The State of Nature Report: PANIC!

The State of Nature report is out! Hurrah it is a time for rejoicing and celebration and…wait, no, that’s not right. If I could borrow from H2G2 for a moment, it would perhaps have been best if they’d just plastered PANIC! across the title page to save everyone the trouble of reading it.

And they’d have been right to do so, because if not now then when? When do we actually start to panic?

Well, not yet apparently. Because everything is fine. Everything is absolutely fine. It’ll all be OK. Climate change? Pah! Habitat loss? Nothing to it. Sixth extinction phase? What are you talking about? At least this is what some would have us believe.

The State of Nature report predictably, accurately (although perhaps not very diplomatically and without much of an eye towards future collaboration) laid the blame primarily at the farming sector. So it’s not surprising that a few predictables came out swinging with what amounts to barefaced lies backed up by irrelevant stats.

DEFRA – the Department for Farming – reassured everyone that “our natural environment is cleaner and healthier than at any time since the industrial revolution – woodland cover in England is at its highest level since the 14th century, we have improved water quality in 9,000 miles of rivers since 2010 and in the last five years almost 19,000 miles of hedgerow have been planted.” Let me repeat that: our natural environment is cleaner and healthier than at any time since the industrial revolution. Clearly poppycock but also the kind of wide ranging claim that it’s virtually impossible to actually disprove (or prove, but who needs to prove anything?).

The NFU, those paragons of restraint who absolutely do not have squatters rights at Westminster, came out with a peculiar statement claiming that it can’t be their fault because they stopped that whole intensive farming stuff back in the 90’s (Yes, seriously. Although the exact wording left just enough wiggle room to question the exact meaning).


‘Owen, with your face like a bankrupt pug.’

They were happy, like that goon Owen Patterson, to shovel as much blame as possible onto uncontrolled predator numbers (Patterson actually tweeted this statement with a picture of him in front of a GWCT stand. Yes, seriously). There are a lot of my fellow conservationists who will turn a blind eye to the problems caused by increased predators numbers and I am not one of them, but seriously, give over. It’s peanuts in the scale of things. It’s not even peanuts. And it’s a problem the industrialisation of farming caused in the bloody first place.

Then there’s the Daily Mail approach which seems to amount to saying ‘yes, I know I don’t know the first thing about the subject, but I saw some birds outside my house, so everything must be fine. Expert opinion? Who needs experts? I’m a journalist and the farmers told me it’s all lies‘. I know it’s the Mail and we don’t exactly expect high standards of journalism, but this is pushing the envelope for half-arsing it.

It’s a whole new field of denial. I think everyone has just about got the message now that Climate Change denial is not OK and is quite likely to have you pigeon-holed with the flat-earthers, but there’s still plenty of seemingly obvious things you can deny. This is the post-expert age after all (sorry, “expert”). At the moment it is still absolutely OK to argue that the natural world is not in a state of decay or that the intensive management of 75% of the land could possibly have any detrimental impact on it. This will not get you ridiculed. It might even get you appointed Secretary of State for Rural Affairs. In the wake of the referendum, you should probably get used to it. Because house on fire or rising sea, some people are going to keep telling us that everything is just fine.

Ecomodernism – Widening the Great Divide

He may have his occasional porcine peccadilloes, but our spam-faced overlord might have been onto something. Looming down on us proles from those giant posters, declaring ‘We can’t go on like this’, he may as well have been talking about the gaping void between agriculture and environmentalists.

Owen Patterson is back and he’s brought a new trick with him – Ecomodernism. It’s the latest shot fired in an escalating war that guarantees only a pyrrhic victory. Oh Owen. There’s something about his face. He has the look of a cat that not only got the cream but has also, against all logic and reason, found himself running the dairy. Smug doesn’t come close to describing him.

Cameron v Patterson: Let the 'smug-off' begin

Cameron v Patterson: Let the ‘smug-off’ begin

But my new resolution is to take a more measured view of an idea or statement, regardless of its provenance. Yes, we all know Owen is a stooge, but even stopped clocks, and all that. The general notion of Ecomodernism isthat the more technology human beings adopt, the more they can decouple from dependence on the natural environment and live lives that are prosperous but green’, that only through economic growth can the environment be saved. It is basically…erm…rampant capitalism. This will result in a ‘decoupling’ of production and the environment which will have huge benefits for wildlife. Indeed, it is, apparently, improvements in business and industry that has led to the recent boom we have seen in many species…wait, what?

