In an attempt to delay the onset of parlour games, I ask the Christmas guests to nominate their man or woman of the year.
Mrs Columnist proposes Barack Obama. It has been immensely important to have the a Black African American in the White House, she says. After the early heady expectations, he has stayed the course and turned up to progress the Paris Acord. If he could curb his countrymen’s love of guns before he retires, Obama really would deserve the Nobel prize.
My sister in law jumps in to put forward Hilary Benn. As she is aware of the leftward leaning tendency of our household, this is an astute choice. Sis admires the way Benn Junior spoke his mind so clearly and maintained his integrity under pressure. Does one speech make a summer however, I wonder.
In anticipation of his forthcoming Christmas dinner, my son favours his mother. The Junior Columnist goes on to nominate Jeremy Corbyn for the way he has inspired young people to get involved in politics and brought back back some ideals. Atta boy, but St Jerome has yet to lead the faithful out of the wilderness.
My brother in law is a well informed Conservative supporter so his choice of Nicola Sturgeon is a surprising one. With a smile on his face, he explains that if Nicola leads the Scots to independence, the Labour party will never sit on the Treasury benches again.
To be serious he says, Nicola Sturgeon led the Nationalists to a historic victory in May and has handled the leadership superbly ever since. She is always first to the microphone with a sharp comment on a major issue. We all admired Nicola’s performance as the girl next door on Desert Island Discs.- though the younger ones thought her choice of music was excruciating. Nicola Sturgeon is in top gear but her chequered flag is some laps off.
Nephew Major proposes Caitlyn Jenner, the former Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner, whose glamorous new identity shot by Annie Leibovitz graced the cover of Vanity Fair. She also turns out to be the same age as me. Gender reassignment is the next big equality issue my nephew informs us and Jenner is the icon. Who am I to disagree?
Nephew Minor is the thoughtful one and is still considering his options. What about the heartthrob Major Tim, I suggest, though I doubt if anyone will remember him in twelve months time. Mark Zuckenberg has staked a claim by giving away his fortune to celebrate the birth of a baby. Shaker Aamer is a strong contender too for the way he has emerged from 13 years of torture and imprisonment with such grace and goodwill. His interview with Kirsty Young cannot be far away.
I make the case for a special award to my friend and one time Enneagram teacher, Sarah Wilson. She has spent the last few months driving battered caravans to the camp in Calais to provide winter quarters for refugees, Her Facebook posts give graphic accounts of the conditions there. She and others like her deserve an award for standing up and doing something.
When pressed, I reveal my own person of the year to be someone who has just retired from the world stage without ever becoming a household name. She has supped with Price Charles, the Pope, the Saudi Royal family and the mining moguls in pursuit of her aims. She has become a vegetarian to live out her conviction that eating meat is not good for the planet.
Her nomination proves that you can achieve great things away from the public glare for Christiana Figueres is the brains behind the Paris Accord on climate change. The Costa Rican anthropologist only became interested in global warming when she realised that her children would never see the now extinct golden toad that was a treasure of her own childhood. She took on the job of heading a demoralised United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change secretariat after the failure of the Copenhagen summit in 2010 and has worked relentlessly to build the consensus needed for the Paris Accord.
The politicians had to come away with a victory this time around but the target of keeping global warming under two degrees will be desperately hard to achieve.
The veteran climate change campaigner Bill McKibben compares the task to setting a new world record for the marathon of under two hours if we are to keep global warming to 1.5% or to clock under three hours, a time only achieved by elite athletes, to keep global warming to 2%. It will require the toughest training every day for the next five years.
McKibben says it will “involve raising the price of carbon steeply and quickly so that everyone gets a clear signal to get off of it”. No fracking, no drilling in the Artic and continued subsidies to promote solar power.
Don’t blames Figueres if we fall short. She has retired from the United Nations with honour and carrying the accolade of my person of the year. It is up to the rest of us now.
published in Newcastle Journal 28th December