Ron Bendell: Making the promise feels better than actually doing it
There are a thousand gleaming white garden gnomes sitting around at the Eden Project in Cornwall grinning inanely at passers-by. Or at least there were. For every time sea ice around the Arctic recedes an inch or so several of the little chaps are removed.
Where they go is not revealed although I can't imagine any of the caring, sharing folk at the eco attraction setting about the things with a sledgehammer. Perhaps they are taken to another part of the grounds to represent the Antarctic where the ice cover is actually growing.
But no matter. The art installation has done its bit to make us all aware of climate change, a subject that has received such little attention in recent years. So much so that visitors have been queuing up to make personal pledges to do their bit to actively solve the problem.
Many are committed to huge sacrifices in their lives such as switching off unnecessary lights and putting on a jumper when it feels a bit cold rather than switching up the thermostat. With luck those involved will use the Tablets they bought each other for Christmas to keep us constantly updated with Tweets on how their suffering is going.
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Thousands of environmentally right-on promises will have been made during the six-week run of the "public engagement art project" but bearing in mind the time of year I wonder how many of them have been kept. We have just been through the season of New Year resolutions in which, at the stroke of midnight on December 31 the bad old ways are put behind us and a clean, healthy, responsible regime begins. Yea, right. As you read this, for most, all will be forgotten.
At least 90 per cent of those resolutions were destined to fail. The reformed smoker has caved in and drifted down to the newsagent for a packet of Woodbines, the ex-drinker has already remembered that hidden stash of cans under the stairs and the bicycle stays in the shed as the rain continues to fall. We can only laugh at those who spent a fortune on gym memberships that will never be used.
Interestingly, I read that many of these personal covenants are a bit old hat and favourites this time round have been vows to read more, save money and decorate the house. Sounds good but deep down inside you know that the book will stay on the shelf, the overdraft will grow and that tin of emulsion will never get opened.
It could be that the failure of these resolutions comes because of the time of year. The opening of a new calendar may seem the ideal moment to start a better life but the coinciding dark nights, bad weather and general dreariness don't help. These conditions are best fought with a fag, a large gin and tonic and a night in front of the telly rather than a diet, hours spent pumping iron or even re-papering the hallway.
But the simple truth is that the making of promises is like taking a drug. You know the effects won't last long but for a brief moment it feels great. To your friends, your missus and yourself you are a hero. For a day or two. Even the tiny minority who have kept up the pretence even at this advanced date will almost all have packed it in come this time next week.
What's lacking is sincerity. Change will only come if you really want it – and if that's the case you would have donned the lycra shorts for two-wheeled adventures, signed the pledge or opened a savings account as and when the spirit moved rather than wait for some arbitrary date.
The only good news I can see in this sorry list of moral wipeout is the conclusion that deep down inside, most of us are perfectly happy with the way things are. OK, so I'm a few pounds overweight and I'll never be as fit as Usain Bolt, but who cares? Yes, I do hit the bottle too much and my life is going nowhere fast but sorry, pal, you're confusing me with someone who gives a damn.
As for the wider world we can only hope that those who vowed to do their bit to save the planet by visiting gnomes at the Eden Project will in truth put on the extra jumpers and turn off the lights. But, of course, if they really were concerned they would be doing that already.
And I can't help thinking that if they hadn't used up all the materials and energy involved in making a thousand white garden ornaments, the ice caps would probably have been spared another half hour.