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Prior to the Brexit vote, WWF-UK asked Alistair in his role as one of its ambassadors to meet with the former Prime Minister David Cameron at Rainham Marshes Nature Reserve in Essex. "WWF-UK wanted me to ask why the environment was not being discussed as part of the campaigning."

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ECOLOGIST INTERVIEW - ALISTAIR McGOWAN

Tim Saunders

28th October, 2016

British impressionist, comedian, actor and musician Alistair McGowan is also a staunch environmentalist - he doesn't even drive a car. He tells TIM SAUNDERS we should all be doing more to help save the planet and that the environmental costs of the proposed new runway at Heathrow are not worth the promised economic benefits

Only when the last fish has been caught and the last river has run dry and the last tree has been cut down will we realise that we cannot eat money - Hopi Indian Quote

  "It seems people have forgotten the most important things in life and just don't want to hear about it," says Alistair McGowan. "Species are disappearing: elephants, rhinos. It breaks my heart. I don't know what it will take to make people listen but we need clear guidance so that when people make everyday choices like putting decking down or digging up their front gardens they understand the environmental consequences.

"I think too that when we talk about species disappearing because of habitat loss people just assume that's due to the big corporations and governments cutting trees down and forests. It's not though is it? It's every single one of us in our gardens. It's every single one of us leaving our car engines running and not thinking where our clothes come from or how much soap we use when we shower or how much water we use when we leave a tap running or where the plastic bottles we use will end up.

"The world is less important than the next new gadget that people have been told to buy," he adds. "People are more interested in what's on the front of their phone than whether they've got hedgehogs in their back garden or flowers to enjoy. How do you get around that? It's very sad and troubling.

"For example, it's become very clear we need bees more than anything else. If we haven't got bees we haven't got life. But you can't get a bee app on your phone so nobody's interested. Until we can get a bee app on our phones we're really in trouble."

The attitude of consecutive governments is also to blame, says the comedian. "George Osborne was so successful in selling UK Plc. This was not a term we'd heard before 2008 and after the recession, all we heard was that decisions that were bad for the environment but good for business were made for the good of UK Plc.

"I did not grow up in the UK; I grew up in England and Great Britain. It's like a different country and I think that's the problem - people are detached from this concept and feel both fatigued and powerlessness. I think people do wonder what they can do to make a difference but I don't think anybody has managed to really convey that air pollution, for example, is actually killing people or that government has got to be made to do something about it. That said, it isn't the government driving the cars or sitting in traffic jams with the engine running. It's us."

Alistair, an environmental campaigner for the last 25 years, argues that governments support profits to the detriment of the environment. A case in point is the decision this week to approve Heathrow's third runway. Only Zac Goldsmith, previous owner of the Ecologist and until this week MP for Richmond Park (close to where Alistair lives) has shown his disapproval by standing down.

"It's an issue I feel very strongly about," says Alistair. "There's a wonderful quote attirbuted to a Hopi Indian that says what really matters: ‘Only when the last fish has been caught and the last river has run dry and the last tree has been cut down will we realise that we cannot eat money' and that's my thought about Heathrow; that it's all about the economy and the 79,000 jobs we're told it will create.

There will be four million people whose lives will be impoverished all around the airport. People think it's just a liberal elite in Richmond and the borough - people like me - who are going to be plagued by extra noise and pollution but in truth it will affect millions of people from Hounslow to Datchet, Windsor, Slough, all round there and Richmond, Clapham, Balham, places like that, Earlsfield, Wimbledon - we are all going to suffer.

"So is it worth it - for 79,000 jobs - to ruin the lives of children for generations to come because they cannot hear their lessons or breathe when they go outside because of the pollution?

"Nobody in their right mind would welcome something like this. If you boil it down it's going to cause sickness, pollution and sleeplessness. Is that what you want people to go through for 79,000 additional jobs? No. But people have been sold this thing that it's 'good for growth, good for the country and shows that we are positive post Brexit.' They buy that sort of rubbish. It drives me nuts. I have done all I can do. The weight of the government is too much."

Alistair, who does not drive, preferring to use public transport, is also a strong advocate of solar energy as a way of helping save the earth's valuable resources.

"I have installed solar power at home. Being able to harness the sun's energy and to power everything we need from it is so amazing and it's great that we now have the technology to do that. It's good to feel that you're not just taking but giving something back to the environment through the energy that is being created."

Prominent environmentalists "speaking sense" who further inspire him to keep doing his bit for the Planet include: "Caroline Lucas, the MP for Brighton Pavilion, who Alistair says is doing a fantastic job; Jonathon Porritt, the environmentalist and writer, and Prince Charles who Alistair says has done spo much behind scenes to raise awareness of environmental issues.

Prior to the game-changing Brexit vote, WWF-UK asked Alistair in his role as one of its ambassadors to meet with the former Prime Minister David Cameron at Rainham Marshes Nature Reserve in Essex. "WWF-UK wanted me to ask why the environment was not being discussed as part of the Brexit vote. All we were hearing about was the health service and migration. The EU has done huge amounts of good environmentally and put limits in place that we have to adhere to. We want those kept in place because without them the world will be very much worse off."

 

This Author

Tim Saunders is an author and journalist.

Alistair McGowan is touring in An Evening Shared with Jasper Carrott and Alistair McGowan and is doing a Through the Night concert in March 2017 where he plays three pieces on the piano

 

 

 

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