The Associated Press reports: As head of his village, Prajob Naowa-opas battled to save his community in central Thailand from the illegal dumping of toxic waste by filing petitions and leading villagers to block trucks carrying the stuff — until a gunman in broad daylight fired four shots into him.
A year later, his three alleged killers, including a senior government official, are on trial for murder. The dumping has been halted and villagers are erecting a statue to their slain hero.
But the prosecution of Prajob’s murder is a rare exception. A survey released Tuesday — the first comprehensive one of its kind – says that only 10 killers of 908 environmental activists slain around the world over the past decade have been convicted.
The report by the London-based Global Witness, a group that seeks to shed light on the links between environmental exploitation and human rights abuses, says murders of those protecting land rights and the environment have soared dramatically. It noted that its toll of victims in 35 countries is probably far higher since field investigations in a number of African and Asian nations are difficult or impossible. [Continue reading...]
Robert L. Nadeau and Donald A. Brown write: When scientists make presentations at meetings or conferences on the existing and projected impacts of climate change, they describe in jargon laden language and in emotionally neutral terms what their research has revealed about these impacts. But during informal conversations over a few beers during the evening or late at night, these scientists no longer feel obliged to divorce their scientific heads from their human hearts. On these occasions, they use colorful and often profane language to express their disdain and contempt for the small number of scientists known as global warming skeptics who are well compensated by conservative think tanks for misinterpreting and abusing scientific knowledge.
The scientists involved in these conversations also vent their anger toward the oil and energy companies that sponsor massive disinformation campaigns on radio and television designed to convince Americans that their security, peace and economic well-being are utterly dependent on the consumption of increasing amounts of “clean and plentiful” fossil fuels. They say unkind things about the mangers of the American news media for running endless stories about the human suffering and financial losses caused by extreme weather events and saying nothing about the fact that climate change is contributing to the frequency and intensity of these events. But if the conversation goes on long enough and the hour is late, one or more of these scientists will say what the others firmly believe but are reluctant to admit—the fate of the Earth is sealed by the ignorance, lack of compassion, and inexhaustible greed of its human inhabitants and life on this planet for our children and grandchildren will be little more than a brutal struggle for survival.
The reasons why these empirically oriented rational thinkers have come to this dire conclusion are abundantly obvious in recent scientific research on the existing and projected impacts of climate change. This research has not only shown that massive reductions in worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases over the next two decades will be required to prevent the most disastrous impacts of climate change. It has also revealed that if we fail, as now seems likely, to accomplish this feat, there is a high probability that life on this planet for our children and grandchildren will be little more than a brutal struggle for survival. (Hansen et al. 2013) But as the scientists involved in the late night conversations know all too well, this research is largely ignored by the mainstream media, rarely discussed by political leaders and economic planners, and conspicuously missing in the rancorous public debate about climate change.
The usual explanation why this insane situation exists, as climate scientist Michael Mann put it in a recent article in the New York Times, is that there is a “violent strain of anti-science” in this country which “infects the halls of Congress, the pages of leading newspapers and what we see on television.” (Mann, 2014) What Mann did not say in this article but knows very well is that the primary source of this infection is the well-financed, highly coordinated, and very effective campaign of the climate change contrarians.
This campaign began in the 1980s when some of the same scientists that had been paid by the tobacco industry to challenge the scientific evidence that smoking is harmful to human health were hired by oil and energy companies to challenge the scientific evidence about climate change. [Continue reading...]
Jeffrey Kaplan writes: Private cars were relatively scarce in 1919 and horse-drawn conveyances were still common. In residential districts, electric streetlights had not yet replaced many of the old gaslights. And within the home, electricity remained largely a luxury item for the wealthy.
Just ten years later things looked very different. Cars dominated the streets and most urban homes had electric lights, electric flat irons, and vacuum cleaners. In upper-middle-class houses, washing machines, refrigerators, toasters, curling irons, percolators, heating pads, and popcorn poppers were becoming commonplace. And although the first commercial radio station didn’t begin broadcasting until 1920, the American public, with an adult population of about 122 million people, bought 4,438,000 radios in the year 1929 alone.
But despite the apparent tidal wave of new consumer goods and what appeared to be a healthy appetite for their consumption among the well-to-do, industrialists were worried. They feared that the frugal habits maintained by most American families would be difficult to break. Perhaps even more threatening was the fact that the industrial capacity for turning out goods seemed to be increasing at a pace greater than people’s sense that they needed them.
