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