We’re now full swing into production for our fourth and final issue for the pilot year. It’s heads down for the crew as the final proofing, checking and picture research is completed next week. We are also working to raise funds to continue our work into 2014. A recent poll conducted by our distribution manager, Mark Watson, is telling Transition Free Press to keep the presses rolling and broadcasting the grassroots stories mainstream media doesn’t reach. So we’re aiming to do just that!
Talking of media, here is our ‘People’ piece from the autumn edition in case you missed it. Each issue we interview someone we feel is a key contributor to Transition culture and has influenced the way we think about the world. We have so far interviewed Shaun Chamberlin about TEQs, Mark Boyle about the gift culture, Anne-Marie Culhane about the art of Abundance and other food growing projects. Here is our autumn interview with George Monbiot, a columnist many of us follow and value for his outspoken views on ecological and social issues (though we may not always agree with some of the solutions!) I interviewed the journalist and activist about his recently published book, Feral, and how he thought Transition initiatives could help rewild their neighbourhoods.
A reconnection with nature invisibly frames everything we do in Transition – our endeavours to reconfigure our lives within planetary limit. Though the industrialised world’s obsession with money and power takes up most of our attention, it is becoming increasingly clear that without the wild places, we not only start to lose our life support systems, we start to lose what it means to be human.
This year the writer, activist and Guardian columnist, George Monbiot published a book which brings that meaning and that reconnection brilliantly into view. Feral looks at our relationship with the land and the sea in terms of ‘rewilding’. Told through his own intense encounters with the natural world, as well as looking at schemes that have transformed eco-systems – either by the introduction of locally extinct animals such as wolves and lynx, or letting forests regenerate – the book opens up new territories in the imagination by envisioning a different future and a very different earth.
But how does rewilding fit within Transition, which is experienced as an essentially civic movement. How can people become engaged in rewilding initiatives on a grassroots community level?
“The vision of rewilding I have is one that involves local people as much as possible. Where communities find themselves surrounded by land which is appropriate for rewilding, such as the less fertile land of the uplands and in lowland river corridors, Transition could have a very active role to play. The model I would point to is the Trees for Life scheme in Scotland, who have persuaded a number of public landowners, such as the Forestry Commission and the National Trust, and some private landowners to start rewilding some of their land, and though public subscriptions have bought a 10,000 acre estate of their own. With the help of volunteers they have planted over a million trees. It’s attractive because it is engaging and there is a strong sense that the scheme belongs to a lot of people, rather than just one.
Even though our wellbeing is linked to the natural territory we are surrounded by, this connection often hard to talk about. How can we encourage that dialogue and gain a sense of agency?
“This reflects our long history of enclosure and alienation from the land. If a small percentage own the land it is hard for people to feel they have a legitimate role in determining how that land should be used. There is a problem that goes way beyond the issue of rewilding and that is that severing of the link between people and land, which was done earlier and more comprehensively in Britain than anywhere else. As a result we have a population which has very little sense that it belongs to the land, or the land belongs to us.
“One of my aims with rewilding is that it once more gives people a stake in the land. In some cases that will mean communities buying land and this would be easier if the farm subsidy scheme changes, so land is less expensive. I would like to see far more community involvement in land use decision making and it’s amazing to me that the land around you can be completely transformed by a farmer with heavy machinery in almost no time at and that community has no say in that transformation. Farmers have no incentive to involve the public. As tax payers, we pay £6bn in farm subsidies every year and yet we have no say. That is a profound injustice.”
There is a strong debate within the book about present conservation and agricultural policies. What do you feel emboldens communities to have that conversation with farmers?
“This raises a still bigger question: what emboldens communities. It’s very easy to see yourself as having no agency and no power and no engagement. And it’s that disempowered attitude. which allows powerful interests to ride roughshod over us. What might encourage a community to take a far more active role in land use decision making has to be the same motive force that encourages people to demand a far more responsive democracy, or a far better distribution of wealth.
“We have allowed ourselves to be shut out of these questions, by allowing our voice and our role to be seen as illegitimate. And I think the key task is to regain the confidence to say yes I do have a right to speak about this, for my view be taken into account. People can be very deeply affected about what is happening in their immediate surroundings but if they don’t have a say in it, then they are frustrated and depressed and disempowered. We need to regain the confidence to say we are free citizens of this country. We don’t have to put up with impositions over which we have no say yet which have an major impact on our lives. I see the Transition movement as one of the potential forums for reempowering people and reminding people they are only excluded from these discussions because they have been excluded deliberately. And that by accepting that exclusion we collaborate in it.”
The book introduces a depth and breadth in the ways we can look at the land around us in terms of layers of time. As a result the book looks dynamically forward, rather than nostalgically backwards. What is the role of the writer in this process of reimagining the future?
“One of the reasons I began writing this book was that I couldn’t bear it anymore. I couldn’t bear engaging in these knotty, data-driven policy debates where it was all about parts per million, millisieverts or this technology versus that technology. The reason I am involved in these questions is that I love nature. It’s as simple as that, and yet it has become so fantastically complicated to pursue that love of nature and I have been led into places which seem very far away from my initial impulse. I’m not saying we shouldn’t engage in those debates. However there is a limit to how much of yourself you can give to them. Especially if, like me, you are motivated by passion and delight and joy and there is precious little of those to be found in a COP meeting or a G8 declaration. On the whole we have given too much of our lives to those intricate and ultimately unyielding politics. And not enough of our lives to the joy and the wonder that motivate us to engage in those politics.
“And I think as a writer my role should be to open up people’s imagination, to inspire people to throw themselves in body and soul, and not just mind, into the question of how to reengage with and defend the natural world. Over the years I have discovered that an ounce of hope is worth a ton of despair in motivating people and that there is a lot of hope out there if we are prepared to grasp it. Not just for a less bad world than there would otherwise have been, which is generally the promise of environmentalism, but the hope of a much better world than we have today, which is the promise of rewilding.
“I do think that paleoecology opens the doors of perception; to me it feels like a portal to an enchanted kingdom. By understanding our past eco-systems we can begin to understand what our own ecosystems mean, and what they represent – which is generally an incredibly impoverished and degraded version of what was before. A system lacking in its large animals and indeed in its trees is a qualitively different system to one that retains them. But also through understanding the past we can begin to grope towards a vision of a richer and more enchanting future.
“We had an astonishing rich marine and terrestrial ecology, and we can get it back. And that possibility can add so much wonder and enchantment to the lives of people who are finding hyper-civilised Britain to be boring and stale and predictable and grey. One of my aims in Feral was to open up our vision to what nature can be and to encourage people to ask, not only just what is here, but what could be here.”
Charlotte Du Cann is Editor-in-Chief of Transition Free Press and author of 52 Flowers That Shook My World – A Radical Return to Earth (Two Ravens Press).