It was this latter concern that led Charles Kettering, director of General Motors Research, to write a 1929 magazine article called “Keep the Consumer Dissatisfied.” He wasn’t suggesting that manufacturers produce shoddy products. Along with many of his corporate cohorts, he was defining a strategic shift for American industry—from fulfilling basic human needs to creating new ones.
In a 1927 interview with the magazine Nation’s Business, Secretary of Labor James J. Davis provided some numbers to illustrate a problem that the New York Times called “need saturation.” Davis noted that “the textile mills of this country can produce all the cloth needed in six months’ operation each year” and that 14 percent of the American shoe factories could produce a year’s supply of footwear. The magazine went on to suggest, “It may be that the world’s needs ultimately will be produced by three days’ work a week.”
Business leaders were less than enthusiastic about the prospect of a society no longer centered on the production of goods. For them, the new “labor-saving” machinery presented not a vision of liberation but a threat to their position at the center of power. John E. Edgerton, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, typified their response when he declared: “I am for everything that will make work happier but against everything that will further subordinate its importance. The emphasis should be put on work — more work and better work.” “Nothing,” he claimed, “breeds radicalism more than unhappiness unless it is leisure.”
By the late 1920s, America’s business and political elite had found a way to defuse the dual threat of stagnating economic growth and a radicalized working class in what one industrial consultant called “the gospel of consumption” — the notion that people could be convinced that however much they have, it isn’t enough. [Continue reading...]
WWF: A UN climate impact report, released today, gives the clearest and most comprehensive evidence yet that the earth we call home is in deep trouble. It reinforces the sobering view that climate change is real, it’s happening now and it’s affecting the lives and the livelihoods of people as well as the sensitive ecosystems that sustain life.
This is the second in a series of four reports being prepared by the world’s leading climate authorities in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It assesses the impacts, adaptation and vulnerability of human and natural systems, the observed impacts and future risks of climate change, and the potential for and limits to adaptation.
Samantha Smith, leader of the WWF Global Climate & Energy Initiative says the report highlights, for the first time, the dramatic difference of impacts between a world where we act now to cut emissions, which now come mostly from using fossil fuels; and a world where we fail to act quickly and at scale.
“This report tells us that we have two clear choices: cut emissions now and invest in adaption – and have a world that has challenging and just barely manageable risks; or do nothing and face a world of devastating and unmanageable risks and impacts.”
“The report makes it clear that we still have time to act. We can limit climate instability and adapt to some of the changes we see now. But without immediate and specific action, we are in danger of going far beyond the limits of adaptation. With this risk posed so clearly, we have to hope that the next IPCC report which is being released in Berlin in April, will provide us with strong statements on the solutions that we know exist,” she says.
Despite the warnings given by the IPCC in its reports over the past 20 years – reinforced by the release of the report today – the gap between the science and what governments are doing remains huge, says Sandeep Chamling Rai, head of the WWF delegation to the meeting.
“The science is clear and the debate is over. Climate change is happening and humans are the major cause of emissions, driven mainly by our dependence on fossil fuels. This is driving global warming. This report sets out the impacts we already see, the risks we face in the future, and the opportunities to act. It has been accepted by the member governments of the IPCC. Now it is up to people to hold their governments to account, to get them to act purposefully and immediately,” he says.
The risks of collective inaction are greatest for developing countries, says Chamling Rai. “All countries are vulnerable but developing countries have a greater sensitivity, with more people living in poverty and fewer resources to respond to climate disasters. We need to put in place those measures that will slow down warming and put us on a fair and just transition to a sustainable world. The report shows that ambitious emissions cuts now can reduce the risk of climate change in the second half of this century.”
And the regional assessments – given in depth in this report – show with a great degree of certainty what the impacts will be in the key regions of the world.
“We now have a better understanding of how climate impacts will affect people and nature in different regions. International adaptation efforts need to be intensified to adequately respond to such varied impacts,” says Chamling Rai. [Continue reading...]
Robin McKie reviews The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert: Brown tree snakes come from Papua New Guinea and Australia, where they survive on diets of lizards, bats and rats. They were considered unremarkable until the 1940s when some found their way to Guam, probably on a military ship.
The impact of Boiga irregularis was staggering. The little Pacific island’s only indigenous snake was a sightless creature the size of a worm. As a result, Guam’s fauna were unprepared for the predatory brown tree snake that began to eat its way through the island’s native birds, including the Guam flycatcher and the Mariana fruit-dove, as well as its three native mammals, all bats. Only one of the latter survives: the Marianas flying fox, which is now considered highly endangered.
