“Denial is everywhere. I have come to believe that it’s an intrinsic component of our humanity, an essential survival strategy. Unlike other species, we know that we will die. This knowledge could destroy us, were we unable to blot it out. But, unlike other species, we also know how not to know. We employ this unique ability to suppress our knowledge not just of mortality, but of everything we find uncomfortable, until our survival strategy becomes a threat to our survival.”
This morning, whilst lounging in bed in the small cottage we’re staying in in Aberdyfi for the week, I finished reading Feral, the latest book by journalist and environmentalist, George Monbiot. In a nutshell, it’s a book about rewilding; rewilding the land, rewilding the sea, rewilding ourselves.
While there seem to be numerous definitions of ‘rewilding’ out there, I agree with GM that two of those definitions are most fascinating. The first relates to allowing ecological processes to resume within natural ecosystems. So, rather than attempting to freeze nature in the name of ‘preservation’ or ‘conservation’, recognising actually that the natural world is not made up of simple, static systems, but rather richly complex processes that go way beyond our initial understanding or imaginings; processes that must be allowed to return and evolve naturally. The other definition relates to our own place within this ecosystem – the rewilding of human life. GM describes this perfectly as “an enhanced opportunity for people to engage with and delight in the natural world”.
After reading Feral, I went on to GM’s website and came across the above quote about denial. And I absolutely, wholeheartedly agree: we live in a world of denial. I have questioned the status quo, the ‘boxes’ that we are all meant to fit neatly inside of, for almost as long as I can remember. This, I have learnt, is not the easy route through life. I’ve fallen out with a lot of people along the way. I ask awkward questions, start uncomfortable conversations, bring things up that others would prefer just quietly swept under the carpet. I’m fully aware of this, yet to not take this position feels, to me, insincere and disingenuous. I made a promise a long time ago that I would NEVER give my daughters the answer “Because that’s just how things are, ok” because that response has ALWAYS frustrated me. Quite simply, it is not good enough.
There is always more going on than I can see on the surface of things, so as far as I’m concerned there is always something else to question. Yet another thing that I can not take for granted, whether it’s the clothes I wear, the food I eat, where I shop, how I travel, how I educate my children, how I earn my money, where and how I holiday… The list feels, at times, endless and exhausting. But to not ask these questions would be to live in denial. Denial that this fragile world we’re living in is not actually teetering on the edge of massive collapse.
GM is a writer and activist who seems fairly controversial. I don’t have an opinion on him myself (yet), but I do know that Feral has got me thinking and looking deeply, for it has radically altered the way I now see this landscape around me here in mid/north Wales. From the ‘white plague’ of sheep that roam the hillsides and mountaintops, stripping bare ground again and again which could, and indeed should, sustain so much more wild life than it does now, to the unseen depths of the sea that have been devastated by commercial fishing on a scale that I find difficult, and yes deeply uncomfortable, to get my head around. These are all things that are so easy to overlook – to see superficially what seems beautiful and benign and, yes, even ‘wild’. But when you look closer, and you question what’s really going on, when you ask those awkward questions and you refuse to take “Well, that’s just how things are” as an answer, the truth becomes clear. And shocking. And frightening. What kind of world exactly ARE we cultivating for all our inquisitive children?
So where’s the “ounce of hope” in all this despair? As GM and many other environmentalists, activists and climate scientists explain, the answers are actually really quite simple. The small changes that we can make to the natural world around us can have huge and far reaching effects (take the re-introduction of wolves into Yellowstone Park as one example). Effects that we CAN realise within our own lifetimes. Many of these will need to be made on a government level, yes, but it is the individual decisions we each choose to make on a daily basis that determine the course of things really. We have to believe this. I have to believe this. It is where hope lies. And without hope, well we really are well and truly screwed.