I’m not going to pick apart the errors in Patterson’s assumptions in his latest barely-disguised rant against the sector (we could be here a while, and people keep shouting the word ‘brevity’ at me in the street). There’s a bit of everything in his Telegraph sulkathon – thinly veiled climate change denial, confusion over the term ‘non-renewable’, ludicrous statements like ‘Europe and North America, are now teeming with far richer wildlife populations than for many centuries’ – but what there is mostly is a sense of injustice for poor old Owen.

By trumpeting ecomodernism, Owen is once again putting himself forward as defender of the natural environment. This is clearly codswallop, and I should know, I’ve walloped a lot of cod in my time. If he was serious about the environment, he wouldn’t continue to blame the ‘Green Blob’ for his demise, he’d try and build some ruddy bridges. Instead he continues to wear his persecution complex like a badge of honour. He has the bearing of someone who obviously believes that if it weren’t for a malevolent conspiracy against him, conducted by his own supervillains – a hyper intelligent cotterie of badgers with a 70’s Scottish Football fans penchant for mucking about with football furniture and their sidekick, an amorphous Green Blob – he’d be King of the Countryside by now. But don’t cry for Owen, he seems to be doing alright for himself.

They'll be the death of me

They’re coming for you, Owen…(I’m getting a lot of use out of this stock image)

Now, I think there’s actually something to be said for the underlying message here – I’m not a complete luddite. Improved technology will reduce so many of the outputs that can be detrimental to the environment, there’s even a case for ‘letting go’ some areas to more intense agricultural practises – let’s be realistic here, peoples gotta eat. But as an argument, I find this ‘the future will save us’ line as weak as my Gran’s tea. It’s the same kind of argument that has delayed any serious action on climate change, this idea that ‘technology will develop’ so we don’t need to act now.

The problem with ecomodernism (the Patterson redux) – well, one of them – is that the onus is entirely on the environmental sector to adapt and fit themselves in somewhere (as it has always been). Even worse is Patterson’s apparent assertion that environmental benefits will just happen somehow, irrespective of the ‘Green Blob’.

Ecomodernism takes the agriculture/environment antipathetic relationship to it’s logical conclusion – a ‘decoupling’ of the two. You just can’t decouple nature from agriculture (and visa-versa), and that’s something that both sectors just need to grow up and accept. It benefits the ‘ecomodernists’ and the agricultural sector as little to claim they can carry on with no consideration for their environmental impact as it does for the environmental sector to continually exist in a head-butting relationship with farmers and landowners. A common feeling in the environmental sector was expressed to me recently:

‘This whole ethos of having to work with the landowners to be effective, has really been a millstone around the neck for British conservation NGOs.’

For me, this argument that we can produce positive outcomes for the environment without working with the people who actually own the land is as pointless as a midday firework, all sound, no show. It just can’t happen.

As ever, the answer to a healthy environment and a fed and healthy populace is a complicated one that will involve cooperation and a certain degree of coercion for our landowners. However, Owen has declared that the ‘cure’ for all our environmental ills was there all along, and funnily enough it lay precisely in what we were doing in the first place, only more so. It would be reassuring to think the answers were so simple, but ecomodernism is a comfort blanket, a ‘greenwash’, a smoke and mirrors magic trick conducted with smart words and irrelevant stats. It takes some gumption to argue for the exact opposite of what your opponents are recommending and then telling them it’s actually the magic bullet they’ve been searching for all along. Now that Dr Patterson has proscribed his medicine, we need to take care he doesn’t poison us with it.

Not bored? Want to learn more about just what the heck on ecomodernism is? Interested in productivity, yields per sq metre, and ‘decoupling’? Here’s some links:

Patterson sulking in the Telegraph

Ecomodernism is bad – George Monbiot

George Monbiot doesn’t know what he’s talking about, Ecomodernism is great – The guys behind Ecomodernism

Ecomodernism – home website

Dark thoughts on Ecomodernism – The Dark Mountain Project

Attack of the Green Blob – How Greens are Being Pitted Against the Left

Environmentalism has grown in public consciousness exponentially in the last two decades. We are not a fringe group any longer, and we can’t be dismissed as hirsute tree-huggers with poor hygiene. So those whose interests run counter to ours need a new tactic. If you’ve been reading or keeping an eye on key battlegrounds over the last few years, you might have noticed a subtle and insidious shift in the language used to describe us, from the dismissive to the cautionary. We’re now, in no uncertain terms, the enemy. We’re a roadblock to progress, we’re a danger and, to quote an imbecile, we’re the ‘Green Blob’.