It is a sad, familiar story. In colonising our planet’s nooks and crannies, most new species that we have encountered have either been wiped out directly – like the mastodons, mammoths and Neanderthals laid low by our stone age ancestors – or indirectly by the pests we introduced in our wake, like the brown tree snake or the Central American wolfsnail, introduced to Hawaii in the 1950s, which has since killed off around 90% of the islands’ 700 native snail species.
Then there are the coral reefs, homes to vast numbers of marine animals, that have been dynamited by fishermen and bleached by our acidifying oceans. Or consider the swaths of the Amazon basin ploughed up for farming, thus destroying the homes of countless rainforest denizens. And for good measure, there are the fungal diseases, spread by humans, that now threaten every bat species in America and every amphibian species on the planet. When it comes to sharing a planet, we are the neighbours from hell.
“One-third of all reef-building corals, a third of all fresh-water molluscs, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion,” states Elizabeth Kolbert in this compelling account of human-inspired devastation. “And the losses are occurring all over: in the South Pacific, in the North Atlantic, in the Arctic and in the Sahel, in lakes and on islands, on mountaintops and in valleys.” [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: When a powerful storm destroyed her riverside home in 2009, Jahanara Khatun lost more than the modest roof over her head. In the aftermath, her husband died and she became so destitute that she sold her son and daughter into bonded servitude. And she may lose yet more.
Ms. Khatun now lives in a bamboo shack that sits below sea level about 50 yards from a sagging berm. She spends her days collecting cow dung for fuel and struggling to grow vegetables in soil poisoned by salt water. Climate scientists predict that this area will be inundated as sea levels rise and storm surges increase, and a cyclone or another disaster could easily wipe away her rebuilt life. But Ms. Khatun is trying to hold out at least for a while — one of millions living on borrowed time in this vast landscape of river islands, bamboo huts, heartbreaking choices and impossible hopes.
As the world’s top scientists meet in Yokohama, Japan, this week, at the top of the agenda is the prediction that global sea levels could rise as much as three feet by 2100. Higher seas and warmer weather will cause profound changes.
Climate scientists have concluded that widespread burning of fossil fuels is releasing heat-trapping gases that are warming the planet. While this will produce a host of effects, the most worrisome may be the melting of much of the earth’s ice, which is likely to raise sea levels and flood coastal regions.
Such a rise will be uneven because of gravitational effects and human intervention, so predicting its outcome in any one place is difficult. But island nations like the Maldives, Kiribati and Fiji may lose much of their land area, and millions of Bangladeshis will be displaced. [Continue reading...]
For those of us who see industrial civilization as the guarantor of humanity’s destruction, it’s easy to picture an idyllic era earlier in our evolution, located perhaps during the cultural flowering of the Great Leap Forward.
Communities then remained relatively egalitarian without workers enslaved in back-breaking labor, while subsistence on few material resources meant that time was neither controlled by the dictates of a stratified social hierarchy nor by the demands of survival.
When people could accord as much value to storytelling, ritual, and music-making, as they did to hunting and gathering food, we might like to think that human beings were living in balance with nature.
As George Monbiot reveals, the emerging evidence about of our early ancestors paints a much grimmer picture — one in which human nature appears to have always been profoundly destructive.
You want to know who we are? Really? You think you do, but you will regret it. This article, if you have any love for the world, will inject you with a venom – a soul-scraping sadness – without an obvious antidote.
The Anthropocene, now a popular term among scientists, is the epoch in which we live: one dominated by human impacts on the living world. Most date it from the beginning of the industrial revolution. But it might have begun much earlier, with a killing spree that commenced two million years ago. What rose onto its hind legs on the African savannahs was, from the outset, death: the destroyer of worlds.
Before Homo erectus, perhaps our first recognisably human ancestor, emerged in Africa, the continent abounded with monsters. There were several species of elephants. There were sabretooths and false sabretooths, giant hyenas and creatures like those released in The Hunger Games: amphicyonids, or bear dogs, vast predators with an enormous bite.
Prof Blaire van Valkenburgh has developed a means by which we could roughly determine how many of these animals there were. When there are few predators and plenty of prey, the predators eat only the best parts of the carcass. When competition is intense, they eat everything, including the bones. The more bones a carnivore eats, the more likely its teeth are to be worn or broken. The breakages in carnivores’ teeth were massively greater in the pre-human era.
Not only were there more species of predators, including species much larger than any found on Earth today, but they appear to have been much more abundant – and desperate. We evolved in a terrible, wonderful world – that was no match for us. [Continue reading...]
