I've been reading a piece by Paul Kingsnorth in The Guardian. It's a reflection on environmentalism in an age of globalisation, and begins thus:
"Last June, I voted to leave the European Union. I wasn’t an anti-EU fanatic but I was, despite my advancing years, still something of a green idealist. I had always believed that small was beautiful, that people should govern themselves and that power should be reclaimed and localised whenever possible. I didn’t think that throwing the people of Greece, Spain and Ireland to the wolves in order to keep bankers happy looked like the kind of right-on progressive justice that some of the EU’s supporters were claiming it represented. ... .
Some people, when I told them that I’d voted to leave, looked at me as if I’d just owned up to a criminal record. Why would I do that? Was I a racist? A fascist? Did I hate foreigners? Did I hate Europe? I must hate something. Did I know how irresponsible I had just been? Had I changed my mind yet? I needed to go away and check my privilege.
The eruption of anger that followed the vote, on all sides, was surprising enough. But what was also surprising to me was the uniformity of opinion among people I had thought I shared a worldview with. Most people in the leftish, green-tinged world in which I had spent probably too much time over the years seemed to be lining up behind the EU. The public intellectuals, the Green party, the big NGOs: all these people, from a tradition founded on localisation, degrowth, bioregionalism and a fierce critique of industrial capitalism, were on board with a multinational trading bloc backed by the world’s banks, corporations and neoliberal politicians. Something smelt fishy. ..."
I have also noted all this for some time, and have put it down to solidarity with people (the toiling downtrodden masses across the globe) trumping – to coin a phrase – solidarity with the rest of nature – some of which also increasingly toils. Sustainability is supposed to mean that such things cannot be separated.
So, when Kingnorth wrote this:
"Green spokespeople and activists rarely come from the classes of people who have been hit hardest by globalisation. The greens have shifted firmly into the camp of the globalist left. Now, as the blowback gathers steam, they find themselves on the wrong side of the divide."
... he is spot on. This is how his (surprisingly hopeful) article ends as he draws culture back to centre stage where environmentalism is waiting:
"... any attempt to protect nature from the worst human depredation has to speak to people where they are. It has to make us all feel that the natural world, the non-human realm, is not an obstacle in the way of our progress but a part of our community that we should nurture; a part of our birthright. In other words, we need to tie our ecological identity in with our cultural identity.
In the age of drones and robots, this notion might sound airy or even ridiculous, but it has been the default way of seeing for most indigenous cultures throughout history. In the resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline, recently given the go-ahead by Trump, where the Standing Rock Sioux and thousands of supporters continue to resist the construction of an oil pipeline across Native American land, we perhaps see some indication of what this fusing of human and non-human belonging could look like today; a defence of both territory and culture, in the name of nature, rooted in love.
Globalism is the rootless ideology of the fossil fuel age, and it will fade with it. But the angry nationalisms that currently challenge it offer us no better answers about how to live well with a natural world that we have made into an enemy. Our oldest identity is one that stills holds us in its grip, whether we know it or not. Like the fox in the garden or the bird in the tree, we are all animals in a place. If we have a future, cultural or ecological – and they are the same thing, in the end – it will begin with a quality of attention and a defence of loved things. All else is for the birds, and the foxes too."
There is undoubtedly something in this.
Kingsnorth’s new book, Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist, is published by Faber which days this about the book:
Paul Kingsnorth was once an activist, an ardent environmentalist. He fought against rampant development and the depredations of a corporate world that seemed hell-bent on ignoring a looming climate crisis in its relentless pursuit of profit. But as the environmental movement began to focus on 'sustainability' rather than the defence of wild places for their own sake and as global conditions worsened, he grew disenchanted with the movement that he once embraced. He gave up what he saw as the false hope that residents of the First World would ever make the kind of sacrifices that might avert the severe consequences of climate change.
Full of grief and fury as well as passionate, lyrical evocations of nature and the wild, Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist gathers the wave-making essays that have charted the change in Kingsnorth’s thinking. In them he articulates a new vision that he calls 'dark ecology,' which stands firmly in opposition to the belief that technology can save us, and he argues for a renewed balance between the human and nonhuman worlds.
Provocative and urgent, iconoclastic and fearless, this ultimately hopeful book poses hard questions about how we have lived and should live.