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Do We Have the Political Will to Fight Climate Change?

17/03/2014 10:44 GMT | Updated 14/05/2014 10:59 BST

The death of Tony Benn saw the departure of one of the few great politicians.

I rarely agreed with his views, but had absolute respect for him regardless. A man swayed neither by money, title or popularity, he stuck to his views, only changing them if he had sufficient proof that they should be changed.

I see him as a great politician precisely for those reasons. His political leadership came from deep beliefs built on study and experience. He could not be bought, and could only be swayed by logical argument, not headlines. Those qualities are almost unknown in today's politicians.

To be brutally honest, politicians should be, and usually are, taken from the better educated more intelligent section of the population. Personally I think that is how it should be. I want to be led by someone hopefully with more knowledge and intelligence than myself, so that the decisions they make are better than I might have achieved.

But, "and here's the rub", politicians today don't seem to lead. The fight for the "centre" in politics seems to have led to government by opinion poll, government by headline, where the "leading" is done by the current fashionable opinion as stated by newspapers or TV or "discovered" in the latest two minute opinion poll and with each party trying to display that they fit that fashionable opinion better than the other guy.

So today we seem to have "government by the masses". Each side trying to claim the centre, the centre being whatever most people seem to want. When you add into the mix financial power and media power being used to lobby politicians to make decisions that favour certain companies or bodies, the loss of a Tony Benn becomes more poignant. I am sure, for example, many are as surprised and disappointed as myself at the "closeness" of both Tony Blair and David Cameron to Rebekah Brooks and the other powers that be of News International.

This presents a huge risk to all of us when facing a long term slowly building disaster like climate change. To combat climate change difficult decisions must be taken. The entrenched power of the oil companies and the electricity and gas distributors must be challenged.

The continuing attack on the renewable energy sector by the current UK government is therefore doubly disappointing. Not only are they not doing more, but are actually striving to do less. Removing and lowering the various incentives that were previously on offer to both business and individual and the populist cutting of the "green energy levy" to cut prices to the consumer while pandering to the energy companies are clear examples of this short termism.

So, at a time when we need to be planning for the next 50 years, our politicians see it as more important to give Joe public £50 this year. Doesn't lead to much confidence does it?

Signs from the US suggest that it will get even harder to implement long term green policies in the future as entrenched power bases start to fight back against a perceived threat to their dominance.

The new Tesla Model S is a four door, five seat saloon car, powered entirely by battery. It sets it stall against luxury Mercedes, BMW and Audi models and delivers a 300 mile range per charge, and 0-60mph in under 5 seconds. It's a very high tech car, and actually downloads updates to the firmware of the car over 3G or Wifi on a regular basis. Your car improves itself before your eyes!

Tesla have adopted a direct sales approach, setting up shops in malls, similar to Apple Stores, where you can see the car and arrange for a demo drive, and even place an order - over the internet of course.

Now the dealer networks of the old school car manufacturers are fighting back. In New Jersey Tesla have been banned from selling their car. The state governor has brought in a new law requiring all new cars to be sold through dealerships. Interestingly the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers, which is exactly what it sounds like, has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on political donations.

This feels like the thin end of the wedge. To me the Tesla looks like a step change in the capabilities of electric cars. Tesla are already planning to bring out a four wheel drive SUV, and talking about a family car for under $35,000. Once you have driven a Model S you wonder why anyone wants petrol/diesel engines. It's easy to see internal combustion engines being anachronistic in twenty years time. But to get there we have to get past a lot of entrenched interests with great power, not least the oil companies.

So don't be surprised to see further obstacles in the way of Tesla and the like. The only way through this is if politicians are willing to rule against the current establishment, and make hard decisions. The current trend says they are not.

Looks like if we want to fight climate change it will be without the current bag of politicians, we may have to do it for ourselves!