McClatchy reports: Israel has gone through one of the driest winters in its history, but despite the lean rainy season, the government has suspended a longstanding campaign to conserve water.
The familiar public messages during recent years of drought, often showing images of parched earth, have disappeared from television despite weeks of balmy weather with record low rainfalls in some areas.
The level of the Sea of Galilee, the country’s natural water reservoir, is no longer closely tracked in news reports or the subject of anxious national discussion.
The reason: Israel has in recent years achieved a quiet water revolution through desalination.
With four plants currently in operation, all built since 2005, and a fifth slated to go into service this year, Israel is meeting much of its water needs by purifying seawater from the Mediterranean. Some 80 percent of domestic water use in Israeli cities comes from desalinated water, according to Israeli officials.
“There’s no water problem because of the desalination,” said Hila Gil, director of the desalination division in the Israel Water Authority. “The problem is no longer on the agenda.”
The struggle over scarce water resources has fueled conflict between Israel and its neighbors, but the country is now finding itself increasingly self-sufficient after years of dependency on rainfall and subterranean aquifers. [Continue reading...]
At The Guardian, Nafeez Ahmed writes: A new study sponsored by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.
Noting that warnings of ‘collapse’ are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.” Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to “precipitous collapse – often lasting centuries – have been quite common.”
The research project is based on a new cross-disciplinary ‘Human And Nature DYnamical’ (HANDY) model, led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharri of the US National Science Foundation-supported National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, in association with a team of natural and social scientists. The study based on the HANDY model has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Elsevier journal, Ecological Economics.
It finds that according to the historical record even advanced, complex civilisations are susceptible to collapse, raising questions about the sustainability of modern civilisation:
“The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”
By investigating the human-nature dynamics of these past cases of collapse, the project identifies the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.
These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor]” These social phenomena have played “a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse,” in all such cases over “the last five thousand years.” [Continue reading...]
The research paper, which is quite technical, can be read here: “A Minimal Model for Human and Nature Interaction.”
Embedded in the mud, glistening green and gold and black, was a butterfly, very beautiful and very dead.
“Not a little thing like that! Not a butterfly!” cried Eckels.
It fell to the floor, an exquisite thing, a small thing that could upset balances and knock down a line of small dominoes and then big dominoes and then gigantic dominoes, all down the years across Time. Eckels’ mind whirled. It couldn’t change things. Killing one butterfly couldn’t be that important! Could it? — Ray Bradbury, A Sound of Thunder, 1952
As one of the massive and probably irreversible consequences of climate change, the melting of the Northern Hemisphere’s permafrost is not an example of the butterfly effect. Yet the discovery of a giant virus which has come back to life after 30,000 years of frozen dormancy, suggests many possibilities including some akin to those envisaged by Ray Bradbury is his famous science fiction story.
Whereas his narrative required that the reader suspend disbelief by entertaining the idea of time travel, the thawing tundra may produce a very real kind of time travel if any viruses or other microbes were to emerge as new invasive species.
Rather than being transported geographically as a result of human activity, these will spring suddenly from a distant past into an environment that may lack necessary evolutionary adaptations to accommodate their presence.
We are assured that Pithovirus sibericum poses no threat to humans — it just attacks amoebas. But our concern shouldn’t be limited to fears about the reemergence of something like an ancient strain of smallpox.
The rebirth of a pathogen that could strike phytoplankton — producers of half the world’s oxygen — would have a devastating impact on the planet.
BBC News reports: The ancient pathogen was discovered buried 30m (100ft) down in the frozen ground.
Called Pithovirus sibericum, it belongs to a class of giant viruses that were discovered 10 years ago.
These are all so large that, unlike other viruses, they can be seen under a microscope. And this one, measuring 1.5 micrometres in length, is the biggest that has ever been found.
The last time it infected anything was more than 30,000 years ago, but in the laboratory it has sprung to life once again.
Tests show that it attacks amoebas, which are single-celled organisms, but does not infect humans or other animals.
Co-author Dr Chantal Abergel, also from the CNRS, said: “It comes into the cell, multiplies and finally kills the cell. It is able to kill the amoeba – but it won’t infect a human cell.”
However, the researchers believe that other more deadly pathogens could be locked in Siberia’s permafrost.
“We are addressing this issue by sequencing the DNA that is present in those layers,” said Dr Abergel.
“This would be the best way to work out what is dangerous in there.”
