Suddenly being green is not cool any more
As the credit crunch bites, environmental policies are being ditched. But oddly we are doing better at saving the planet
Julie Burchill can't stand them. According to her new book, Not in my Name: A Compendium of Modern Hypocrisy, she thinks all environmentalists are po-faced, unsexy, public school alumni who drivel on about the end of the world because they don't want the working classes to have any fun, go on foreign holidays or buy cheap clothes.
Michael O'Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, agrees. In an interview with Rachel Sylvester and me, he told us that the “nutbag ecologists” are the overindulged rich who have nothing better to do with their lives than talk about hot air and beans.
So the salad days are over; it's the end of the greens. Where only a year ago the smart new eco-warriors were revered, wormeries and unbleached cashmere jeans are now seen as a middle-class indulgence.
But the problem for the green lobby isn't that it has been overrun by “toffs”: it's the chilly economic climate that has frozen the shoots of environmentalism. Espousing the green life, with its misshapen vegetables and non-disposable nappies, is increasingly being seen as a luxury by everyone.
Only a year ago, according to MORI, 15 per cent of those polled put the environment in their top three concerns. That figure has dropped by a third to 10 per cent this month. Now that people are fighting for their own survival rather than their grandchildren's, they put crime, the economy and rising prices at the top of their list.
According to Andrew Cooper, director of the research company, Populus: “There is a direct correlation between how people perceive the economy and the importance they place on the environment. When times are tough people resent paying more to salve their conscience.” This means that fewer people are now buying organic chickens from smart supermarkets when they can pay £3.99 at Lidl. With all food prices rising, the organic market is being credit-crunched. Demand for it grew by 70 per cent from 2002 to 2007; now it has stalled, according to the consultancy Organic Monitor.
The vast new organic Whole Foods Store on Kensington High Street in London is so quiet you can hear the cheese breathe in the specially designed glass room. Meanwhile the demand for takeaway pizzas and McDonald's has risen as people find the cheapest way to eat.