This article first appeared in the June 2023 edition of Birdwatching Magazine
As parliamentary constituency boundaries change, lots of politicians scrabble to get selected as party candidates. This means our doormats will be covered in pamphlets and our email in-boxes stuffed with selection spam. I get numerous phone calls inviting me to hustings or begging for my electronic vote, so I ask about their environmental policies. The answers bother me because they’re homocentric.
Parties want to be clad in green (except fringe party climate change deniers). Often, the clothes in question are the emperor’s that disappear if you look closely. But what of those that remain?
Almost all start with what will do us most good. Mother Nature barely gets a mention… its all about how we are polluting our seas, ravaging our land and creating actual and virtual perfect storms that we will have to weather. Policies address our future food needs, how we are poisoning our own water sources and ruining farming or recreational opportunities.
When you ask about nature you get a lecture on ‘mindfulness’ and how we all need nature in our lives to cure our mental ill-health or give us space to take our ten thousand steps a day.
Is this a device to appeal to our selfish genes? Maybe, in part, but it also reflects a continuing, particularly western, capitalist notion. Which is that the land; what grows on it; what lies beneath it; what flows through it or flies over it, and what else inhabits it, belongs to the land owner. Not even nature has the right to roam!
When we ‘own’ the birds on our land we can treat them as we choose. Sure, there are laws supposedly protecting some species, but look how that turns out if you are a raptor on a shooting estate or a corvid in a farm field. 95% of wildlife crime is undiscovered and the other 5% mostly goes unpunished.
Owning land confers the right to allow invasive species free rein. It allows us to indiscriminately poison anything animate. Our rights extend to killing the golden goose if we see fit… nuking pollinators is permitted if you grow sugar beet.
Even if you can get a SSSI declared, you have to police it yourself and the land owner may well get away with ploughing it over or otherwise selfishly ignoring the common good. But, there we go again… whose ‘common good’? This always refers to our good, not Mother Nature’s!
Humans are a selfish mammal that have stolen so much of the available habitat that nature is increasing pushed to the fringes. That’s not going to change while we go on seeing the problems in the environment solely in terms of how they affect (particularly rich) people.
It’s great when allow beavers to stem potential flooding, or when we establish wetlands to filter our sewage. Its fabulous when we put in wildflower meadows to sustain bees so they can pollinate our crops. Bravo to electric vehicles that reduce child asthma cases. Hooray for re-wilding golf courses so we can have somewhere to jog and walk our dogs and cheers for anyone who installs a Japanese toilet so hand wash water is used to flush, saving our over-taxed reservoirs. All this will help us and co-incidentally benefit other taxa.
But there is another agenda that seeks to help hedgehogs cross roads and albatross to span oceans, that leaves space for hungry wolves and innocent venomous snakes, that gives back some of what we have taken away. An agenda that puts nature first in the queue, not waiting in line for crumbs from our unsustainable table!