Despair and Hope – Reviews

Author: Ed Beale | Date: 13 September, 2019 | Category: Book Reviews | Comments: 0

Despair and Hope


“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.” Aldo Leopold (1887-1948)

One of the new features of the Guardian weather page is the daily count of parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, measured every day at the summit of Mauna Loa. The natural level is 280ppm, a safe level would be below 350ppm and the current concentration is 414.73 ppm. So is the situation serious?


Recent books bring both heightened anxiety and practical hope. The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story of The Future by David Wallace Wells, (Allen Lane, 2019, £20) unusually discusses the tragedies before dealing with their causes. Chapter titles include “Heat Death”, “Hunger”, “Dying Oceans”, “Unbreathable Air” and “Economic Collapse”. This is not a hopeful, optimistic or cheerful book.


Mike Berners-Lee has written There Is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years. (CUP, 2019, £12). This is a book to read and then keep in the briefcase, for it will answer many questions. It is well indexed with a glossary, making it the ultimate green pocket encyclopedia.
These two books pose the challenge, but the answer is more difficult. It comes down to how we live with creation and respect nature. Two other books offer practical visions of what is possible, and how those visions can be and are being achieved.


The Knepp estate in Sussex is 3,500 acres in three holdings. Its owners have systematically researched and rewilded their land, restoring habitats with wild cattle, deer and wild horses. This has proved profitable, but more importantly nature has re-established itself in all its complexity with the return of nightingales and purple emperors. Isabella Tree tells the story in Wilding (Picador, 2018, paperback £9.99).


Benedict Macdonald takes up the challenge even further in Rebirding: Rewilding Britain And Its Birds (Pelagic Publishing, 2019, £20) This extensive study guides us into understanding the vital importance of birds to our ecology and how they are in decline, under threat from our profit-centred lifestyle. When we humans, we wise apes, come to live more sustainably, then one of the directions we must follow is to care for the birds, guided by the advice and research of the RSPB.


It is important as green Christians, who seek to honour creation, that we keep updated with the many developments in ecological science. They are extensive and extend from science into politics and economics. As we change our lifestyles, we need to aim for real sustainability, as defined by economic and scientific evidence. We can begin in hope if we care for the birds as well as for the land.

John Smith


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