He admits that all of the youthful idealism he entertained has failed to slow the progress of destruction. New highways in the UK continue to be cut through virgin countryside so people can get from here to there eight minutes faster than they could before. The idea of sustainability, he proposes, is a sort of conceding of defeat. At one time environmentalism meant preservation of the natural elements, but sustainability is the new buzz word of the environmental clan, which implies putting up wind mills, solar panels, and various sorts of man-made gadgetry all over the hills and oceans so that people might continue their life of consumption without completely depleting the pool of resources from which we all dip. He says that the old school thinking on environmentalism has been lost. The new school has forgotten, or rather has evolved the thinking to become less focused on the idea of preserving the environment. The new environmentalism instead says that we should preserve our lifestyle.
He notes that the mystery we sense about our life and the universe becomes lost when nature is lost. The deep intuitive connections we have with the unseen powers, so handsomely described by Wordsworth, become disconnected, and we in turn forget our true identity. Rather than drown in this insidious and growing despair that is taking over the world’s thinking, he chooses to go out and enjoy long walks in what is left of the lovely English countryside, while giving up on the idea that he can have any positive influence on a bad situation.
I find a resonance with his thinking. It is mine too. I imagine others would agree that it seems useless to try to stop the destruction of nature. We’re all in this same maddening race toward destruction. The system in which we dwell and have our very being will inherently fail us and cause our demise as a species, no matter how much we wish for the contrary. I don’t think the despair is brand new, however, but has been with us since the earliest of times. I don’t see his message as a new one, but an ancient one.
The religious of the world are accused of being intellectually dishonest, unwilling to see the world as it truly is, but only seeing the world through the idealism of an unverifiable hope and promise. The idea of recovery from environmentalism has been with us since the fabled garden of Eden. We know too much to live comfortably in and be part of the garden that is nature. Our consciousness has elements or notions of another, higher plane of living, that make us unsatisfied to live as dumb beasts, and yet our daily bread, our daily needs, come to us from the garden’s natural resources. When we as individuals realize this, that we are stuck with a fleshly body and a heavenly mind, we can choose the attitude of despair or the one that borders on idealism, the hope and promise of something greater ahead of us that we cannot currently understand. Kingsnorth’s essay, I would think, helps others to see the predicament we all share. With a little reworking of his notion of succumbing to despair, he might develop his message into one that is more useful, wise, and encouraging to others. I see that challenge as the mission for modern artists.