For three hundred and sixty five days a year we jostle, stamp, cajole consume and survive alongside nature. Which itself is of course trying to do exactly the same. Except that we humans are somewhat more dominant in the age of Anthropocene.
In 2010, I published a journalistic debate paper (‘New demands; old countryside‘) which changed the way I viewed the environment. While we are part of nature – seeking food, shelter and clothing amongst other needs – we are also increasingly disengaged from food production and nature conservation.
This complexity was brought home to me during interviews with leaders from Natural England, NFU, RSPB, Soil Association, CPRE, National Trust, GWCT, LEAF, Rural Affairs MPs, and supermarkets – all staking out their own agendas.
As 20th Century freethinker (Mencken) observed, ‘for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong’; and it seemed that for every government report at the time – from Read’s ‘Combating Climate Change; A role for UK forests‘ (2009) to Lawton’s ‘Making Room for Nature‘ (2010) and Foresight’s ‘The future of Food and Farming‘ (2011) – they called for ambitious, though arguably, unrealistic ‘step changes’.
I realised that I had fallen into the same ambitious trap. As ambitious as the EU’s 2020 targets for biodiversity and renewables; perhaps without realising the trade-offs inherent in our interactions with natural capital – from our grocery requirements to our pursuit of leisure.
Five years on I recognise a greater need to shelve ideals and to share ideas, to find common ground and not just demand: ‘are you with us, because if not, you are against us!‘ thus creating entrenched polarised positions. GM or organic, grouse shooting or not, meat or vegan, forestry or moorland, oak trees or lapwings – are all matters that have common ground shared solutions.
Dead Poets Society was a film with an unconventional teacher tearing chapters from textbooks and asking students to stand on their desks to see the world from a new angle. His free-thinking attitude and the liberating philosophies of the poets he introduces, have a profound effect on his students encouraging them to become individuals and think for themselves.
I’m no poet but in around 365 words, I might sometimes ask you to stand on your desk. Oh, and listen tolerantly to other views.