Living it large the Porritt way

Posted by HC in 'In the news...' / Boats / Monasticism / People / Travel / UK politics / US politics on 21 July 2008

Every time I do something un-environmental, I think of Jonathon Porritt. He is the embodiment of my guilt. The other day, the phenomenon was given a twist by my reading a column of his. It was uppermost in a mulch of Guardian pages left behind by a passenger on a short haul flight I was taking.

Typically, I had thought of the great man even as I looked down from 35,000 feet at a trans-Mediterranean ferry cleaving the sparkling briney. I would have been on it if my conscience had been in better nick.

The funny thing is, reading JP makes me feel less guilty than just dreaming him up. This latest piece berated politicians for not promoting a post-growth economic and social creed. Mr Porritt seems to believe that this absence of leadership is blameworthy. He may think (but doesn’t really say) that the public can’t be blamed for not getting the message, because their political masters haven’t pushed it.

I’d have thought that there is very limited scope for democratic politicians to get ahead of their voters. Voters have been on the receiving end of twenty years of green campaigning, and it has become the leading orthodoxy, so if the masses choose to ignore the green message I’m inclined to think that it may because they’re living life the way they prefer.

I got almost cross with the Porritt message at the end of his column. He seems to feel that if voters won’t lead or be led toward “sustainability” then it’s just as well a recession will show them the way.  

This argument suggests that recession will give people a taste of green living – and pehaps a taste for it. We’ll see. I can imagine that people may learn that a camping holiday in Britain is even nicer than a Tuscan villa. But it won’t stop people hoping that the recession passes and they can be more confident that their mortgage is safe. 

I think that Jonathon Porritt believes that there is a large spiritual as well as an ecological deficit in modern life. He thinks people ought to embrace a radical alternative. Maybe they should. But I haven’t, and I know very few people who have. I mean that I know monks, greens, environmentalists - exactly the people who understand Jonathon Porritt’s message and even share it. But in every serious respect almost all of them go on living lives which are well short of radical transformation in a green direction.  

For the life of me, I can’t imagine what would radicalise people. An apocalypse might force such a change, or fear of one. But I don’t think an abstract concern for humanity or the planet will. And I find I can’t despise my fellow-humans for not being as altruistic as Mr Porritt thinks they should be.

Nor is it quite an absence of altruism. It’s more a sense that they don’t want to give up their definite delights for hypothetical improvements accruing to others.   

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