The researchers say this region is under threat. Since the 1970s, the permafrost has retreated and reduced in thickness, and climate change projections suggest it will decrease further.
It has also become more accessible, and is being eyed for its natural resources.
Prof Claverie warns that exposing the deep layers could expose new viral threats.
He said: “It is a recipe for disaster. If you start having industrial explorations, people will start to move around the deep permafrost layers. Through mining and drilling, those old layers will be penetrated and this is where the danger is coming from.”
He told BBC News that ancient strains of the smallpox virus, which was declared eradicated 30 years ago, could pose a risk. [Continue reading...]
Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research: Plants are also able to make complex decisions. At least this is what scientists from the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research (UFZ) and the University of Göttingen have concluded from their investigations on Barberry (Berberis vulgaris), which is able to abort its own seeds to prevent parasite infestation. The results are the first ecological evidence of complex behaviour in plants. They indicate that this species has a structural memory, is able to differentiate between inner and outer conditions as well as anticipate future risks, scientists write in the renowned journal American Naturalist — the premier peer-reviewed American journal for theoretical ecology.
The European barberry or simply Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) is a species of shrub distributed throughout Europe. It is related to the Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) that is native to North America and that has been spreading through Europe for years. Scientists compared both species to find a marked difference in parasite infestation: “a highly specialized species of tephritid fruit fly, whose larvae actually feed on the seeds of the native Barberry, was found to have a tenfold higher population density on its new host plant, the Oregon grape”, reports Dr. Harald Auge, a biologist at the UFZ.
This led scientists to examine the seeds of the Barberry more closely. Approximately 2000 berries were collected from different regions of Germany, examined for signs of piercing and then cut open to examine any infestation by the larvae of the tephritid fruit fly (Rhagoletis meigenii). This parasite punctures the berries in order to lay its eggs inside them. If the larva is able to develop, it will often feed on all of the seeds in the berry. A special characteristic of the Barberry is that each berry usually has two seeds and that the plant is able to stop the development of its seeds in order to save its resources. This mechanism is also employed to defend it from the tephritid fruit fly. If a seed is infested with the parasite, later on the developing larva will feed on both seeds. If however the plant aborts the infested seed, then the parasite in that seed will also die and the second seed in the berry is saved. [Read more...]
Current wind and temperature at 500hPa:
The current wind conditions in the polar vortex at 10hPa:
Click on the Earth button to see an interactive view where you can:
- select current condition, +/- 3hrs, +/- 1 day (Control: Now « – ‹ – › – »);
- switch between atmospheric and ocean conditions (Mode: Air – Ocean);
- select a height from surface upwards (Height: Sfc – 1000 – 850 – 700 – 500 – 250 – 70 – 10 hPa);
- choose an overlay showing wind, temperature, relative humidity, air density, etc. (Overlay: Wind – Temp – RH – AD – WPD – TPW – TCW – MSLP);
- and select a projection.
Drag the image to view different locations and double-click for larger scale. Click on projection “O” to return to an orthographic view of the planet.
Rachel Nuwer reports: Some large animals influence their surroundings more than others. Elephants are known as ecosystem engineers for their tendency to push over trees and stomp shrubby areas in the savannah into submission. This keeps forests at bay, which otherwise would overtake open grasslands. Wolves, on the other hand, are apex predators. They keep other species like deer in check, preventing herbivore populations from getting out of hand and eating all the plants into oblivion. Both elephants and wolves are keystone species, or ones that have a relatively large impact on their environment in relation to their actual population numbers.
African rhinos, it turns out, also seem to be a keystone species. According to a recent study published by Scandinavian and South African researchers in the Journal of Ecology, rhinos maintain the diverse African grasslands on which countless other species depend.
Surprisingly, prior to this study no one had looked closely rhinos’ roles in shaping the ecosystem. Most researchers focused on elephants instead. Suspecting that these large animals influence their environment, the authors took a close look at rhinos in Kruger National Park in South Africa. [Continue reading...]
Perhaps it should be called eco-catastrophe tourism: rushing to catch a glimpse of natural wonders before they disappear.
For under $4,000 you can visit Kenya to witness Africa’s wildebeest migration. But if you want to be able tell your grandchildren what it was like, don’t wait too long.
CNN lists “11 great wildlife experiences [that] could disappear within your lifetime,” and helpfully provides details about the tour operators and packages so that you can catch a glimpse of the last rhinoceros, polar bears, tigers, gorillas, and orangutans.
I guess each of these creatures is acquiring greater market value, the closer to extinction it comes.
