Edinburgh’s leaders should take care as world turns upside down – leader comment

Radical new plan for transport in Edinburgh is part of the 21st-century industrial revolution but, as with any significant changes, the concerns of ordinary people must be taken seriously.
Edinburgh's tram network could be expanded as part of a plan to cut carbon emissions (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)Edinburgh's tram network could be expanded as part of a plan to cut carbon emissions (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
Edinburgh's tram network could be expanded as part of a plan to cut carbon emissions (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

The world is at the start of an extraordinary period of change on a par with the Industrial Revolution.

The shift from fossil fuels to electricity as the main source of energy amid the fight against climate change is being accompanied by stunning advances in computer power and artificial intelligence that will make some jobs redundant and reshape society as we know it. The reverberations of social media are still shaking the ground beneath our feet with the uprisings of the Arab Spring likely just a taste of what may be in store, for good or ill, for the future. No one should under-estimate just how profoundly these changes will affect us all.

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All this might sound a bit of a distant prospect, far removed from everyday life, but changes are afoot in many parts of the world, including Edinburgh, where the council has now unveiled a radical ten-year plan to create a new mass transit system. The aim is to become carbon neutral by 2030, partly by persuading people to make greater use of public transport, with an expanded tram network, and to walk or cycle when moving around the city. Less congestion, low carbon emissions, cleaner air and improved public health – what’s not to like? For some, there’s plenty and the council must be careful to avoid arrogance born out of a sense of certainty about where the future lies.

As ever, the devil is in the detail. We have built a society in which many people rely on cars to go about their daily lives – to get to work, to pick up children from school, to do the weekly shopping and so on, in short to do all the things people simply need to do. Any changes that throw a spanner in the works are likely to be unpopular and that unpopularity could boil up into a political backlash the scuppers progress in this new technological age.

Britain once became the world’s pre-eminent power largely because the Industrial Revolution began in this country. It is important we do not miss the boat on the current one. ‘Luddite’ has become a byword for those unreasonably resistant to change, but that is unfair to people whose concerns were very real and the fact that their protests sometimes became violent represents a failure on the part of those who were making the changes.

So, as we turn the world upside down, we must take care and be prepared to make compromises, if necessary, to make this revolution go as smoothly as possible.