I heard many Tory MPs in the most recent election campaign, trying to warn us off voting for one Mr. J. Corbyn, with phrases like “does anyone remember the Britain of the 1970s? Do we really want to go back to that?”. Well my Old Etonians, I say “just walk me towards the time machine!”.
This is what I miss about the 1970s. I was living with a fellow ‘green activist’ by 1973. We had met a year earlier, and that was about a year after I had first gotten into these issues. The movement was young then, and we were all just so inspired. Our idea of a good Saturday night out was sitting in a pub planning the next demo, leafleting campaign, or piece of direct action. Change was all about. It was in the very air you breathed, and it was so bloody exciting. You really felt you were on the cusp of something new, big and important – and it wasn’t party-political!
Back then, public meetings on environmental matters would easily draw crowds of two to three hundred in a small provincial town. It was the fashionable issue, or so it seemed to us. The books of Professor Paul Ehrlich were best sellers then – ‘The Population Bomb’ and ‘How to be a Survivor’. Almost every TV debate was about ‘the environment’, and ‘Doomwatch’ was on every week. This was a television series in a thriller format that incorporated environmental issues into the plotlines.
Now I can hear a lot of you expressing a degree of exasperation with the above at this point. Some, I’m sure will be saying that we are now back in that time in many ways. That a twenty-first century version of the 1970s is now upon us. Words like austerity, social justice, the wealth gap – and that for the first time really since those years, we have a real choice on offer politically, with Labour under Jeremy Corbyn – who I did vote for in the first leadership election, by the way.
But I say no! I just don’t see it – at least from a planetary, rather than a nationalist perspective, and here’s why. We’ve been through two general elections recently. In neither of them, did environmental matters get any real look-in. It just wasn’t an issue. The brutal truth is that it hasn’t been an issue for years. And as for the Green Party – forget it! Especially in the 2015 campaign, if they spoke about green issues at all, it was almost prefaced with an apology. They seemed more pre-occupied with class-war politics.
When it is clear that we are living at a time when climate change is the biggest single threat to the planet, ourselves and the possibly ten million other species we share it with, it is just not seriously on the agenda. Just watch a programme like ‘Question Time’ on BBC1 each week. It’s fucking Brexit all the way. Endless ‘Little Englanders’ talking about how we used to be the best at everything and can still be again, once we are free from the ‘shackles’ of Europe. Yeah, as if that still matters in any meaningful way - like there is some kind of long-term future anyway, without tackling man-made climate change head-on.
There is another issue too that will ‘do for’ Homo sapiens just as surely. Loss of bio-diversity. That we have speeded up extinction rates among our fellow earth-passengers by as much as one hundred-fold is a crisis of simply incredible proportions in the making. From being seen as a major issue back in the 1970s, today it seems as if we have reverted to the idea that if we can save some ‘cute’ species from extinction, as some kind of afterthought, then it is no more than a nice thing to do. Not essential though. No kind of necessity. It’s no more to most than some little ‘feel good’ happy-ending story - something to tack onto the end of the News at Ten, after the sport.
There are many of us who are heartily sick of all this. We are just tired of hearing those who are meant to be championing these issues being almost afraid to talk about them. Always, some kind of glossy slant has to be put on matters - “We must save this coral reef for future generations” - “We must save this area of rain forest for our children” - “If we don’t act now, those in the future may not see a wild elephant or rhinoceros”. These arguments all smack of cant. These habitats or species never evolved for us. They have never been there just for us, and so why save them for future generations? We are destroying them and so we need to stop. Period.
The ‘Rewilders’ amongst us get sick of nature giving way all the time - of the so-called natural world [like there is any other!] always coming out on the losing end. All these years of fighting a rear-guard action can make a person tired indeed!
The EU has a directive making it incumbent upon member states to draw up plans to reintroduce species that have become extinct in their countries in recent history – for recent history, read two to three thousand years. Despite their keenness for all things EU, there is little enthusiasm to be seen on the part of the Scottish Government for any re-introduction programme for the wolf.
England is no better, and the proposal to re-introduce six [yes SIX!] European Lynx into Thetford Forest in Norfolk has now been dropped, mainly because of opposition from the farming lobby, those self-appointed custodians of the countryside. There is still some hope of lynx reintroduction at two other sites in Northumberland and Aberdeenshire, although only one of the two will go ahead, and possibly neither.
