Last night's debate about ecology was focussed, heartfelt and perhaps a little more relaxed than the night before, with everyone in the room feeling more or less clearly that London needs to get its house in order on climate change.

Londoners in general appear to think so, too, according to Ben Page of MORI, who again came up with some relevant stats. 57% of us worry about climate change, he said, but only 59% of people said they had changed their lifestyles to respond to this worry.

The chair for the evening was BBC Newsnight's Ethical Man, Justin Rowlatt. Rowlatt had spent a year without a car, trying to do his bit on climate change. And he had achieved a somewhat paltry reduction of just 20% in his family's carbon output, despite all the measures they took. He went from this small anecdote to some potential big picture outcomes of the heating of the globe. A temperature change of more than 2 degrees by 2050 could lead to the destruction of the Amazonian forests, which in turn could lead to global catastrophe.

First to speak on what London should do was former Blur bassist Alex James, who as well as running an organic cheese factory now, is part of a working group at the RSA looking at personal carbon quotas as a way to curb people's carbon output.

This approach found favour with the Green Party's mayoral candidate Sian Berry, who also reminded us that this boomtown is not an equal one. Despite that inequality, she suggested that it is up to all of us to take responsibility for what we do, cutting down on air travel and cycling to work.

Alejandro Gutierrez, of engineer Arup, was perhaps one of the most expert on how to deliver lower carbon cities - he's building a zero carbon district in Shanghai. He gave us the global context, saying that compared to almost anywhere in China, London isn't a boomtown at all. "If London can't deal with climate change," he said, "How can Shanghai, with its far greater challenges?"

Gutierrez shared with RIBA president Sunand Prasad a belief in human ingenuity to solve problems of climate change. Prasad highlighted the "money, talent and political drive in this town", and suggested that technology has a part to play, not just reduction of consumption. Having said that, most of his points suggested it was down to us to change things, highlighting the need for "carbon literacy" to help create a kind of Blitz spirit to tackle carbon emissions.

Finally, professional controversialist James Woudhuysen told us that not only was climate change not as worrying as we were being led to believe, and that innovation in technology was much more likely to slow carbon emissions than "behaviour control".

The crowd seemed to agree with the second part of Woudhuysen's presentation, feeling that there was an implicit attempt to exert control over people's fundamental freedoms. James, who had sunk into a bit of a mood by now, told us that it was "a pain in the arse" to change your lifestyle, but you simply have to. Many disagreed. But despite the fine words here, it was striking that the one sustainable project anyone spoke about in detail (Gutierrez's Dongtan) was the result of a totalitarian political context. The question of whether politics would ever provide that kind of impetus here in London was left hanging in the air...

Posted by: Kieran Long on 26/06/07



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