Climate change: World must heed Margaret Thatcher’s prescient warning from 1989 – leader comment

If we trust in science, humanity will be able to prevent the worst effects of global warming and look forward to a bright future. If not, we face catastrophe.

Not all that long ago, the ideas that you could pay for something using little more than your fingerprint and that robots would be carrying out knee-replacement surgery would have sounded like science fiction. However, the robot surgeon has begun work at the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank, while the Royal Bank of Scotland is piloting a biometric fingerprint payment system the size of a keyring.

As the Scotsman has noted before, the scientific method has been responsible for some breathtakingly astonishing achievements: medical advances without which many of us would be dead – think of all the deadly diseases that have been wiped out or become treatable; spaceflight, raising the prospect of a human colony on Mars; and the sequencing of the human genome, allowing us to explore the basic building blocks of life itself.

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So news from the that this year has been one of the hottest on record in yet more empirical evidence – if it were needed – that climate change is a serious and pressing danger should not prompt any feelings of despair.

We must act, and at a faster pace than we are doing currently, but human ingenuity – perhaps with growing help from extraordinary advances in artificial intelligence – knows almost no bounds.

If we put our faith in the best science, it is highly likely that we can look forward to a bright future.

But, if we turn away from this light of the modern world and shun the warnings of virtually the entire scientific community across numerous fields, then, make no mistake, we do risk a catastrophe as wildfires, droughts, flooding and severe storms become more prevalent, threatening food supplies and, ultimately, our future as a species on this planet.

In a prescient address to the United Nations in 1989, one leading politician of the day said: “The environmental challenge that confronts the whole world demands an equivalent response from the whole world. Every country will be affected and no-one can opt out. Those countries who are industrialised must contribute more to help those who are not.”

In the minds of some, the science has become associated with left-wing politics, so the identity of this speaker may come as a surprise – Margaret Thatcher, the Conservatives’ Conservative, and also, crucially, a trained scientist.

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