How does David Cameron qualify as an eco hero? He became a poster boy for green in April 2006, when he took a trip to a glacier on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard to witness first-hand the physical effects of global warming. He'd been building his image for a while - he set out his eco agenda on his election as Tory leader, in December 2005. 'I tried to make a start this morning by biking to work,' he said, in his acceptance speech. 'That was a carbon-neutral journey until the BBC sent a helicopter to follow me.'
But that tour of a glacier - organised and supported by the World Wildlife Fund - sealed the deal. It generated an iconic image - Cameron, powering hatless through the frozen wastes on the back of a dog sled - and a certain degree of sniping. It was, critics said, a flagrant publicity stunt, a photo opportunity (why else, they asked, was Cameron not wearing a hat in the sled shot, despite obviously being very cold indeed?). Others calculated the carbon footprint for the entire trip - which was sizeable, if offset by (among others) the World Wildlife Fund.
But regardless, this was a turning point for conservationist politics in the UK. With it, with that picture, Cameron and his Conservatives co-opted the environment, and the public (who were in the throes of an Al Gore-inspired awakening) registered their approval in local elections held within a fortnight of the Svalbard tour. The government was inspired to give global warming some serious thought. The Climate Change Bill was eventually passed, in no small part as a consequence of a spate of prolonged political one-upmanship on eco.