Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist – Review
Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist, by Paul Kingsnorth, March 2017. Faber and Faber, ISBN 978-0571329694, 304 pages. RRP £14 99 (paperback)
This book explores an area which few other environmental activists address, namely the causal links between the Neoliberal economy of never-ending growth on a finite planet and the inevitable destruction of Earth’s eco-systems which that entails. Mr Kingsnorth has concluded that there is no possibility of this situation being changed fast enough to stop global warming and other aspects of the destruction of the Earth. He also sees a major shift in the perspective of many activists towards “an obsession with climate change”. Whilst he regards this focus as vital, its single-issue bias takes attention away from many other kinds of damage, particularly the enormous depletion and extinction of life forms. He interprets this shift as the success of the economic powers in promoting an ill-defined sustainability and “business as usual without the carbon”. He is disturbed at the extent to which most NGOs have gone along with this. A corroboration of this acquiescence can probably be seen in the June election when The Climate Coalition, with 15 million supporters (one-third of the electorate), made no impression in getting climate change, let alone wider ecological concerns, into the debate.
It seems that the need for an economy which gives priority to the stability of Earth’s ecosystems; to the common good of all peoples, including future generations; and to the care of other-than-human life, is not to be debated as long as the present economy prevails.
The loss of non-human species is deeply painful to him. He speaks about the natural world as “sacred ….which expresses itself to me in what Christians call Creation…’’. He seems a natural seeker of the truth inside himself, particularly espousing compassion for all life. My impression is of a man who tries to look at the world as it is, to acknowledge his despair about what he finds and to seek ways of living fully whilst no longer being an activist. With others he has set up The Dark Mountain project, a network of writers and artists of all kinds who struggle over the future of nature in a human-centred world.
He abhors bigness within human institutions, believing that it invariably leads to the oppression of others. I’m disappointed that he doesn’t deal with the question of how smaller collections of people then relate to one another. Worldwide cooperation is a type of bigness which it is essential to achieve.
I agree with him that it is vital that we each face the reality of what is being done to the Earth and its life forms, and to grieve that. Unlike him I do not find that this process of grief and hope lessens my activism. Instead it increasingly incorporates challenging the unfitness-for-purpose of the present economy and trying to live out a vision of a different economy in whatever ways I can. Perhaps the most influential critic of the current economy is Pope Francis. Here are three of his many statements:
- “The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose,” (The Joy of the Gospel, 55).
- “In this [economic] system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenceless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.” (The Joy of the Gospel, 56)
- “..this socioeconomic system is unjust at its root”. (The Joy of the Gospel, 59)