As a child I recall my sense of outrage at the damage humanity was doing to the natural world and the injustice and violence we were doing to each other. I wrote to Lynden B Johnson to protest the bombing of Vietnam and was horrified as Russian tanks rumbled into Czechoslovakia to crush the Prague Spring in August 1968. I gave my first talk on climate change, habitat loss and the macro ecological impacts of industrial civilization in 1972, to the school sixth form assembly, while studying for my A levels.
Going to university, having a career or starting a family all seemed rather pointless. After leaving school I wanted to explore other ways of seeing the world and other ways of living. I had no money. Hedonism or pre-packaged belief systems were not for me. I wanted to try as diverse range of jobs as possible in as many countries as possible, and to live as frugally as possible in order to save money for further travel or self directed projects. In order to come close to other cultures it felt best to travel alone, forcing myself to communicate with as wide a range of people as possible.
I hitch-hiked back and forth across Europe, working on vineyards in Luxembourg and France, cleaning hotels and working as a waiter and building labourer in Germany. My father had been in a German prisoner of war camp, my uncle killed in the Second World War and my grandfather injured in the First. It was important for me to build strong relationships with Germans. In my confused and youthful way I wanted to explore how one might live that old hippy adage, ‘make love not war’. I rejected the damage coming from capitalism and communism. I lived in Berlin partly in order to have frequent access to the communist East, where I went most weekends.
At 21 I bought a one way ticket to Cairo and started on a series of long overland trips across Africa. I thought of settling and living in Kenya. I was humbled by the extraordinary hospitality and generosity of the very poorest Africans. I recall being the only white person sleeping by the railway tracks in Khartoum and sharing breakfast with a group of camel herders returning home to Darfur having made their annual walk across the desert to sell camels in Egypt.
Wherever I went I always read widely, and I had a lot of time to think and to reflect. The question of how one might lead a life that was more interesting and fun, more ecologically sustainable and socially just was always at the back of my mind.
I returned to England in 1981 feeling that, for better or worse I was English and this was where I wanted to make my home. I bought a tumbled down ruin in a lovely old Herefordshire orchard, and took on a lot of debt and a lot of work. I also threw myself into supporting all the local environmental groups and causes. I joined the Ecology party, soon to change its name to the Green Party.
Now, decades later, I’m still in Herefordshire, living in town, married with step sons and grandchildren. As I approach what for many people is retirement age I feel like my career is just beginning. I am now a pretty much full time writer and speaker and earn less than I have for any other job I’ve ever done but enjoy it infinitely more.
Over these decades of campaigning for a better world I’ve become ever more excited by what is now philosophically and technologically possible and ever more frustrated by the poor quality of most of our politicians and media. There are so many good ideas, projects, policies and technologies that are not being discussed in the mainstream at all. Getting these things discussed and hopefully acted upon is the focus of my work now and I hope to carry on as long as possible. No retirement plans for me!