Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Against Activism

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Against Activism

Article excerpt

Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist

Paul Kingsnorth

Faber & Faber, 284pp. 14.99 [pounds sterling]

Paul Kingsnorth has been grieving. He has been grieving for the mass extinction of wildlife, for the declining sea ice and for the global "crisis of growth". Above all, he appears to have been grieving for the environmental movement's failure to put a stop to this mess. In Kingsnorth's sceptical eyes, modern environmentalism is too "people-centric" and is overly reliant on arguments of utility. This leads, he argues in his new collection of essays, to false economies such as the destruction of rainforests to build hydro dams. Instead of protecting nature for nature's sake, the green movement has become both a "consolation prize for a gaggle of washed-up Trots" and a crutch for capitalism: "a desperate attempt to prevent Gaia from hiccupping and wiping out our coffee shops and broadband connections". Ouch.

This critique is useful but it also feels like a smack in the face to mainstream environmentalists. Do the scientists struggling to secure funding really not also value nature in its own right? And how about the diplomats who in 2016 secured the Paris Agreement against the odds?

It is also an argument at risk of bumping into its own tail. Kingsnorth may reject environmentalism's focus on saving humanity, but he has chosen to express this in a book about the saving of one man in particular: Paul Kingsnorth. We learn about his early inspirations, his growing disenchantment with the green cause and his search for ways forward. He first connected with nature aged 12, when his father took him walking along the upland spines of Britain, "hundreds of feet above the orange lights of civilisation". By 19, he was protesting the extension of the M3 motorway through Twyford Down in Hampshire.

Yet such close identification with the green movement had its price. In 2008, his optimism collapsed in the face of ever-advancing climate change and continuing ecocide. "Now I felt that resistance was futile, at least on the grand, global scale on which I'd always assumed it had to occur."

And so in 2009 came the launch of the Dark Mountain Project--a series of publications and festivals designed to put the wild world first--and a change in Kingsnorth's writing; having produced books about English identity and the global resistance movement, he turned to fiction with his Booker-longlisted novel, The Wake, and its sequel, Beast. …

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