Don’t Let’s Preach Conservation

The end of the world is coming; humanity shall be punished for its sins; we need to change our ways; those that disagree are traitors.

Does that sound a bit like some fundamentalist Christian sect? Well, you’re right, of course. But it also sounds a hell of a lot like most die-hard environmentalists that spear-head the green movement. An army of marijuana-worshiping hippies and conspiracy-peddling neo-liberals. Yes, the most important movement of our epoch has been hijacked by fundamentalists.

People who stopped believing in god but cling onto that milestone monotheistic fantasies: belief in the end days. They revel in mass destruction – our own species’ most of all. “Phasing out the human race will solve every problem on earth, social and environmental.” This from Dave Foreman, the founder of the radical environmental group Earth First! The Ku-Klux Klan of environmentalism. Sometimes you get unbelievably hippie comments from people you least expect, like ‘green’ writer Mark Lynas who once wrote that Poseidon is: “Is angered by arrogant affronts from mere mortals like us. We have woken him from a thousand-year slumber and this time his wrath will know no bounds.” Apart from the stupidity of these comments one can’t help sigh and think, this isn’t helping anyone. Least of all the planet.

Do you remember when the nut-bag Rev. Pat Robertson claimed that Hurricane Katrina was punishment from God specifically for legalised abortion? And I quote: “We have killed over 40 million unborn babies in America. I was reading, yesterday, a book that was very interesting about what God has to say in the Old Testament about those who shed innocent blood. And he used the term that those who do this, “the land will vomit you out.” (This from a former Republican Presidential Candidate – Trump groping women seems harmless now, doesn’t it?) But don’t you get a similar, albeit less offensive, comments from Gaia-lovers in the face of such natural catastrophes? See what we’re doing to the planet, that’s global warming, the evil men of capitalism are bringing this fate upon us, be afraid, be very afraid!

These are peddlers of doom and gloom, a drug humanity is tragically addicted to. And they must be ignored.

Think about this. I think it’s a reasonable statement to make, one which anyone and everyone can agree on, that the best hope we have for the planet’s future is our children. Their education is vital. Now, ask yourself this question: would you want people like Dave Foreman or Jeremy Leggett (who says things like: “behind the gathering clouds, the hand of God is busy….”)? Do we really want to petrify the children?

No: we want to inspire them!

Eco-fundamentalist hippie-isms is not the way to safeguard our future. Any sort of fundamentalism is an evil, a danger, and making environmentalism a new theology is a self-defeating move. The world needs less theology and religions, not replacements. What does the world need, then?

It’s something akin to what all writers are taught to do: show don’t tell. Don’t preach, don’t fearmonger, but inspire. Be an artist about it; and this of course goes out to most artists that are interested in conservation and the environment. Adopt the, what I call, David Attenborough approach.

Think of it; we all of us grew up watching his programmes, his films, all of us were mesmerised by impressive wildlife scenes we urbanites would probably never witness with our own eyes. Yet never once did he tell us, or even imply: you should feel guilty about the harm you’re doing, you’re destroying all of this and your children will never see a lion or an elephant because of your greed! He never once rallied against capitalism or the powers-that-be. No, his works were like Gregorian chants that called for reflection, reason and sheer appreciation.

Nowadays he is more vocal about it. He campaigns against ecological destruction and overpopulation, yet, even at his most strident, he is never fundamentalist. He is harsh, naturally, but he appeals to our rational mind rather than to our irrational instincts.

“I can’t pretend that I got involved with filming the natural world fifty years ago because I had some great banner to carry about conservation – not at all, I always had a huge pleasure in just watching the natural world and seeing what happens. – I made those films because it was a hugely enjoyable thing to do. But as I went on making them it became more and more apparent that the creatures that were giving me so much joy were under threat. The fun is in delighting in the animals but if you do that you owe them something so you have an obligation to speak out and to do what you can to protect them.” David Attenborough in his film How Many People Can Live On Planet Earth.

And think of this quote by Carl Sagan, think how inspiring, poetic, and scientifically grounded it is:

“The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.”

How humbling, how grandiose. Compare that with the piffle of Prince Phillip: “If I were reincarnated, I would wish to be returned to Earth as a killer virus to lower human population levels.” In this case the prince does turn out to be just another frog. Or marvel at Lyall Watson’s genius of a rationale:  “Cannibalism is a radical but realistic solution to the problem of overpopulation.” Radical? Fuck me! That is ISIS-level radicalism!

What we need moving forward is what evolutionary biologist Matt Ridley calls rational optimism. (Gotta love this quote from him: “The Dark Ages were a massive experiment in the back-to-the-land hippy lifestyle (without the trust fund)”) Humanity is not the ogre, it is not the bringer of the apocalypse. It is a noble species which, through “ideas having sex”, through trade, through curiosity and progress, humanity has made itself the consciousness of the cosmos. Before we tackle the future we need to have faith in the better angels of our nature.

We need to also trust our logic. Our rudimentary sense of deduction. And let me make that point by a seemingly illogical argument (Irony is endemic to humanity, after all). I think one of the greatest conservation novels ever written is the Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Yes, the novel that was accused of imperialism, racism, deals with the ivory trade and inspired the film Apocalypse Now! Hardly a saintly novel. But listen to this:

“Going up that river was like travelling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine. The long stretches of the waterway ran on, deserted, into the gloom of overshadowed distances. On silvery sandbanks hippos and alligators sunned themselves side by side. The broadening waters flowed through a mob of wooded islands; you lost your way on that river as you would in a desert, and butted all day long against shoals, trying to find the channel, till you thought yourself bewitched and cut off forever from everything you had known once -somewhere- far away in another existence perhaps.”

This is among the most beautiful nature-writing you are ever likely to encounter. If writers like Conrad, or filmmakers like Attenborough can display to us, in such lively ways, the beauty of nature, we will, instinctively, be inspired to protect it. It’s as basic as this: the Mona Lisa is a precious piece of art, it has value to civilization, to humanity, therefore, its destruction would be a negative for humanity, ergo, it must be protected. Conrad’s writing makes me want to preserve the Congo rainforests. For its aesthetic worth, if nothing else.

And to finish on a socialist note; let’s not forget that these so-called eco-warriors are elitist, well-off, bourgeois people with trust-funds. The fundamentalism they promulgate is unrealistic in the third-world. How can the impoverished farmers of Kenya become vegan? How can a child living in a landfill in Nicaragua reduce his carbon footprint? Those hippies in suits live high in the sky. Fundamentalism is a far-worse danger to humanity than global warming; purely because it will lead us to making wrong decisions about global warming.

I will leave the last word to the late, great Italian novelist and philosopher, Umberto Eco: “People are never so completely and enthusiastically evil as when they act out of religious conviction.”

*Cover photo: Fleeting, by Chloe Waterfield


One Comment Add yours

  1. cjwaterfield says:

    Very interesting, a compelling case against some of the more well known conservation activist movements. And thanks for using my painting 🙂


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