The link between playing nude volleyball and stopping the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf melting to the size of an ice cube may seem a bit tenuous. But a growing number of naturists contend that, not only are they in the vanguard of the environmentalist movement, but their lifestyle might even help to reverse anthropogenic global warming. Econudes.org was founded two years ago by naturists dissatisfied with the passive, Health & Efficiency, beach ball-bopping image of nudism. Clothes, and all the ancillary industries involved in their manufacture, transportation and upkeep, are a major cause of climate change, they say. Eliminate them, and you eliminate a significant threat to mankind. "Get your kit off and save the planet" is the message.
But are they talking out of their evenly tanned backsides? Is this simply a case of nudists jumping on the green bandwagon, alongside low-carbon sex toys, biodegradable landmines and David Cameron's wind turbine? Suzanne Piper, editor of Naturist Life magazine, says it's nothing of the sort. "If anything, we predate the green movement, so you could argue that the greens are actually jumping on our bandwagon. Back in the early Seventies, for example, naturism was defined as 'a way of life in harmony with nature, characterised by self-respect, respect for others and for the environment'. Even before then, in the 19th century, naturists always stressed their eco-credentials."
Last week, protesters from the Camp for Climate Action staged a naked protest at the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform in London. Earlier this summer, a thousand nude cyclists crossed the capital to protest against oil dependency and the car culture. And nude hiker Steve Gough, in a trek punctuated by arrests for indecent exposure, walked from Land's End to John O'Groats to highlight both climate change and public perceptions of nudity.
So, what is it with naturists and climate change? Perhaps they regard themselves as the canary in the coalmine. If global temperatures are rising and the ozone layer is being depleted by a mixture of fluorocarbons and astronauts' hairspray, naturists will notice the adverse effects of solar radiation far sooner than "textiles", as they call the clothed. Conversely, if we're headed for another ice age, naturists will also presage this when their bits get frostbite and start dropping off.
Thus far, scientific studies are inconclusive. Climatic anthropologists have observed no significant migration of the world's estimated 30 million naturists much further north than the 52nd parallel, suggesting that, Arctic ice-melt notwithstanding, temperatures are still too chilly to risk baring all. Nor, for that matter, have there been any naturists found dead from hypothermia on St-Tropez nudist beaches. So the jury is still out.
Meanwhile, a curious fallout from the climate debate has been a schism within the naturist movement. One renegade group is Nudists Opposing Winter (www.welove globalwarming. org): "I, for one, will enjoy the balmy climate that encourages nudity," says its founder, "Pantsless" James, "so we actively support pro-global warming places and companies. No longer will nudists be forced into the fetish of clothes wearing. It frees up everybody to go clothing-free, the way God intended." The downside of doing it God's way, however, is that Pantsless could be sowing the seeds of his own group's destruction. According to econudes.org, a fully naturist lifestyle might actually reverse climate change.
First, by eschewing clothes, you're using fewer resources. According to carboncommentary.com, the energy used in the manufacture of just one woollen pullover would power the average Western household for 20 hours. Then factor in the 9lb or so of carbon released cleaning that pullover. Finally, assume three pullovers per person (significantly more for Val Doonican, perhaps) and, say, two billion pullover-wearers worldwide. Now remove all that from the climatic equation and you've probably saved somewhere such as Vanuatu from being submerged by rising sea levels.
Then there's air-conditioning and heating. In winter, you might think naturists would consume more energy heating their homes. In fact, because they're more sensitive to rising electricity bills than everyone else, so the eco-nudists' argument goes, they tend to compensate by making their homes more fuel-efficient and better insulated, thus negating much, if not all, of this.
In summer, especially in hot climes, it's a different matter. Naked, you expend less energy keeping cool. Indeed, if you're communing with nature daily, you may not use any as immersion in a convenient pond or river often suffices. The only downside is that habitual nudists tend not to have as many detergent-residue phosphates on their skin, which can make them more attractive to predators. Dagmar Tow found out exactly how attractive when, last year, she got severely munched by a 7ft alligator while skinny-dipping at her Florida naturist resort.
Perhaps she should have gone further afield, to an alligator-free region. That might have entailed flying, however, something most eco-aware naturists avoid. Nevertheless, those who do fly can reduce its environmental impact, particularly if they're off to a naturist resort. "Nudist holidays turn natural laws on their head," says British naturist and writer, Liz Egger. "The scramble to cover every eventuality clotheswise is replaced by a disdain for apparel bordering on the obsessive. The immediate effect of this textile trimming is that my luggage, normally equal in volume to a medium-sized car, consists of just a small case."
And as it requires 1lb of aviation fuel to shift 2lb of payload, and 1lb of Jet-A produces 3.1lb of CO2, it's clear that a nudist beach-bound flier is more environmentally sound than perhaps even three of his suitcase-equipped, textile counterparts.
So, perhaps naturists are right, and theirs is a philosophy we should all adopt. Ward Hunt and all who rely on its existence would thank us. Particularly as it might dramatically reduce the risk of nude volleyball players turning up there any time soon.
© 2008 The Independent