We are honoured to host Zac Goldsmith as our special guest at the Barnes Film Festival, opening the festivities at the beautiful new Wetlands Centre.
The MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston is also an avid environmentalist and longtime Barnes resident. Before his move to politics, Zac directed and edited the Ecologist Magazine for a decade, and received the Mikhail Gorbachev’s Global Green Award for International Environmental Leadership. He published his book, The Constant Economy, in September 2009 and continues to raise money for a vast range of conservation and environmental campaigns.
We sat down with Zac to discuss his passions for going green and supporting his local community in Barnes.
Tell us a little about your background as an environmentalist and advocate.
I don’t remember ever not being an environmentalist. Moving from editing the Ecologist to becoming an MP was a natural progression. As the editor of a campaigning magazine, I was able to give profile to good causes and hold vested interest to account. And as a Member of Parliament, I can do the same and more.
When I first put my name down as a Parliamentary candidate, a big part of that was to try to raise the issue of the environment further up the agenda. I felt, and still feel that creating balance in our relationship with the natural world is the defining challenge of our age, and yet it barely registers politically.
I am forever trying to hold Government to account on green issues. And we have made some progress. We’ve seen a giant leap in renewable energy production. We saw the introduction of a plastic bag levy, after much campaigning by colleagues here in Richmond and Kingston. Our latest manifesto contained a promise to turn our overseas territories into a giant network of vast marine reserves. This was a campaign I had been pushing for a long time and if the Government honours its pledge, it will amount to the biggest conservation measure by any Government ever. There’s lots to do of course, but equally we have seen some good news.
The theme of our inaugural festival is going green. How would you like to see green efforts expand in London and across the UK?
Green should be a thread that runs through everything we do. The Great Smog of London in 1952 led to the Clean Air Act, and we need the same level of commitment today to tackle air pollution in our city. That means getting polluting vehicles off the roads, making sure all our buses and taxis are the cleanest possible, investing in alternatives to get as many HGVs off the roads as possible, and promoting cycling. We also need a solar revolution in London, and with the technology improving and getting cheaper, now’s the time to do it.
More than that, we need to protect and enhance our green spaces, and access to them. Development should only be happening on brownfield lands; we have more than enough available, much of it owned by the public sector. I’d like to see us go further, investing in pocket parks all over the greyest parts of our city and investing in school farms wherever there is an appetite for them. Here in Richmond we have already brought food growing back into the curriculum in a number of our schools, and it has been a huge success. Every local school now buys the best sustainable UK food, and the borough has even managed to save money doing it thanks to an amazing local group called School Food Matters
Finally, I’d love to see London become a zero waste City. We can do that by making recycling less confusing, by putting more emphasis on producer responsibility so that waste is designed out of the way we do business. And we can use the Government’s huge buying power to support a circular economy, buying those products that are re-usable or recyclable.
As a longtime resident of Barnes, what positive changes do you foresee in the local community as the film festival kicks off?
We are on the edge of Central London, with access to all parts, and yet our area is still made up of a network of strong and vibrant villages, each surrounded by beautiful parks, commons and green spaces. With all the pressures facing London over the generations, it is a miracle it has all survived, but it has. Barnes, where I live, is a perfect example of that.
But we do have challenges, and as the MP, my priority has to be the Heathrow campaign. We need to stop night flights at the very least between 11pm and 6am, and secure a final, water-tight complete commitment that Heathrow expansion is off the agenda for good. The threat has been hovering for years, and causes immense anxiety for countless people in the area – and beyond.
Why do you think it is important to bring the arts and opportunities in film to our schools and to our youth? What further opportunities would you like to see created?
The creative industries have been the fastest growing part of our economy from the best part of the last decade, and is worth £35 billion to the London economy alone. It is a sector full of opportunities. 1 in every 6 jobs in London today is in the creative economy. London is the most visited city in the world, it is the 3rd busiest filming city, one of the top 4 fashion capitals, has the largest design festival in the world, and is the centre of the contemporary art market in Europe. I know from direct experience that the young people in our community are brimming with talent, and I hope the festival opens doors for as many of them as possible so they can take advantage of the opportunities.
The Barnes Film Festival caters to youth interested in film or media, looking for an outlet for their creativity. What’s the best advice you could give to young aspiring artists looking to follow their passions?
I have worked closely with a number of schools on various campaigns, using film and art to further the cause. The Richmond Park Academy, formerly Shene School, made a fantastic video about the need for more buses to and from their school and I took them to TFL to present it to bosses. A lot of local schools got involved in a film competition I put on to highlight the case against Heathrow expansion, and some of the resulting films went viral. None of the particip[ants in either of these or other projects were experts – they were just people with a passion and a raw talent, and they delivered.
Lastly, a fun one! What’s your favourite film?
Hard to choose, but possibly The Man Who Would be King.