming, and melting of the Arctic permafrost, as an opportunity to drill for still more hydrocarbons,' he said.
Equally bizarre, he added, was the recent move of some major oil-producing countries to burn cheap, imported coal to generate electricity, rather than using their indigenous natural gas. This, he said was being done because the gas could be more profitably re-injected into petroleum reservoirs to boost oil production.
'Since the burning of coal yields twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas, increased emissions in this way are yet another unintended consequence of high oil prices,' he added.
Governments need, he said, to act more decisively to promote reliable low-carbon, alternative energy sources on a massive scale.