In a provocative essay in the environmental magazine Orion, “Dark Ecology: Searching for truth in a post-green world,” Paul Kingsnorth faces honestly the difficult place we humans find ourselves in the midst of multiple, cascading ecological crises. Rejecting the technological fundamentalism and market madness of the “neo-environmentalists” — what he describes as “an old-fashioned Big Science, Big Tech, and Big Money narrative filtered through the lens of the internet and garlanded with holier-than-thou talk about saving the poor and feeding the world” — Kingsnorth grapples with the paradox that “progress” has brought us to the brink:
If you want human-scale living, you doubtless do need to look backward. If there was an age of human autonomy, it seems to me that it probably is behind us. It is certainly not ahead of us, or not for a very long time; not unless we change course, which we show no sign of wanting to do.
and articulates a sensible summary of our challenge:
This is what intelligent green thinking has always called for: human and nonhuman nature working in some degree of harmony, in a modern world of compromise and change in which some principles, nevertheless, are worth cleaving to. “Nature” is a resource for people, and always has been; we all have to eat, make shelter, hunt, live from its bounty like any other creature. But that doesn’t preclude us understanding that it has a practical, cultural, emotional, and even spiritual value beyond that too, which is equally necessary for our well-being.
Kingsnorth does not sugar-coat the challenge we face:
Is it possible to observe the unfolding human attack on nature with horror, be determined to do whatever you can to stop it, and at the same time know that much of it cannot be stopped, whatever you do? Is it possible to see the future as dark and darkening further; to reject false hope and desperate pseudo-optimism without collapsing into despair?
His suggestion for how to respond — withdrawing, preserving nonhuman life, getting your hands dirty, insisting that nature has a value beyond utility, building refuges — is a partial list, not suited to the talents and temperament of everyone. But his essay is a good place to focus our attention on what matters in a new year. For more, check out the Dark Mountain Project.