Sunday 9 January 2022

The Problem with Lefties in Birding (Time for a new story?)

Last week the UK government launched their new policies for nature. The response from the Daily Mail was outrage ANGER AND RAGE HERE and MORE UMBRAGE. You would have thought bad news for the far right would be good news for the far left (see disclaimer below). However it would appear that 'nobody' is happy with very little this week in the way of celebration in the nature conservation social media or birding media about the nature conservation revolution. That revolution is the greatest change to land management for nature in the UK in over 50 years. It is part of a whole series of policy and law changes that include a 25 year Environment Plan, a Nature Recovery Network, a 30 by 30 target (30 percent of the UK to be managed primarily for nature by 2030), a new Environment Bill, a new Agriculture Bill, a Net Biodiversity Gain Framework for new developments, Carbon markets, Natural Capital markets, Public money for public goods to farmers (paying farmers to grow nature via ELMs), government backed massive Re-wilding initiatives and the official replacement of the EU highly destructive Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). 

All this has been carried out by a Conservative Government (see below disclaimer) with the underlying ideology being one of incentivising markets and using metrics to deliver biodiversity gains, to redirect funding to farmers (rather than charities) and to basically move away from public spending to NGOs. I presume this is the reason why the traditional nature conservation establishment aren't celebrating?? 

However I can't see many reasons to not be positive (apart from the de-regulation in food standards) and in my life time myself (and anyone reading this) are perhaps unlikely to see a similar complete overhaul of nature conservation policy of this scale. Even if this is not a long term state (the world is changing so fast, complete policy overhauls could become more regular events) , it is almost certainly the state for the foreseeable, a decade or so. So this is a new beginning and the beginning of a new chapter in nature conservation. Personally I think it is something to celebrate and I am very positive about. 

With eco-anxiety a real issue, it's important to be mindful of the impact a narrative can have on the chances of success. The narrative the RSPB (and most NGOs)  are still spinning is that nature is in trouble (who can disagree with that, even the most broadest definitions of nature raise concerns) and the answer is for people to put their trust and money in NGOs to solve it. I find that story absolutely nauseating - probably because I'm heading towards 50 years old  (and been turned over by the conservation establishment on many occasions for championing people power nature conservation) and been hearing it for half a century and every year I give my money and every year things get worse and worse with the red data list species growing longer and longer.  Maybe we are in a death spiral with nature and are all heading towards self extinction and our only hope was the NGOs (who have consistently failed) but that is a bleak conclusion and also a self fulfilling prophecy- the story we tell ourselves is partly responsible for the reality we create. It's more likely that the old system needed an overhaul and here we are- we have got a new nature conservation system. It's not going to work if the traditional nature conservation establishment keep trying to convince people it won't work in order to preserve their traditional culture. There are a lot of jobs tied up in tradition but tradition is the enemy of change.

So change is the enemy of tradition, which might explain why social media hasn't been ablaze with celebration. Nature conservation by it's own nature (conservation and managing change) seems to attract its fair share of traditional minded people. Also to me seems like the traditional left (see disclaimer below) has been gatekeepers of nature conservation in the past decades and there is a grieving that is occurring from this left leaning (see disclaimer) community. The new changes are all about transplanting nature into the DNA of the system, an emerging sustainable system. It's about embedding nature into farming more, embedding nature into development, embedding nature into corporations, embedding nature into the very blueprint of society. This is a great cause for celebration. This is a shift from nature being treated by charities as an externality (that needed counter measures) of the core value system of society to nature being part of that core value and no longer external to it. In a way traditional nature conservationists have succeeded, but in doing so have sacrificed themselves. That needs celebrating too and maybe compensating even. Time will tell.         

So surely it's now time to change the story. What a load of bollox the message in the film Dont Look Up was, basically a story about traditional US neo-liberals/democrats (Laurence and Di Caprio playing undervalued scientists)  trying to save the world (from an asteroid impact metaphor for climate change)  but where thwarted by traditional right wing/republicans (Streep playing a female Trump with her nepotistic advisor , Hill and a deluded crony businessman, Rylance). The film was a fun xmas comedy and I enjoyed it but the bullshit on social media about the importance of the message is alarming! Its basically saying the right are a threat to the existence of the planet. If taken seriously this is a war footing narrative.  This is dangerous and divisive ideology. Of course, it was just a comedy and the message was a bit silly but funny. However it does highlight the anxiety and vulnerability there is out there. How can anyone read anything too serious or meaningful into Don't Look Up? These traditional left-right divide stories are not only boring now but also potentially harmful. 

