Paul Donovan reviews Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist by Paul Kingsnorth
Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist by Paul Kingsnorth (Faber and Faber, £14.99)
THIS fascinating book raises some fundamental questions about our relationship with the environment.
Made up of a series of articles that Paul Kingsnorth wrote in publications between 2009 and 2016, the result is an account of a man plotting his own path through life, while trying to make sense of the world in which he lives.
Realisation dawns as the author moves from the early years of walking with his father in the wilds of Cumbria through the road protests of Twyford Down and on to the environmental movement today.
It’s a path that leads to a certain disillusion with much of that movement, which he sees as being consumption obsessed.
Kingsnorth criticises the lack of concern over the mass extinction of species that has gone on over recent decades, when the focus of environmentalists has been reduced to advocating cutting carbon to address climate change or, as he succinctly puts it, “the business of sustainability.”
The argument has become one of wind farms versus wave machines, with no effort being made to address the issue of consumption.
Kingsnorth looks at the idea of progress, which he concludes has brought humanity to the point of self-destruction today.
He cites the palaeolithic period between 30,000 and 9,000 BC, when people were living the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
Even taller and healthier than late-20th century Americans, their wellbeing was due to a healthy lifestyle but palaeolithic man became too good at hunting, killing off the food supply while the population swelled, thereby sowing the seeds of demise.
This type of cycle has continued with agrarianism and the green revolution of recent times. The “progress” question, a troubling one that is somewhat unresolved in the book, might leave the reader with a feeling of hopelessness.
But Kingsnorth offers ways to fight back. Having moved to Ireland and bought a bungalow with 2.5 acres, he now seeks to live with nature, using traditional methods like the scythe to cut grass and make hay and there is a vivid description of the creation of a compost toilet.
He has got rid of much technology from his life such as smart phones and television and there is a sense of a turning back of “progress” in the conventional sense to reclaim some of the simpler, more eco-friendly ways of living.
Kingsnorth’s embracing narrative covers much ground and poses questions demanding deeper answers both of the environmental movement as well as politicians who, in many cases it would seem, are simply managing natural decline — ironically, often in the name of progress.
The hope in the book comes from the power within us all to in some way make a difference by changing lifestyles to a more compatible and complementary way of living with our environment.