May 3rd, 2023 The Great & The Good

The Great & The Good: Jonathon Porritt

Jonathon Porritt CBE, Co-Founder of Forum for the Future, is an eminent writer, broadcaster, and commentator on sustainable development. From 2000-2009, he was Chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission, providing high-level advice to Government Ministers. He is Co-Director of The Prince of Wales’s Business and Sustainability Programme. Porritt received a CBE in 2000 for services to environmental protection. He is a Patron of Compassion in World Farming, a charity that campaigns to end factory farming worldwide.

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‘If anybody’s ever visited a really good, organic sustainable farmer of pigs and they’ve spent time with the farmer, and seen often the love of that farmer for their animals and they understand this is a thoughtful, compassionate, caring process, which throughout the lifetime of that animal is full of that sort of ethical values-base – then the comparison between that and factory farming is just so overwhelming. It is literally two worlds…. the world of factory farming is something so utterly abhorrent and immoral that it is still remarkable that there is so much of it in the world today, and as soon as you know that you think to yourself, not only am going to make sure I never buy that kind of meat again, but that I need to be involved in campaigning against it.’

After leaving Oxford he trained as a barrister for a spell, then spent 10 years teaching English at a grammar school in Shepherds Bush. During this time (1974-84) he quickly established himself as one of the prominent thinkers behind the ecology movement, and in 1979 became Chair of the Ecology Party which was later renamed the Green Party. Under his watch membership grew rapidly, and the Green Party became a focus for the rising tide of voters who have lost trust in the mainstream parties.

His 1984 book Seeing Green: Politics of Ecology Explained is still admired for its accurate prediction that we would soon enter an ‘information-rich, knowledge-poor age’, although he admits he underestimated how badly we would become indebted to the banks.

At this point he gave up teaching to become the director of Friends of the Earth, steering their campaigns towards practical rather than ideological solutions to ecological issues, and towards more international cooperation between green movements worldwide.

During the six years he was director, membership of FOE increased from 12,700 to 226,3000. Although he described his decision to join FOE as ‘probably he best decision of my life’ he was sharply critical when, after he left in 1990, they did not prioritise nuclear power as an ecological threat.

A strong supporter of Extinction Rebellion, Jonathon believes the world’s ecological problems are so critical that, because the mainstream political process is unable to tackle them in a meaningful way, the only way to force change is through mass civil disobedience. ’We need non-violent direct action to force politicians to do what they are otherwise disinclined to do’, he said.

At the other end of the spectrum of ways to bring about change in the way we relate to the natural world is Jonathon’s work for Forum for the Future, ‘an international group of courageous, adaptive, empathetic, inquisitive, playful, respectful change makers’.

The aim is to make ‘critical friends’ with business partners and get them to adopt a ‘fully integrated approach to sustainable development’.

Jonathan’s role is ‘to direct a number of those corporate partnerships, coordinating our work programmes with them, and urging them on to be much more outspoken in their advocacy of genuinely sustainable wealth creation.’

He is also a strong supporter of Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy that recommended a 30% reduction in meat and dairy consumption, an expansion of free school meals, making fresh fruit and vegetables available for kids suffering from food poverty and a tax on products high in salt, sugar and fat. He called Boris Johnson’s rejection of Dimbleby ‘a craven surrender to the dark forces of big ag.’

‘The hypocrisy is so shocking – but straight out of the playbook. Get to know your enemies. They’re going to be messing with your brain, your diets, and your very future for as long as you live.’

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