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 industry leaders from Natural England, NFU, RSPB, Soil Association, CPRE, National Trust, GWCT, LEAF, Rural Affairs MPs, and supermarkets – all staking out their own agendas within their own silos.
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 all called for ambitious, though arguably at times, unrealistic ‘step change’ solutions.
I realised that I had fallen into the same trap. As ambitious as the EU’s 2020 targets for both 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 ban, meat or vegan, forestry or moorland, oak trees or lapwings – are all matters that have common ground, involving compromise, 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 different angle. His free-thinking attitude, alongside the liberating philosophies of the poets he introduces, have a profound effect on his students encouraging them to become individualist thinkers for themselves.
Of course not all ends well and I’m no poet, but in around 500 words, I might sometimes occasionally ask you to stand on your desk, think for yourself, and listen tolerantly to other views.
[Weblink check June 19]