EcoWild Board Member Owain Jones reflects on 10 years of EcoWild.
It is an honour to be associated with EcoWild and to write this reflection. I have been involved in thinking about, researching, writing and teaching about the environmental crisis since the early 1990s. Then I was drawing upon pioneering books such as Tim O’Riordan’s Environmentalism, first published in 1976. That in turn inevitably drew upon Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring which is reasonably considered to be the start of the modern environmental movement. In some ways, much has changed since these early texts, in other ways, little has: modern industrial consumer society is still more or less systemically unsustainable. The early scientific warnings of climate change and biodiversity loss were always tinged with scientific uncertainty and a ‘things might not be so bad’ attitude. Or just ignored and even denied.
In the last ten years what has changed is the extent to which the warnings are being borne out by the stark facts of species loss; and climate change with heat waves, droughts, wild fires, and floods, violent storms and remorseless ice melt and sea level and temperature rise. Certainly there has been some global political response, as in agreements such as the 2021 COPE21 Paris Agreement on climate change. But such agreements often fail to be fully implemented, and, as activists such as Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg point out, most nation state governments are more or less completely failing to really take the hard decisions and actions that are urgently required to try to change to direction of travel of globalised society. And this is along a path to a devastated biosphere, with dire consequences for human society and all current life on earth.
We all live in a complex, very messy and volatile ecology of narratives – or an entanglement of stories to put it another way – of ourselves, our families, our friends, our work, where we live, our nation, and all the blizzard of narratives that consumer culture throws at us through media, social media, arts, politics and so on. In this modern cultural ecology, nature has been relegated, backgrounded to the point of invisibility. In contrast, in many native, indigenous cultures, a key part of individual and collective identity was, and in many places still is, living with nature, place and landscape. Life with the desert, or the ice or the jungle. These were – and are, where they persist – ecological and sustainable cultures. For the very reason of living with nature as a living part of identity. As the climax of Chis Packham’s recent BBC Natural History ‘Earth’ series suggested, the biggest challenge by far – ever – for the planet, and for modern human society, is to somehow learn to live sustainably with nature: not outside it and not above it.
Organisations such as EcoWild are tellers and makers of stories about the nature around us: about the woods, the water, the biodiversity. This is part of the reweaving of modern society to a more sustainable footing. Another thread is that, it turns out, modern society is not only damaging to the environment but also to both human physical and mental health. Working with various groups and individuals in various settings and ways, Ecowild’s activities are healing to those who become involved, but also a part of the wider movement to change everyday life and culture, to reweave our culture.
Climate change casts a shadow over everything, but nature, life in fact, is resilient. I once used this phrase in a lecture: nature is very ‘bouncy-backy’. Plant the right flowers, bees will come. Change land management in quite easy ways, the land will re-wild, or at least, become more biodiverse. Put up nest and roost boxes, bird and bats will come. And the key point is: the more rich and robust biodiversity is, the better it will cope with climate change, which is inevitable.