Back in 2008 I wrote a House Points column for a Liberal Democrat News special issue on the environment. Part of it ran:
Years ago environmentalists decided their only hope was to scare us half to death. Peak oil and global warming are just the latest in a list of dooms. The result has been to make many people terrified of the natural world. The environment is all around us (you cannot argue with that) and it is out to get us.
This fear combines easily with parental concerns about traffic and strangers, so their children’s encounters with nature are increasingly limited. Yet the best of 20th-century education and children’s literature saw such experiences as central to a wholesome childhood.
Liberal Democrats should have a more generous view of the importance of the environment. There is abundant evidence that experiencing the natural world is good for everyone from behaviourally disturbed children to recovering surgery patients.
And the claim that a vengeful Nature is going to sweep away our economic system is a cop out. We are going to have to use our intelligence to reform it if we want more people to live happy lives.In fact I was banging on about the green movement making people scared of the natural world years before that column. I remember writing something on the same theme (and with some of the same lines) back in the 1990s.
And you can see that the House Points column shared some of the concern with children's freedom and children's books that I expressed on Comment is Free the other day.
My reason for return to these themes in this post is that George Monbiot's column in the Guardian today seems to be saying much the same as I said in 2008. He writes:
If threats promote extrinsic values and if (as the research strongly suggests) extrinsic values are linked to a lack of interest in the state of the living planet, I've been engaged in contradiction and futility. For about 30 years. The threats, of course, are of a different nature: climate breakdown, mass extinction, pollution and the rest. And they are real. But there's no obvious reason why the results should be different. Terrify the living daylights out of people, and they will protect themselves at the expense of others and of the living world.
It's an issue taken up in a report by several green groups called Common Cause for Nature. "Provoking feelings of threat, fear or loss may successfully raise the profile of an issue," but "these feelings may leave people feeling helpless and increasingly demotivated, or even inclined to actively avoid the issue". People respond to feelings of insecurity "by attempting to exert control elsewhere, or retreating into materialistic comforts".And later says:
None of this is to suggest that we should not discuss the threats or pretend that the crises faced by this magnificent planet are not happening. Or that we should cease to employ rigorous research and statistics. What it means is that we should embed both the awareness of these threats and their scientific description in a different framework: one that emphasises the joy and awe to be found in the marvels at risk; one that proposes a better world, rather than (if we work really hard for it), just a slightly-less-shitty-one-than-there-would-otherwise-have-been.Or, to return to my 2008 column, as Richard Jefferies put it:
Let us get out of these indoor narrow modern days, whose twelve hours have somehow become shortened, into the sunlight and the pure wind. A something that the ancients called divine can be found and felt there still.