I imagine that the tour operators and tourists feel that these enterprises are contributing towards the protection of species and their environments and to some extent that might be true.
There also seems to be a predatorial element at play. The hunters might only come away with photographs, videos, and memories, yet appealing to a desire to see something rare before it is lost, caters more to an acquisitive impulse than it contributes towards the prevention of species and habitat loss.
OOSKAnews reports: New research by Sri Lankan medical professionals has identified high amounts of the herbicide glyphosate as the culprit behind the high levels of chronic kidney disease in the country’s North Central province and other key rice-producing areas.
The researchers found that glyphosate, which is widely used in paddy cultivation to prepare the soil, has the capacity to retain arsenic and other heavy metals in water.
Their report was presented to Special Projects Minister S. M. Chandrasena on February 5. The researchers urged the government to take immediate action to ban imports of the harmful agro-chemical. They said the prevalence of end-stage renal failure is reaching epidemic levels in the country.
Dr. Channa Jayasumana, a senior lecturer at the Medical Faculty of Rajarata University and the lead researcher, said: “The chemical glyphosate mixed with hard water lasted for about 20 years.”
“The toxins contained in agro-chemicals are deposited in hard water found in North Central Province, and they will remain in the human body for over six years,” he added.
Jayasumana said that in 2012, Sri Lanka had imported nearly 500,000 metric tonnes of glyphosate, which was developed by US-based international agricultural giant Monsanto. Monsanto’s patent for the broad-spectrum herbicide, marketed under the brand name “Roundup,” expired in 2000.
Jayasumana claimed Monsanto was aware of the health risks, but had not educated poor farmers and people living in areas where rice is cultivated to take precautions to prevent disease. [Continue reading...]
Orion magazine: One day, the British environmental writer George Monbiot was digging in his garden when he had a revelation—that his life had become too tidy and constrained. While exploring what it would take to re-ignite his own sense of wonder, he waded into a sea of ideas about restoration and rewilding that so captured his imagination that it became the focus of his next book. Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding was published in the United Kingdom in 2013, to much acclaim, and is forthcoming in the U.S. in 2014. Orion editor Jennifer Sahn caught up with Monbiot to talk about rewilding — what it means for people, for nature, and for an environmental movement that is in great need of having far wider appeal.
Jennifer Sahn: It’s sort of an obvious starting place, but I think it makes sense to begin by asking how you define rewilding.
George Monbiot: Actually, there are two definitions of rewilding that appeal to me. One is the mass restoration of ecosystems. By restoration, I really mean bringing back their trophic function. Trophic function involves feeding. It’s about eating and being eaten. Trophic function is the interactions between animals and plants in the food chain. Most of our ecosystems are very impoverished as far as those interactions are concerned. They’re missing the top predators and the big herbivores, and so they’re missing a lot of their ecological dynamism. That, above all, is what I want to restore.
I see the mass restoration of ecosystems, meaning taking down the fences, blocking up the drainage ditches, enabling wildlife to spread. Reintroducing missing species, and particularly missing species which are keystone species, or ecosystem engineers. These are species which have impacts greater than their biomass alone would suggest. They create habitats, and create opportunities for many other species. Good examples would be beavers, wolves, wild boar, elephants, whales — all of which have huge ramifying effects on the ecosystem, including parts of the ecosystem with which they have no direct contact.
Otherwise, I see humans having very little continuing management role in the ecosystem. Having brought back the elements which can restore that dynamism, we then step back and stop trying to interfere. That, in a way, is the hardest thing of all — to stop believing that, without our help, everything’s going to go horribly wrong. I think in many ways we still suffer from the biblical myth of dominion where we see ourselves as the guardians or the stewards of the planet, whereas I think it does best when we have as little influence as we can get away with.
The other definition of rewilding that interests me is the rewilding of our own lives. I believe the two processes are closely intertwined—if we have spaces on our doorsteps in which nature is allowed to do its own thing, in which it can be to some extent self-willed, driven by its own dynamic processes, that, I feel, is a much more exciting and thrilling ecosystem to explore and discover, and it enables us to enrich our lives, to fill them with wonder and enchantment.
Jennifer: So you’re using rewilding in part as a reflexive verb?
George: Absolutely. Of all the species that need rewilding, I think human beings come at the top of the list. I would love to see a more intense and emotional engagement of human beings with the living world. The process of rewilding the ecosystem gives us an opportunity to make our lives richer and rawer than they tend to be in our very crowded and overcivilized and buttoned-down societies. [Continue reading...]