Writer Pete May is fighting his best on the eco frontline

PUBLISHED: 17:24 09 July 2008 | UPDATED: 15:12 07 September 2010

What started as a way to impress his girlfriend, the transformation of writer Pete May into an eager environmentalist has become a way of life. He explains why Back in the 1990s, I was the most reluctant of greens. My short-life rented flat smelt of te

What started as a way to impress his girlfriend, the transformation of writer Pete May into an eager environmentalist has become a way of life. He explains why

Back in the 1990s, I was the most reluctant of greens. My short-life rented flat smelt of team spirit, with football kit drying on hot radiators, Ralgex and shin pads on the bathroom floor, and Nirvana, Oasis and REM on the CD player.

Plus, there were pizza boxes in the hall and travel supplements open at the cheap flight pages.

Back then, I'd have thought environmental activist and author George Monbiot was a prospective signing for my beloved West Ham.

My life acquired an eco-veneer for all the wrong reasons. A little romantic greenwash was simply a means of impressing my new tree-hugging girlfriend.

My new book, There's A Hippo In My Cistern, reveals the hopefully amusing true story of my relationship with my eventual wife Nicola.

Yet in going green to get the girl, I somehow become greener myself. She took me out of comfort zone and into my compost zone.

So how did it all happen?

Maybe it was through a form of green osmosis.

She ended up working at Friends Of The Earth and there were battles, of course - most notably a cold war over the thermostat when we first moved in together.

At times, her flat felt as cold as the one in the opening scene of the film Withnail And I - and even the vegetable soup from our organic box scheme couldn't warm me up.

Her friend's compost loo was an unpalatable abyss. She gave me a bike as a love token and told me ditch all plans of a Porsche.

And when she demanded two chickens in the back garden of our Finsbury Park home to provide home-produced eggs, thus reducing our food miles, it seemed utterly bird-brained.

Yet slowly, even an unreconstructed man started to see that putting on an extra jumper rather than turning up the heating made sense.

We had two children together and suddenly the future mattered.

At first, I'd hoped the greens were wrong. But during our 15 years together, the evidence become overwhelming.

When Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans in 2005, it suggested to me that rising ocean temperatures were increasing the likelihood of freak weather events.

In 2007, homes in Gloucestershire were underwater after unprecedented floods, while Sheffield Wednesday's ground was a lake with football fans singing, "How's it feel to paddle home?"

I watched Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth with my children and, instead of finding it schmaltzy, I felt moved to action.

Then whispering naturalist David Attenborough spoke out - and that was like having God on board.

I'd always laughed at the green movement's love of acronyms. But in 2007, a report by one such group, the IPCC - the snappily titled Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change comprising 2,000 of the world's top scientists - warned of "ecological catastrophe".

The IPCC predicted that temperatures could increase by six degrees centigrade by the end of the century.

It was also "90 per cent certain" that human activity was to blame for climate change.

While this month, data from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) shows that in five to ten years the Arctic may have no ice at all in summer.

Our love of cheap flights and oil-based driving culture are all sending us to the top of a climate change rollercoaster.

The plunge downwards is going to cause massive turmoil and make many areas of the globe uninhabitable.

But can one person make any difference?

Of course they can - because individuals add up to society and yesterday's eccentricity can soon become tomorrow's wisdom.

It's just a few years ago that London's congestion charge was considered madness.

Every home could easily cut their carbon consumption by 50 per cent.

At the risk of sounding greener than thou, I've cut my carbon Doc Marten bootprint through such easy measures as installing long-life light bulbs - no more bulb changing for years - loft insulation - only £200 after a grant from the Energy Saving Trust - fitting individual thermostats on each radiator and installing double glazing.

We've also fitted solar panels to heat our water aided by a generous grant from Islington Council, saving shedloads on gas bills.

Yet the biggest contribution we've made to cutting carbon is a decision not to fly. The mountains of the Lake District and Scotland are far more inspiring than the baggage reclaim area at Heathrow's Terminal Five.

For me, it's still odd to be even commenting about green issues. I'd rather be writing about Ronaldo and co.

But since I've discovered the importance of being earnest, do I still go to football and the pub?

Yes, because I can tell my green missus that travelling by tube to an unheated football ground is certainly green, as is the fact that my team will never have to compete in the Champions League.

As for the pub, turning off everything at home to sip beer from reusable glasses in a communal space is surely the ultimate in sustainability.

Pete May is the author of There's A Hippo In My Cistern: One Man's Misadventures On The Eco Frontline (Collins, £7.99).

USEFUL CONTACTS

The Green Living Centre offers advice to Islington residents about energy efficiency, loft insulation, subsidised water butts and even wormeries.

222 Upper Street,

Islington

0800 953 1221 www.islington.gov.uk/

environment/GettingGreener/Green_Living_Centre/

Energy Saving Trust's Act On CO2 advice line

0800 512 012

Mon-Fri 9am-5pm

www.est.org.uk

Grants available by logging on to www.lowcarbon buildings.org.uk/

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