Walking the Plank

The government's hypocrisy over "green issues" is forcing those living on our waterways out of their homes

I don’t believe the world would be a better place if everyone lived a little more like me. But, curiously, all Western governments and most of the media disagree. I live on a narrowboat on the Grand Union canal in London, and my dwelling produces around seven per cent of the average carbon emission for a UK property. I use around 20 litres of water a day, for everything, as against the 80 or so that an average visit to a power-shower uses. 

But if I’m expecting a governmental eco-medal, I could face a long wait. The public sector would like to see me and thousands like me off the water for good.

Living on the canal is neither illegal nor is it strictly legal. And the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) is stepping up its efforts to make it impossible. It recently held a consultation on the subject without consulting most live-aboard boaters. It seems to be the lack of a fixed address that disturbs the mindset of modern government.

But while governments nag their citizens to go green, those of us who are actually taking them at their word seem not far from being criminalised. The irony is that I am that modern heretic, the climate-change sceptic. Yes, I believe man is a pollutant animal but I don’t think he has a gun to Mother Earth’s head. I’m more convinced by sceptical environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg’s belief that achievable, affordable aims — potable water for Africa, for example — are preferable to flying Al Gore round the world to spout self-righteous platitudes.

As a resource, the UK’s canals are woefully underused. Despite much trumpeting by Able Seaman John Prescott in 2000 about returning freight to the waterways, it never happened. But as a residential option, marinas and cutaway moorings on the canal would be cheap to build and easy to run. Boaters are naturally communitarian, can-do people.

But until the fear of the moveable citizen of no fixed abode is banished, while it will still be permissible to talk the green talk, it will become increasingly difficult to walk the walk-or at least the towpath.

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