We post below excerpts from an essay by Paul Kingsnorth titled "Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist," which appears in a 2017 collection of essays of the same title. Kingsnorth is a Brit and cofounder of the Dark Mountain Project, a global network of writers, artists, and thinkers in search of “new stories for a world on the brink.” We found the following words to be remarkably thought-provoking. Please visit Kingsnorth’s website and consider buying and reading his books. And let us know what you think!
“I became an ‘environmentalist’ because of a strong emotional reaction to wild places and the world beyond the human. . . . But these are not, I think, very common views today. Today’s environmentalism is as much a victim of the contemporary cult of utility as every other aspect of our lives, from science to education. We are not environmentalists now because we have an emotional reaction to the wild world. In this country, most of us wouldn’t even know where to find it. We are environmentalists now in order to promote something called ‘sustainability.’ What does this curious, plastic word mean? <<continued . . . >>
It does not mean defending the non-human world from the ever-expanding empire of Homo sapiens sapiens, though some of its adherents like to pretend it does, even to themselves. It means sustaining human civilization at the comfort level that the world’s rich people—us—feel is their right, without destroying the ‘natural capital’ or the ‘resource base’ that is needed to do so. It is, in other words, an entirely human-centered piece of politicking, disguised as concern for ‘the planet.’ In a very short time—(in) just over a decade-this worldview has become all-pervasive. . . . The success of ‘environmentalism’ has been total—at the price of its soul. [pp. 68-69]
". . . Now it seem(s) that environmentalism (is) not about wildness or ecocentrism or the other-than-human world and our relationship to it. Instead it was about (human) social justice and (human) equality and (human) progress and ensuring that all these things could be realized without degrading the (human) resource base that we used to call nature back when we were being naïve and problematic. Suddenly, never-ending economic growth was a good thing after all: the poor needed it to get rich, which was their right. To square the circle, for those who still realised there was a circle, we were told that ‘(human) social justice and environmental justice go hand in hand’ . . . (which) could surely only be wishful thinking. Suddenly, sustaining a global human population of 10 billion people was not a problem at all, and anyone who suggested otherwise was . . . giving succor to fascism or racism or gender discrimination or … some other such hip and largely unexamined concept. The ‘real issue,’ it seemed, was not the human relationship with the non-human world; it was fat cats and bankers and cap’lism. These things must be destroyed, by way of marches, protests and votes for fringe political parties, to make way for something known a ‘eco-socialism’: a conflation of concepts that pretty much guarantees the instant hostility of 95 percent of the (human) population. [pp.76-77]
". . . Today’s environmentalism is about people. . . . It is an engineering challenge; a problem-solving devise for people to whom the sight of a wild hilltop on a clear day brings not feelings of transcendence but thoughts about the wasted potential for renewable energy. It is about saving civilization from the results of its own actions; a desperate attempt to prevent Gaia from hiccupping and wiping out our coffee shops and broadband connections. It is our last hope. . . . You can’t (avoid) being bombarded with propaganda about the importance of ‘saving the planet.’ But there is a terrible hollowness to it all; a sense that society is going through the motions without understanding why. The shift, the pact, has come at a probably fatal price. Now that price is being paid. [pp.78-79]
". . . It was perhaps inevitable that a utilitarian society would generate a utilitarian environmentalism, and inevitable too that the greens would not be able to last for long outside the established political bunkers. But for me, now – well, this (environmentalism) is no longer mine, that’s all. I cant make my peace with people who cannibalise the land in the name of saving it. I can’t speak the language of science without a corresponding poetry. I can’t speak with a straight face about saving the planet when what I really mean is saving myself from what is coming. [pp. 79-80]
"Like all of us, I am a foot soldier of empire. It is the (worldwide) empire of Homo sapiens sapiens. . . . The environment is the victim of this empire. . . . I don’t have any answers, if by answers we mean political systems, better machines, means of engineering some grand shift in consequences. All I have is a personal conviction built on feelings . . . that something big is being missed. That we are both hollow men and stuffed men, and that we will keep stuffing ourselves until the food runs out and if outside the dining-room door we have made a wasteland and called it necessity, then at least we will know we were not to blame, because we are never to blame, because we are the humans.
"What am I to do with feelings like these? . . . I withdraw, you see. I withdraw from the campaigning and the marching, I withdraw from the arguing and the talked-up necessity and all of the false assumptions. I withdraw from the words. I am leaving. I am going to go out walking. I am leaving on a pilgrimage . . . I will follow the songlines and see what they sing to me and maybe, one day, I might even come back. And if I am very lucky I might bring with me a harvest of fresh tales, which I can scatter like apple seeds across this tired and angry land.” [pp.81-82, from essay in “Dark Mountain” issue 1, 2010]
Conservation, viewed in its entirety, is the slow and laborious unfolding of a new relationship between people and land.
There is in fact no distinction between the fate of the land and the fate of the people. When one is abused, the other suffers.
From the President
SCP President Chuck Roe looked at land conservation along the route of John Muir's "Southern Trek."
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