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Q & A: Jonathon Porritt. environmentalist

Matilda Lee

1st May, 2009

Jonathon Porritt on renewables, roast lamb and life at Westminster

How do you define success?
Progress – a lot or even a little – in making sustainable development the central organising principle of everything we do.

Was the transition from an NGO to Westminster – as part of the UK Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) – difficult?
Not particularly – though it did take me at least three years to get the hang of how the system works!

Can you describe a typical day?
Not really. Lots of time on trains. Too many meetings. Endless advocacy – some of which has an impact.

What book or film would you recommend to all politicians?
I would have said Six Degrees by Mark Lynas, but now that he’s gone bonkers by supporting nuclear power, I can’t. So I’ll go instead for The Age of Stupid, from the team that did the McLibel film. It would change the mind of every politician who saw it.

What makes you angry?
Apart from Jeremy Clarkson, people whose actions do not match their knowledge. The scientific evidence available to us should be setting us free, but it doesn’t. And that’s unforgivable in some people.

Where are you most happy?
Friday evenings, back home, cooking, winding down, listening to Radio 4. Or in Cornwall for our summer holiday.

What is your favourite meal and made by whom?

My wife’s seven-hour lamb.

What steps have you taken to lower your personal carbon footprint?
Apart from the work-related flying, my carbon footprint is pretty low. The flying is a nightmare, though.

Do you have hope for the future of the renewables industry?
It’s the potential for renewable energy globally that keeps me as optimistic as I still am.

Where do you stand on GM crops?
Still deeply sceptical. Even if GM could answer all its critics (which it still can’t) it would still represent the same old intensive mono-cropping agriculture, something that is simply unsustainable.

When the SDC looked at the proposed Severn Barrage it gave plans for the project a cautious thumbs-up, with the strict caveat that it should be a public sector project. If, as now looks likely, it ends up in the hands of the private sector, would you withdraw your support?
Probably, but I don’t think it will end up in the hands of the private sector – it’s too big even for the biggest of them. And our government is just getting used, all over again, to the idea of making major investments in the future wellbeing of this nation.

Jonathon Porritt is founder and director of Forum for the Future (, chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission ( and author of Capitalism as if the World Matters (Earthscan, £18.99)


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