Jonathan Porritt’s 45-year-old association with the Green Party and his wider conservation odyssey including Friends of the Earth and Forum for Change has taken many twists and turns – but he remains an inspirational, thought-provoking and engagingly self-deprecating speaker.
Neatly packages his thoughts into three ‘R’s: radicalism, reconnection and responsibility. Porritt also referenced his many books – combining scholarship (Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford) with conviction. He drew on powerful anecdotes to illuminate the vast sward of environmental issues: the beauty of the planet lies beleaguered at their heart. ‘The thin green line is being crossed everywhere,’ Porritt said. The Cameron/Clegg coalition government’s attempt to nationalise England’s Pubic Forest Estates had failed, only for developers to ‘crawl away, lick their wounds and return under another name, another guise, with plans slightly tweaked. These people never give up.’ Mortimer Forest near Ludlow is a current protest priority: ‘We need our voices to be heard – to put ourselves if necessary between the threat and the area to protect. It’s uncomfortable – but these are our forests – the citizens’ – not the government’s,’ Porritt said.
Porritt referenced Mike McCarthy's Moth Snowstorm in which McCarthy describes travelling from the Wirral to the South West for the annual family summer holiday: ‘Every two hours, the car had to stop to clear insects from the windscreen. How often do you see even one or two on a windscreen now?’ Porritt said. This was an example of ‘shifting baseline syndrome’ where few people can accurately recall the natural world of their childhoods. ‘And where are young people on these journeys? Plugged in to whatever game, film or digital device they choose – oblivious to the natural world around them,’ he remonstrated to the tranche of young audience, many from St Edwards School making use of the wonderful facility of sponsorship of the North Wall. Reconnecting the young with nature must be a key priority within families, schools and communities. Thankfully, environmental activism at local level remained vibrant. Porritt was uplifted by citizens’ abhorrence to Sheffield City Council’s decision to fell 30% of the city’s trees.
Responsibility is both bottom up and top down in society. Porritt outlined effective measures individuals could take to contribute to safeguarding the planet: switching energy suppliers to low carbon options, recycling and reducing meat consumption: ‘anyone still eating beef hasn’t got the message’. He praised the efforts of the UK government to eliminate coal use – the leader in this of western Europe. China was also praised for its determination to cut pollution – an initiative Porritt ascribed to the middle class’ determination to enjoy ‘the privilege of being able to breathe’.