Julia Stephenson: The Green Goddess

Goodbye grey Britain. Aloha! guilty conscience
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The Independent Online

This week, I am recovering from my attempt to seize the fiefdom of Kensington and Chelsea from the Tories at my favourite hotel in the world, the Mandarin Oriental, in sun-drenched Hawaii.

This week, I am recovering from my attempt to seize the fiefdom of Kensington and Chelsea from the Tories at my favourite hotel in the world, the Mandarin Oriental, in sun- drenched Hawaii.

Weeks of hanging around Ladbroke Grove Tube station leafleting in the freezing rain seem but a distant memory, as I recline on a sunlounger, fanned by exotic palm trees with the warm ocean murmuring at my feet.

Now my life is my own again, I can begin not writing my novel The Idle Green - I haven't quite started yet, as I write much better when I have a bit of a tan.

But all is not well in paradise. I am feeling guilty. I fret on my Frette sheets. I flew here on a gas-guzzling plane, and in this single action I have used up all my greenie points and made a conscious contribution to global warming. I used to live in Hawaii, wrote my first novel here, and I have friends and family who I love to see once a year. The islands hold wonderful memories; the thought of them brightens my daydreams and lightens gloomy London days.

Every year, I feel guiltier about the trip, but obviously not guilty enough to stop coming. I am finally reaching tipping point, though, and I am considering giving up or at least cutting down on flying. The trouble is, it's hard to change habits of a lifetime. We are brought up to believe that travel is a good thing, that it broadens the mind and is a human right. But the ability to travel so promiscuously is a very recent development and no guarantee of happiness.

I would prefer to indulge my wanderlust via trains and ferries, but the political will to create a joined up transport system just isn't there. Politicians describe spending on trains as a "subsidy", while spending on airports is seen as an "investment".

A parallel can be drawn between rampant travel and the brief window of sexual opportunity offered by the Pill. This soon came to an end with the advent of Aids. The same will happen with travel. Distant generations will look at this time and marvel at our lack of responsibility. When the disastrous consequences of global warming (check out www.carbontradewatch.org) become apparent in a few years, reckless air travel will become as politically incorrect as smoking when pregnant, having casual sex without a condom, eating veal or supporting the war. Promiscuous travellers have a few good years to milk cheap airfares before being ostracised by their friends.

However, Donnachadh, my eco-coach, believes telling people that they must give up flying is unrealistic. He recommends I offset carbon emissions by following the advice of Climate Care (www. climatecare.org), or Future Forests (www.futureforests. com), which restore forests and invest in a range of environmentally friendly initiatives. Whilst not perfect, these schemes are an important step in the right direction of taking responsibility for the consequences of our flying.

So, I bought some trees in Uganda and skipped off to my hula dancing class on the beach with a lighter heart. Then I spoke to Dan Gold, of London Rising Tide (www.londonrisingtide.org. uk), the climate/justice direct-action group, well-known for their colourful protests against oil horror BP.

"All this future forest stuff is rubbish," Gold asserts. "These are not charities, but companies that thrive on rich people's guilt. To offset the amount of carbon we're producing, the world would have to be carpeted entirely by trees, which is ridiculous. We have an ecological crisis created by the old colonisers which is being reinvented as another market opportunity. BP is currently promoting eucalyptus forests in Brazil as a carbon 'sink'. It's an ecological disaster. Eucalyptus is not indigenous to Brazil; it destroys local wildlife and displaces local people. The reality is the world's richest minorities have over-consumed the planet to the brink of ecological disaster. Instead of reducing in the rich countries, a carbon dump is created in the poor countries. Thus rich countries can continue in their unequal over-consumption of the world's resources."

Tragically, we will have to rely on pressure groups to lobby for change since Tony Blair does nothing, despite admitting climate change is the gravest issue we face. Meanwhile, the jury is out on my tree purchase. According to Climate Care, I have helped re-establish a rainforest with 30 or so native species of trees, which employs 400 local people. It will be home to a number of endangered primates, including chimpanzees. It's an imperfect compromise, but maybe it's better than nothing.

It's a tough life in Hawaii, but I'm making the best of it. Although, since talking to Gold, I can't face taking a plane again. So, until the first solar-powered broomstick hits the market, I think I better stay here on the beach indefinitely. In fact, I may be gone for quite some time.

j.stephenson@independent.co.uk

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