the things we flee from. The new world is online and loving it, the
virtual happily edging out the actual. The darkness is shut out and
the night grows lighter and nobody is there to see it.
It could be all that, but it probably isn’t. It’s probably me. I am
thirty-seven now. The world is smaller, more tired, more fragile,
more horribly complex and full of troubles. Or, rather: the world
is the same as it ever was, but I am more aware of it and of the
reality of my place within it. I have grown up, and there is nothing to be done about it. The worst part of it is that I can’t seem to
look without thinking anymore. And now I know far more about
what we are doing. We: the people. I know what we are doing,
all over the world, to everything, all of the time. I know why the
magic is dying. It’s me. It’s us.
How it ended
I became an “environmentalist” because of a strong emotional
reaction to wild places and the other-than-human world: to beech
trees and hedgerows and pounding waterfalls, to songbirds and
sunsets, to the flying fish in the Java Sea and the canopy of the
rainforest at dusk when the gibbons come to the waterside to
feed. From that reaction came a feeling, which became a series of
thoughts: that such things are precious for their own sake, that
they are food for the human soul, and that they need people to
speak for them to, and defend them from, other people, because
they cannot speak our language and we have forgotten how to
speak theirs. And because we are killing them to feed ourselves
and we know it and we care about it, sometimes, but we do it
anyway because we are hungry, or we have persuaded ourselves
that we are.
But these are not, I think, very common views today. Today’s
environmentalism is as much a victim of the contemporary cult
of utility as every other aspect of our lives, from science to education. We are not environmentalists now because we have an
emotional reaction to the wild world. Most of us wouldn’t even
know where to find it. We are environmentalists now in order to
promote something called “sustainability.” What does this curious, plastic word mean? It does not mean defending the nonhuman world from the ever-expanding empire of Homo sapiens
sapiens, though some of its adherents like to pretend it does,
even to themselves. It means sustaining human civilization at
the comfort level that the world’s rich people — us — feel is their
right, without destroying the “natural capital” or the “resource
base” that is needed to do so.
It is, in other words, an entirely human-centered piece of
politicking, disguised as concern for “the planet.” In a very
short time—just over a decade—this worldview has become
all-pervasive. It is voiced by the president of the USA and the
president of Anglo-Dutch Shell and many people in between.
The success of environmentalism has been total—at the price
of its soul.