So far so predictable. But such language is hardly likely to be very persuasive when the progress we are so recklessly opposing are the interests of big business and ‘money’. That’s hardly going to sway Occupy and Russell Brand and the generation (in the eyes of some at least) that they represent. The nuance that has recently emerged has sought to pit environmentalists against the very people it would normally draw support from. It relies on the (not entirely misplaced) supposition that environmentalists are all lefty, liberal peaceniks and then systematically attempts to pit environmental interests against other issues that might tug at bleeding-heart-strings.

Environmentalists versus The Poor

Everyone cares about the poor, of course. Everyone except Environmentalists, that is. As you may or may not be aware, environmentalists hate the poor. You just have to look at all the things we keep trying to do to realise how much we truly despise them. Opposing fracking? It’s the poor who will suffer. We don’t want houses built all over an important wildlife site? Then we’re pretty much putting people out on the street. All that climate change nonsense? Well, implementing any of the measures to reduce it will affect the poor most of all. Basically if we want to cut carbon emissions, it means we’re happy to see old people freeze to death in the winter as it will jeopardise our energy supply.

“We have to remember too that the people who suffer most from a lack of decent energy are the poor,” – Owen Paterson in a speech on climate change mitigation (apparently channelling the spirit of Gladstone).

And this is one of the reasons why climate change deniers keep getting airspace. They repeat arguments about how meeting climate change targets etc will have the biggest detrimental effect on the poor (while ignoring that it is those in the poorest countries, who coincidentally are not registered to vote in the UK, who will suffer the most from our inaction).

Our general distaste for the poor can, of course, by extension, mean that we hate that most mythical of figures ‘the common man’ too (see most recently the ‘You Forgot the Birds’ campaign that talked about hard working farmers before losing the run of itself and reverting to referring to landowners instead). We’re forever preventing him from ‘getting on’ in life with our half-baked theories and crack-pot ideas. We have basically been cast as the bourgeois middle-class, and we’re out to inflict our value system on you, whether you like it or not.

Environmentalists versus Immigrants

As I’ve already written about, whenever the issue of invasive species (the second biggest cause of species loss, lets not forget) is raised there is a worrying conflation with the social issue and bete noir (I don’t know how to do those little hat things above the ‘e’ on this keyboard) of the day, immigration. Is this just another subtle means of turning our traditional ‘fan-base’ against us? Summing up (In a tired and can’t really be bothered way), the argument now seems to run that by being against invasive species, you are saying you hate immigrants. Us conservationists are pretty much just UKIP in disguise.

Environmentalists versus our brave boys

This, perhaps, is where it all started. ‘Eco-terrorism’ has for sometime been used as a brush to tar us all with. And, yes, maybe it was once, and potentially still is, a legitimate concern. But if you can somehow inveigle the notion that a few represent the whole into the minds of voters then where’s the distinction between hard-line environmentalists and ISIS? Ok, that’s certainly a stretch; no one is attempting to make that connection (no one sane at least) and the range of eco-terrorism over the last decade has been pretty negligible. But you only have to look at how the police reacted to the Ratcliffe-on-Soar protest for one to see that the measures being used to address environmental protests are being talked of in similar terms to those used for dealing with terrorists.

Finally, if you want to give yourself a little chuckle (seriously, it should make me angry, but it doesn’t) then watch this marvellous video that opens with images of Stalin and Hitler before going on to talk about us pesky environmentalists:

The Conspiracy of the Green Blob

One of the general gist’s of anti-environmental propaganda is that our very core beliefs are anti-people. Anti-society, in fact, and therefore anti-socialist. If some are to be believed, Malthus is our founding father. It’s a lazy attack though and the basic motive relies on the notion that the Environmental movement and all those it contains can be summed up and pigeonholed as having similar political thought. Next time you hear an imbecile like Owen Patterson* talking about the ‘Green Blob’ or how we are blocking progress or stamping on the poor, just consider the motives at play.

*(seriously, when can we have a government where positions like the Secretary for the Environment is filled by someone with a background (or at least an understanding of) environmental science? Likewise education, health etc. Why the constant stream of Oxbridge PPE-ers? Still, that’s another article for someone with a bigger brain than me.)