One day last October I found my five-year-old daughter, Rosa, leafing through my passport, which I’d left on the kitchen table in readiness for a work trip. She was studying it with a frown and I assumed she was upset by the boggle-eyed menace of the photo-booth portrait. But she was actually closely scrutinizing several pages of blood-red immigration stamps marking multiple entries to the US. The ensuing conversation went something like this:
“How many times have you been on a plane to America?”
“And how many trees have you planted?”
“I’m going to tell Miss White.”
For the past year, my three children and I have been living in Redland, a leafy middle-class enclave of the port city of Bristol, England. A survey conducted last year by marketing company CACI found it to be the greenest place in the UK. This means that eight in 10 people in the area counted themselves as “enthusiastic greens,” compared with the less apocalypse-averse people of Basildon, Essex, where four in 10 count themselves as “environmentally unconcerned.”
I moved here from Brixton in south London. I was not ready for the culture shock of an ultra-green existence. Everything is recycled. Whistling men in a green truck take it away on Thursdays. Stuff that I would put on eBay is offered around Redland in a spirit of green neighborliness.
I am writing this article on an office chair sourced from the pavement outside. There was one of those giddy notes saying, “Please help yourself!” attached to it. I’m wearing socks from one of the charity shops on nearby Whiteladies Road, which are better stocked than the new £500 million (US$719.5 million) Cabot Circus mall in the center of town.
OK, so the buses are rubbish, but guilt levels among local drivers mean you might be offered a lift. Twice before Christmas I got approached by eco kerb-crawlers: “I just feel less guilty carrying someone else in the car,” one of them told me. And he seemed genuinely disappointed that I only lived 200m away.
Yes, this is a green world, and the ozone layer sits a little thicker over Redland.
And then, of course, there is school. Miss White is Rosa’s year one teacher at St Peter & St Paul’s RC Primary School. In the past year, I have noticed Rosa has begun to recycle and energy-save and spout eco policy with exquisite fervor and zealotry.
In the past six months I have been confronted by Rosa, who’s like a recalcitrant, chubby-cheeked mayoress of an eco-town, over the following issues: energy-saving light bulbs (I use them in hallways but not in rooms where I actually want light instead of that jaundiced low-energy syrup); paper recycling; turning off the tap when I brush my teeth; carrier bags. And plane journeys.
I have begun to feel there are larger forces at work.
I suspect I am a pawn in a covert re-education program. I fear “pester power” is being organized to leverage pro-environmental awareness in parents — we are being bullied by a generation of pint-sized “eco-worriers.”
A friend of mine who agonized about remaining anonymous for fear of upsetting her son’s school told me how, as part of environmental awareness, all the children in her boy’s class had their lunch boxes inspected for high food-miles products and non-recyclable packaging.
I know a Brixton parent concerned about her son’s school’s walk-to-school initiative because it is dangerous. I know a father who was apoplectic when his daughter was asked by a teacher to account for the carbon footprint arising from two foreign holidays.