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Con­fes­sions of a Re­cov­er­ing En­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Paul Kingsnorth (Faber, £14.99)

I MIGHT not have opened these es­says by a writer I’d never heard of, but, by chance, I’d re­cently bought The Worldend­ing Fire, a col­lec­tion of es­says by Wen­dell Berry, the Amer­i­can farmer, poet, nov­el­ist and thinker whom I read com­pul­sively. Amaz­ingly, it was the first vol­ume of Berry’s es­says to be pub­lished in Eng­land and it was ‘Se­lected and in­tro­duced by Paul Kingsnorth’.

Mr Berry farms his 52 acres in Ken­tucky with horse and plough and writes his books in pen­cil. Google ‘Paul Kingsnorth’ and you find that he has his own web­site, which sug­gests some­one who is tech­ni­cally savvy and firmly planted in the soil of the 21st cen­tury. It turns out that, like Mr Berry, he is a nov­el­ist, poet, thinker and won­der­ful writer.

the ‘re­cov­er­ing’ word made me ner­vous. It sug­gested that, af­ter years as an ‘en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist’, the writer had con­cluded that cli­mate change was not man­made. In fact, Mr Kingsnorth is re­cov­er­ing from some­thing more pro­found: his loss of hope in all po­lit­i­cal or tech­ni­cal so­lu­tions to save the planet. he be­lieves the en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment has been fa­tally se­duced by the no­tion of ‘sus­tain­abil­ity’. We now in­vade wild spa­ces, build ever more wind farms, tar­mac ac­cess roads and cover more fields and deserts with so­lar pan­els. In the name of ‘sav­ing the en­vi­ron­ment’, we are de­stroy­ing it.

the reader reaches page 90 be­fore find­ing out how the writer lives with his bleak con­clu­sion. In­spired by Rilke’s ‘you must change your life’, he bought a few acres and moved to Co Gal­way with his wife and two young chil­dren. he be­gan by tak­ing out the flush loo in their small bun­ga­low and in­stalling a com­post model, a de­scrip­tion wor­thy of Lit­tle House on the Prairie. the writer sees the flush loo as a metaphor for a civil­i­sa­tion that wants to wash its hands of its own wastes. Its re­moval is his dec­la­ra­tion that ‘I will not turn my back on the con­se­quences of my ac­tions’.

But these are not anec­do­tal ac­counts of a ru­ral idyll. the es­say A Short His­tory of Loss is a haunt­ing ac­count of the collapse of bee colonies and the ‘Robobees’ project at har­vard to cre­ate ro­botic bees. Res­cu­ing the English is the most pow­er­ful plea I’ve ever read for Eng­land to re­dis­cover its iden­tity and his­tory.

these es­says sig­nal that Mr Kingsnorth is a wor­thy heir to his hero Mr Berry. Like his men­tor, he un­der­stands that to treat life as less than a mir­a­cle is to give up on it. Carla Carlisle

‘In the name of ‘sav­ing the en­vi­ron­ment’, we are de­stroy­ing it

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