The reintroduction of beavers on the River Otter, in Devon, has been a great success. Their handiwork has created slower moving areas of water and new ponds, increasing the quantity of frogspawn dramatically. The rise in the frog population has had knock-on benefits for species such as the heron and grass snake. Still, the farmers are against even this, as they relentlessly pursue their goal of turning the UK into a chemically-induced monoculture.
Only recently, the current president of the National Farmers Union, Meurig Raymond, spoke out against rewilding on Radio Four, in a ‘discussion’ with George Monbiot, in which he almost point-blank refused to engage with his opponent. He said that species such as the wolf were a threat and that was why they were “got rid of”. One can almost forgive those back in the 1740s for being unenlightened, however, it seems the age of enlightenment is still to dawn in some minds.
In September 2016, Melissa Kite wrote one of the most ridiculous articles attacking rewilding that I have ever seen –
It is well worth reading for its entertainment value! I found myself in awe of her capacity for ignorant prejudice, and ability to distort and over-simplify the complex arguments involved – and I remain in absolute awe of her capacity for outright lies. She obviously understands nothing of conservation issues or the intricacy of ecosystems. What does shine through this crazy rant though, is her thinly disguised agenda – to bring back fox hunting.
By the way Melissa, in what way is the European lynx a “big cat”? It wasn’t in the genus Panthera the last time I looked. At best, it could be described as a small to medium-sized cat.
I will quote one passage from this scientifically-based and well thought-out article in which she refers to enthusiasts for rewilding, by saying “these radicals now want to replace traditional land management by farmers and gamekeepers with a form of natural anarchy in which every kind of beast roams our green and pleasant land, ripping other animals, and possibly humans, to shreds”. I rest my case.
In what way are farmers and gamekeepers traditional land managers? And for whom? Us alone, no doubt. And what happens when gamekeepers are convicted of illegal acts, such as poisoning birds of prey, during the course of their ‘traditional land management’ practices? They escape a custodial sentence and receive a derisory fine, which their landowner/employer no doubt pays on their behalf. It sure isn’t my idea of traditional land management. If you have an apex predator that is doing well at the top of an ecosystem, you can more or less relax as to the well-being of everything further down the food chain. That is traditional land management!
It is claimed that almost sixty per cent of farmers voted to leave the EU. Perhaps they made the arrogant assumption that all their European subsidies would just carry on – eventually to be paid by the hapless British taxpayer. I had a discussion with a local farmer a short while back. He said that he felt the whole nation should get behind the farmers. I asked him where were the farmers when all the steel works, ship yards and coal mines were closing. Were the farmers there, in support of those communities?
He replied that farming was different. His actual words were “yes, but farming. It’s life itself, man”. I replied that as someone running my own business, it would be just great if I could be paid a guaranteed price of X-number of pounds for as much as I could produce of an item – regardless of whether there was any demand for it or not. It is every businessman’s dream!
No – if farmers want my taxes, then I want them to start behaving in ways towards wildlife and the countryside [how I hate that term!] a lot differently to the way so many of them do at present. Most of them are certainly not the guardians of any kind of landscape that I want to see beyond our towns and cities.
Anyway, once we have left the EU all will be right with the world, won’t it? We can kick out all the ‘Johnny Foreigners’ – oh and all the wildlife too, since we will be able to rid ourselves of all those pesky environmental laws and directives that the ‘Bloody Europeans’ have foisted upon us. The likes of Jacob Rees Mogg, have already observed that there are too many rules that protect newts and badgers and that hold up development. These people just cannot wait!
I voted Remain. But I didn’t do so because of any reason that I heard articulated during the referendum campaign. I did so almost exclusively for environmental reasons. I liked the fact that EU laws trumped our own domestic laws on many environmental matters. I liked the fact that that they held us to account and in line. And I wanted it to stay that way. Only international laws and treaties can protect the planet, since the planet is the ultimate Internationalist.
Anyway – when the whole south-east corner of England is one large conglomeration of cities, towns, housing estates and roads – no doubt called ‘Kingfisher Close’, ‘Otter’s Way’, ‘Orchid Crescent’, or something equally banal – then it will be job done. Yet another nail in nature’s coffin, and of course, our own. Time to head for the hills, I think – oh no! They are covered in sheep holding back reforestation. That ‘Painter of Landscapes’ Canis lupus lupus is , I think, more required than ever before!
I’m Going to Whisper it and Please Don’t Tell Anyone – I’m an Environmentalist. Oh, and a Rewilder too!