I am intrigued by Lucy McRobert’s article for the Birdwatch magazine, 'Missed Connections' (18/01/24). She describes University Challenge panellists being baffled by even the simplest nature questions, and astonished they had never heard of wading birds. Some of the brightest in the land know nothing about the common life that lives around them.
No wonder, then, there is a clumsy and damaging lack of awareness about the needs of wildlife, profound ignorance of basic natural history knowledge and a growing disconnect between people and the natural world in which comfort, gratification and convenience trump all else.
This perfect storm is ensuring that the pressures on wildlife continue and increase year on year. This way of thinking is especially worrying in children who need to know much more about nature-positive living if all of life is to thrive into the future. We all applaud these sentiments, all of it is true.
Some of the reasons why we are in this state are eloquently summed up in this paragraph.
As humans, we have become dependent on hedonism, a value driven by an economy constructed around consumerism. This is reinforced by a perceived lack of time and the associated high pressures of a working lifestyle that trick us into thinking we need things, fast, for convenience: food, deliveries, feedback, pleasure, experiences. Even our lawns must be manicured without the effort of mowing them. Immediacy, with a lack of personal responsibility, is placed above all else, forsaking healthy lifestyles, happiness, communities, relationships and, yes, wildlife.
What baffles me, though, is this section at the end of the article:
We do few things in life without personal incentive and combatting the frames and values that bring us joy is the biggest challenge for the nature movement. We're picking at the edges with campaigns like The Wildlife Trusts' 30 Days Wild, Forest School education, a GCSE in Natural History, wildlife gardening, beach cleans, low-carbon lifestyles, banning plastic straws, but meaningful change might require a wholesale challenge to education, the media, advertising, arguably the economy.
This will mean changes to legislation, for example banning the commercial sale of peat, prioritising renewable energy, enforcing existing wildlife protection laws – and more ambitious 'tough-luck' laws than these. It will also mean changes in ourselves. This is the most daunting prospect. If we can't teach the public that birds might nest on the ground, imagine challenging their whole way of life.
I couldn’t agree more that meaningful change will only come about through systemic, wholesale challenges to the way we do things today – but encouraging engagement with nature and placing learning about it at the centre of education is starting to do just that.
Caring for the earth through beach cleaning, recycling, BioBlitz’s, birdwatch weekends, banning single-use plastic, and knowing about wildlife – all of these and more - are subversive acts in a society that is focussed on economic growth at the expense of all else. These activists and students are at the forefront of changing the world, not tinkering around the edge. If we accept that how we think and act is vitally important in directly affecting the world, then I can’t see how else to bring about change.
I applaud the quiet revolutionaries who make it known that money is not everything, and life on earth is a joy to know and care for. We need far more of them – and if that happens we will see the great wheels of politics and economics begin to shift gear.