Porritt sends a strangely familiar stand-in – Jonathon Porritt at Swindon Festival of Literature

15 May
Jonathon Porritt...or is it Alex McKay? ©Calyx Pictures

Jonathon Porritt…or is it Alex McKay? ©Calyx Pictures

So, Jonathon Porritt couldn’t make today’s event. In his stead was Alex McKay from 2050.

Alex looked a lot like Jonathon and sounded a lot like Jonathon and we were all giggling at the shared joke.

Festival Director Matt Holland confided afterwards that Jonathon arrived at Swindon Arts Centre with minutes to spare having arrived that day from some far flung place. Festival attenders arrived at the venue and saw an anxious director fretting at the lack of an author so Matt and Jonathon decided to cook up a little performance to defuse the anxiety.

Alex McKay is the persona Jonathon uses in his book, The World We Made. It is him, transplanted some three and a half decades hence.

It made the potentially dry and depressing subject of climate change fun and hopeful. We laughed a lot. I could tell Jonathon has spent 40 years interesting people in ecology and green issues.

‘Alex’ told us a tale of how humankind had recovered from a horrible disaster a couple of years before (Bangladesh was no more) but, because of the work we’d done in the last thirty years, climate change was no longer the runaway phenomenon.

Swindon got plenty of mentions; an excellent device: ‘Swindon got on board with this…did that…was first with the other over the last thirty years’. It made me feel that, yes, Swindon could be that place, that town which played a major role in halting the awful progress of climate change.

Reverting to his modern day persona, Jonathon engaged in the audience questions, one of the best speakers of the Festival to actually answer what was asked rather than repeat their own messages. And Jonathon doesn’t mince his words, in the nicest possible way.

Here are a few choice quotes (excuse the paraphrasing):-

‘America has gone collectively mad.’ He explained that US Federal policy is non-existence and individual states set their own climate change policies.

‘Local policy is no replacement for national policy but it shows the way.’

He didn’t want to ‘big up the individual too much’. The individual can have only so much impact on green issues.

The big argument against renewable energy being a realistic alternative was its intermittency. What was his answer to that? ‘Easy,’ he said. ‘Storage is the answer. Storing electricity in batteries. And efficiency.’ He added: ‘We are on the cusp of a revolution in smart grids. Swindon will have its own electricity grid by 2025.’

And UK government? ‘I’m disappointed in Ed Miliband.’ He was impressed with the Labour leader when he was the environment minister but not now; he’s become like all the other politicians – short-termist and led by spin doctors.

And China? Aren’t they shaping up to be the planet’s biggest polluter? Nope, says Jonathon. They Chinese are big on social stability and they see climate change as the biggest threat to social stability. They are the world leaders in solar and battery technology, whilst the UK and Poland are clinging onto coal power stations, refusing to sign up to EU renewable energy targets.

The biggest threat to climate change? Fuel poverty. Something I – in my turn of the 20th century house in the forest with oil powered heating, and rubbish insulation – know a lot about. Instead of freezing fuel prices we need to invest in fuel efficient heating systems and insulated homes.

Jonathon was an entertaining speaker who knew his subject inside out. I also liked that he didn’t miss a beat when mini chronicler Sydney (13 months old) waved her Festival leaflets at him and complained that she hadn’t yet had her dinner.

Jonathon, ably assisted by Alex, proved that there is hope yet.

Words by Louisa Davison. Photo by Calyx Pictures.

One Response to “Porritt sends a strangely familiar stand-in – Jonathon Porritt at Swindon Festival of Literature”


  1. It’s crucial to prepare for the zombie apocalypse | Agent Louisa - 19th May 2014

    […] we could wise up, as told by Philip Lymbery and Jonathon Porrit in this very festival. We should set sensible worldwide targets for halting climate change, ensure […]

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