I once bred a racehorse, half-owned by my mother, born at my mother-in-law’s farm in Suffolk and named ‘Green Moon’ by my daughter. He won a race or two but never found his form, so we sold him to an Australian for not much. A few days ago, I was woken by a 5a.m. phone call from an ecstatic friend who told me that Green Moon had just won the Melbourne Cup — one of the best races in the world — bagging an immense prize cheque for his new owner. I’m not sure whether I will ever be able to forgive him, or myself.
Late one evening, I find myself star-stuck in the company of Jeremy Clarkson. I’m not excited by cars — I’ve owned the same seven-seater diesel Toyota Previa for six years — but Top Gear is unmissable. Clarkson and I are opposites in many ways. He grabs every available opportunity to rile people like me on green issues. But on this occasion I find him an unlikely fellow traveller. He tells me that of the all the things that infuriate him (and there is no shortage), waste is top of the list. Eradicating waste in his home has become an obsession. This is odd, because eradicating waste is my obsession and my business. It’s also, for me, the key to solving our environmental problems. We might not agree on whether mankind is causing the climate to change, or on the benefits of renewable energy. But we can at least agree that old-fashioned thrift is a good thing.
I use my Twitter account to bore people with stats and quotes, and ask them to sign this petition or that. I can quite see why people find it annoying. But I don’t agree with the voices — some of them, bizarrely, on Twitter — now calling for social media to be censored in the wake of the BBC-McAlpine saga. I don’t think people have yet understood quite what a powerful force for good social media can be. It was on Twitter and Facebook that ordinary Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans mobilised themselves to overthrow their seemingly unshakeable despotic governments. Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever, one of the world’s largest consumer goods businesses, told an audience at the World Economic Forum recently that ‘if users of social media sites can topple the Egyptian regime in 17 days, they can topple a company like Unilever, if its behaviour is irresponsible, in as many seconds’. For that reason Unilever is going to immense efforts do ‘the right thing’ in the way it conducts its business. Unilever is becoming a green giant.
After a meeting in Westminster I stop by to hear my brother Zac argue, in a House of Commons Select Committee meeting, for a levy on ridiculous single-use plastic bags. These are found everywhere they shouldn’t be — in ditches, rivers, the oceans, in the stomachs of turtles and whales. Zac picks his battles in Parliament carefully, and seems often to win. I hope he wins this one.
My small son announces to me that, when he grows up, he plans to be ‘the next David Cameron’. ‘Really, the Prime Minister?’ I ask. ‘No, I want to make films about wildlife.’ He means David Attenborough. Everybody loves David Attenborough. His films have enabled millions to hold on to that innate fascination in the natural world which all children have. I’m just as excited as my children to be invited by Attenborough’s producer, Anthony Geffen, for a tour of his Atlantic Productions headquarters in Hammersmith. We are taken through room after room of geniuses creating 3D volcanoes, prehistoric monsters and flying dinosaurs that leap out of the screen so realistically you feel you can grab them — or they might grab you.
The following day I leave the office early, head for school, then to Paddington — three children and three dogs in tow — and take the First Great Western to Somerset. I’m particularly excited to be there to watch the first Test match between England and India at Ahmedabad on TV, especially given the hunger of the Indians to beat England after suffering a series whitewash here last summer. There’s no game so perfect as a Test match, lived and breathed through five days.
My place in Somerset is as bucolic as a painting by Constable. A little farmhouse, smoke rising, in the middle of a valley surrounded by old woodland, chickens free-ranging, vegetable allotment, orchard, pigs and sheep, and there’s nowhere I’d rather be. A weekend spent away from here in London is a weekend stolen from me.
Ben Goldsmith is the founder of the WHEB Group, a green investment business.
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