We need a new story, a story of environmental unification (of traditional groupings) and the embracing of the new opportunities in the emerging sustainable society. We need wild dreams and wide visions. For me (a hopeless dreamer and optimist) that wild dream is in owning my own nature reserve and being part of building the 30 by 30 vision, by adding a piece in the nature recovery network in the UK, by doing all I can to help develop the Beddington Farmlands nature reserve in London and also being part of the UN decade for biodiversity and working within a global community and travelling the world to help build the global 30 by 30. 

I sense a depression within nature conservation in the UK. The popularity of low energy movements like low carbon birding are both indicators of an awareness of the importance of individual behavioural changes but the trolling and judging that goes along side it (I noticed Steve Gantlett, the former editor of the game changing Birding World in the 1980s through to recent,  has become the target of hateful extremists) is telling of a darker depressed and insecure movement. Anxiety and depression are linked (I know very well having suffered terribly as a younger person and still cope like everyone now) and hopeless stories of increasing red data list species despite decades of trying and failing and the need to retreat into low energy toxic and aggressive states sounds pretty shit to me. I wrote something for Birdwatch about it and the response column to it was very disappointing, incoherent (XR are capitalists apparently- ok agree extremists are herded by capitalists and can be unknowing lackeys but XR are not capitalists)  and more or less proved the worrying point as I was getting at (although thanks to Tim for taking the time to reply and whether you know it or not we are on the same page, which was my point!) . 

The point is its time for new positive story, a story of right and left being fused more closely together (they are anyway but often in a negative way- ie. being riled up by social media algorithms to fight each other) and embracing the global decade of biodiversity and new nature conservation system. This is a story where empowered individuals can make massive differences, an era of people power and private nature conservation working in partnership with charities and academics (truly progressive ones, not rent seekers) and where people detach from traditional global narratives (such as the existence of a left and right divided global community) and start telling themselves a story of creating a new nature filled world. I got annoyed on twitter yesterday seeing a prominent academic moaning about a farmer who had cut their hedges wrong (some ditch improvements)- it's just so depressing, even a 30 by 30 vision means that 70 percent of the UK will be fucked for nature (at the moment its about 95 percent) so don't be surprised when you see that and feel like you have to go to twitter every time someone outside the nature recovery network flails a hedge in the way you don't like. If you don't like what others are doing then become a land owner and do it yourself, there are plenty of incentives and a new framework to facilitate that.   

So that's the story I'm telling myself anyway. I know that's not the story that most others want or believe, it appears things are on a war footing and there is so much momentum and overshoot that a tipping point has been passed as far as I can see. Before the sustainable society becomes crystallised the old tribes of left and right need to 'obliterate' each other (financial and personal power) to make way for new growth. In that obliteration there will be important wins for the future and a new more unified global ideology will be thrashed out and a new world vision for human's place in nature.  Many radicalised people and those who align with the extremes will become victims. The 'cross fire' will wipe out others so nobody is safe. Extremism and polarisation puts everybody at risk. As far as I can see the best way out of that is to keep positive, cross your fingers, keep calm and keep going, keep ducking the bullets, keep focusing on the divine comedy and keep telling yourself a happy story with a happy ending! That's the plan! Here's the birdwatch article and the response article.  

(disclaimer: without getting into too much detail left and right are almost meaningless terms nowadays with many people embracing a complex world view (to serve complex self serving narratives)  constructed from tailor made information streams from the internet multi-media universe but apparently there are still people that just read the UK Daily Mail or the Guardian for their 'news' so I'm using the terms cheekily and loosely to basically refer to people stuck in the old system (not really a main stream anymore but a desiccated canyon formed by ancient largely extinct forces ) with heavily influenced/herded Daily Mail readers (right) and Guardian readers (left)- the extremes of the old information system, apparently these people still exist in their millions in the UK.)     

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