TV host brings green crusade to election race

18th December 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Dec 17, 2006 (AFP) - Meet Nicolas Hulot, France's wildly popular nature TV presenter with ratings the two front runners in next year's presidential race would die for, and a crusade to push green issues to the top of the election agenda.

PARIS, Dec 17, 2006 (AFP) - Meet Nicolas Hulot, France's wildly popular nature TV presenter with ratings the two front runners in next year's presidential race would die for, and a crusade to push green issues to the top of the election agenda.

The 51-year-old has burst into the 2007 campaign with a threat: if the main candidates don't heed his call, he'll be forced to stand against them.

He sees global warming and the defence of the environment as the most important issues man faces in the 21st century — threats more serious than weapons proliferation, terrorism or AIDS.

"Humanity is like a boat heading straight for a rock, and no one's dropping the sails or changing direction. Like the Titanic," he warns.

With his tousled hair and boyish intrepidity he is known as the 'Green Tintin', after the comic book adventure hero most Europeans grow up with — as well as by the more serious moniker, the 'French Al Gore', after the former US vice president turned full-time environmental activist.

Determined to extract some hard pledges from the presidential contenders, he last month published a 10-point "green pact", drawn up with top environmental experts, which has so far been signed by 330,000 people.

Candidates of all stripes — including the centre-right's Nicolas Sarkozy and the Socialist Ségolène Royal, the two favourites, and the leader of the Green Party — have been queuing up to add their names to the list.

But Hulot says unless he is sure they will follow through on their promises, he will feel obliged to stand next April.

"Everyone's signing the pact, that's great. But now we are waiting for clear, firm pledges," he said this week.

With an 87-percent popularity rating and 10-percent voting intentions, Hulot would pose an unwelcome challenge in an already crowded field.

Born into a wealthy Parisian family, Hulot's life was turned upside down on Christmas Eve, 1974, when he discovered the body of his elder brother in the family basement. He had committed suicide, leaving a note saying "Life is not worth living."

Hulot says the shock is what gave him the resolve to "live my dreams". He went on to launch the hit TV show Ushuaia in 1987, skydiving, trekking and canoeing to the four corners of the globe, and beaming his environmentalist message to living rooms across France.

Propelled to the status of national authority on the environment, Hulot has acted in the past as advisor to President Jacques Chirac.

His key demands from the candidates seeking to succeed Chirac are for a carbon tax on fossil fuels, and the appointment of a powerful deputy prime minister in charge of the environment.

While the Socialists' Royal has made the environment one of her four main campaign themes, she has reservations about Hulot's carbon tax, saying it would penalise the poor.

Sarkozy, the current interior minister, has backed the idea of a carbon tax as well as the creation of an environment super-ministry.

But environmentalists are sceptical, pointing out that none of his campaign speeches have focused on the environment.

Meanwhile a coalition including Greenpeace, the WWF and Friends of the Earth has just published a mock school report grading France's political parties on their environmental record over the past 20 years.

None did well. Sarkozy's ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) came last, with 4.5 out of 20. Royal's Socialist Party (PS) fared little better with a score of 6.5. Even the Green Party scored just 11 points.

The alliance said the grades were there to "help put the candidates' rival pledges into perspective."

So, will he or won't he join the race? Hulot insists that politics is not his field — and appears genuinely loath to run.

He says he will make up his mind in January, leaving Royal and Sarkozy a few weeks to burnish their green credentials and fend off an awkward challenge from an all-too-popular rival.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article