AT THE time, it didn't seem very significant. It was during a press trip to India about 15 years ago, when a group of three of us was following the late Lord Runcie, then Archbishop of Canterbury, on the equivalent of a state visit. We had managed to get ourselves appended to the official party, which meant garlands, seats on stage during three-hour welcoming ceremonies, presents from churches that could not afford them, and a semi- official car. It was semi- official because the local police had not been told about us, and kept trying to carve us out of the Archbishop's motorcade.
The car was semi in another way, too. It was fitted with an air- conditioning unit - the first, I think, I'd encountered. Delicious. But on a long, hot drive across country, our driver kept turning it off. We protested loudly, with appropriate gestures in case he hadn't understood, and he turned it on again, but only for two or three minutes. We argued again. He got increasingly distressed, and then finally pretended that the unit was broken. We continued to complain, but to no avail. At our next stop, the driver spoke to our host, who then explained what the problem was. Whereas the Archbishop was being driven around in a British consulate Rover, our car was an old converted Ambassador, not much changed from the 1950s prototype. With the air-conditioning unit on, the engine overheated and fuel consumption rocketed. Our driver had been trying to save us from breaking down, or being stranded, or both.
I was reminded of this incident when I heard that the Bush administration was planning to renege on the Kyoto agreement on steps to combat climate change. It is tempting to treat it as a sermon illustration, and see it as symbolic: Developing World technology trying to keep up with First World wishes; the overheating planet unable to cope with human energy consumption. But I'm afraid the story needs to stay personal. Our expectation of personal comfort was too high, ridiculously so in a country where a bit of shade is the only respite from the heat that many millions can hope for.
Fifteen years have passed, and I am a few thousand miles away, but I cannot see that this changes the argument one jot. And yet, in practice, I have gone on ignoring the imbalance between my life style and that of the Indian families I saw living in concrete pipes beside the road into Bombay. My only inhibitor when heating my house is whether I have the cash to pay the fuel bills. Now, though, I am having my nose rubbed in the evidence that my choice of life style is actually making the life of those Indians worse. Greenhouse …