Ultra middle class sentence alert: I have just got back from a week's holiday in Provence.
By complete coincidence, my holiday choice meant that I was sunning myself by the pool in a little village in southern France at the same time as President Sarkozy made his play to establish the country as the world's premier green economy with his controversial plans for a carbon tax.
As has been widely reported, the proposals to introduce a levy on transport fuel and gas bills equal to €17 per tonne of carbon have met with widespread opposition and given the French propensity to strike as quickly as you can say whatever the French is for "pass the placards and the lighter fluid", Sarkozy will need all his powers of persuasion to ensure the tax is introduced next year.
But judging by the speech last week in which he drew parallels between the new tax and the equally unpopular but morally justified decisions to end France's colonial rule and abolish the death penalty, Sarkozy is up for the fight and sees the row over the tax as a test of his political virility. His Napoleon Complex may not be to everyone's taste, but when it comes to challenges to his authority Sarkozy has a good record of coming out on top.
Moreover, it is hard to imagine a major economy better placed to lead the transition to a genuinely low carbon economy than France. Germany may have won the plaudits to date with its highly successful renewable energy strategy and the UK may have the only legally binding climate bill, while the Scandinavian nations may have the longest history of progressive environmental policies and the US, China and South Korea may be investing the greatest sums in clean tech, but in many ways France has a head start on all of them.
As a result of its penchant for nuclear power France already has arguably the lowest per capita emissions of any large economy. Recent figures put French carbon emissions per person at nine tonnes, well below the UK's 11 tonnes per person, Germany's 12.3 tonnes and the gargantuan 24 tonnes that are emitted each year by the average American.
Meanwhile, the spectre of climate change is also more visible in France than in many developed countries. Provence has not seen rain for over two months this summer and France was the country hardest hit by the European heat wave of 2003 that killed tens of thousands of people. You can't attribute one or two droughts to climate change, but there is widespread expectation that heat waves and water shortages will become more severe in the coming years.
Based on current climate predictions, one of the world's most prestigious industries in the form of France's vineyards could genuinely become unviable by the second half of the century. If Sarkozy really wants to mobilise French public opinion in favour of climate change measures, perhaps he should point out that without urgent action Burgundy's vineyards will have to cross the Channel to Kent.
On top of that, the country has a car industry that has long specialised in small fuel efficient cars, impressive solar, wind and even marine and geothermal energy resources, and a high speed rail network that is second to none and managed to whisk me from London to Avignon in five hours at a lower cost than the equivalent flight. It is little wonder that today's Low Carbon Competitiveness report from the Climate Institute and E3G ranked France just ahead of Japan and the UK as the country best prepared to benefit from the shift to a low carbon economy.
But, perhaps most importantly, France has a culture which, despite the protests at the carbon tax, appears more conducive to a low carbon economy than many other industrialised nations.
Any discussion of so-called "national character" is an inevitable muddle of gross generalisation and tired cliché, but that disclaimer aside there are elements of French culture that could provide a template for a more sustainable economy.
Firstly, France's long history of state intervention, high taxes and strict regulation may have become the poster child for European "socialism" on the other side of the Atlantic, but it also makes it relatively easy for the government to introduce the kinds of regulations and incentives necessary to fast track the development of a low carbon economy.
Meanwhile, the concept of French localism may be something of a tourist cliché, but the desire for local and seasonal produce that underpins the country's fiercely nationalistic cuisine, and the concept of weekly markets and small community's supported by local stores offers an lower carbon alternative to the giant supermarkets and all-year round vacuum packed food favoured by Anglo-Saxon economies. Intriguingly, the French pastoral idyll (which, again, I accept is a mix of myth and reality) offers an alternative lower impact consumer model that is idealised for two weeks of the year by the same Daily Telegraph reading British tourists who would protest if they ever turned up at a UK supermarket and found that they could not buy strawberries in the middle of November.
Other countries will now be watching closely to see if Sarkozy can face down the protests and deliver a carbon tax that manages to curb emissions without instigating the emigration of carbon intensive industries. If he manages it (and the promise of other tax cuts and exemptions for some industries means he just might), there is every chance those Francophiles who return from France each year wondering wistfully why we can't be more like the French, will be referring as much to their carbon footprint as the long lunches and fine wines.
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