Modern religion leaves me cold

SOMETIMES I think I must be the last person in England who doesn't quite believe in the modern religion of global warming.

In the old days, when everyone believed in God, we all knew that if we concentrated too much on our own pleasures we would be punished by a jealous deity who would destroy us all. That is, after all, what the Bible says. These days, people tend not to believe the Bible, but we still feel guilty about concentrating too much on our pleasures and we have decided that if we do not give up quite a few of them, we will destroy the planet, all by ourselves. We have, as it were, cut out the middleman.

It all seems terribly unlikely to me. In the Middle Ages, the Thames used to freeze over each winter to such an extent that the people used to light bonfires on it, roast chestnuts and generally party the night away. It had stopped freezing over long before industrialisation started and all that fun came to an end. By the 1960s, when I went to university, the academic orthodoxy was that a Third Ice Age would make the planet uninhabitable. According to the intellectuals, the catastrophe is still just around the corner and the only real changes are that it is now going to be our doing, rather than God's, and that we are going to boil rather than freeze.

As always, the silliest consequence of this change in our thinking comes from the Government. The doom-mongers have noticed that one of our most-loved pleasures is driving around in cars, rather than walking or catching the bus and, for the past few years, they have been busily persuading the Government we should only be allowed to build new homes in walking distance of where we work and shop so we do not destroy ourselves by burning petrol. These big changes take time to implement and there are still some houses being built in the countryside.

Of course, it won't last. Pretty soon, no new houses will be permitted in the countryside at all. In fact, I can predict precisely when it will happen. It will be just at the moment all new cars start running on electricity or compressed air. That is to say we will be stopped from having new houses in the countryside to stop us burning up petrol just at the moment that living in the countryside no longer requires us to burn petrol.

This will be seriously good news for anyone who owns an existing house in the Ribble Valley. Without any competition from new-build, the value of existing houses will shoot ahead. And it will be seriously bad news for youngsters who want to buy a home so they can live near their parents here. They will be utterly unable to afford to buy one. As the Government never tires of telling us, policy on global warming is all about the effects on the next generation.