‘Let’s call these places ours, the solid earth, the actual world, held and revered and looked after in common.’ – Richard Powers, New York Times, June 16, 2017
Like the heinous destruction of irreplaceable ancient woodland in the path of the hi-speed railway line being built for the sake of shaving 29 minutes off a journey to Birmingham, the threatened devastation of our coastal landscape at Graveney Marshes is a horrific act. The heartbreaking decision to grant it planning permission beggars belief.
Hundreds of people and organisations wrote to the Planning Inspectorate dealing with the application, enumerating the awful consequences of this social and ecological vandalism, explaining factors such as its impact on biodiversity, heritage, coastal defence, socio-economic life and landscape, the impact of noise and traffic and the potential dangers of catastrophic accidents. Like the land- and water-defenders of First Nation peoples standing up against vested interests, corporate power and complicit governments, the local community here and their allies fought courageously against this outrageous plan. Graveney Rural Environmental Action Team provided detailed, comprehensive information about the destruction of community, wildlife and countryside it would entail.
‘We are bound in a covenant of reciprocity, a pact of mutual responsibility to sustain those who sustain us …. In Potawatomi, we speak of the land as emingoyak: that which has been given to us. In English, we speak of the land as “natural resources”, or “ecosystem services”, as if the lives of other beings were our property.’ – Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants
How ironic that we who have long argued for an end to fossil fuel dependency have to protest against a solar energy project. But projects such as Cleve Hill Solar ‘Park’, industrialising huge swathes of countryside, are entirely the wrong way to go about developing sustainable energy, benefiting only private companies and shareholders.
I write my thoughts here almost as a kind of therapy, to express feelings of dismay and deter depression, to vent outrage, not only about this specific plan but the underlying assumptions and attitude that make possible such atrocious disasters.
How did one species of the planet’s life-forms come to be so utterly alienated from, and ignorant about, the interconnectedness of the ecosystem we are all part of – so indifferent to its fate, so oblivious to its beauty?
It’s a rhetorical question of course: we know how. The economic system that prioritises economic ‘growth’ that destroys the ground, air and water we depend upon prizes profit over all else. Its beneficiaries are intent on hoarding the wealth of the world to concentrate it in the pockets of an elite minority. They’ll use any techniques they can to perpetuate this, including greenwashing to con us that they are doing something good.
The terminology used in societies based on this system denies reality. Words fail us; euphemisms camouflage the truth. We speak of ‘the environment’ or ‘nature’ as if it were something separate from ourselves, something outside of us. The word ‘development’ also misleads, implying progress, betterment, yet ‘developers’ are often in fact destroyers.
Perhaps other languages have better ways of talking about our earth. Speech that actually reflects the reality that we humans are one part of a vast, interlocking, finely-calibrated ecosystem in which each species plays a role, has a niche, fulfils a purpose and supports the others.
Now, however, this carefully-balanced synchronicity is slipping out of joint, with our and our fellow species facing extinction and the planet’s very survival endangered.
Yet the ecological terrorism carries on: poisoning and polluting our land, air and water, exploiting and killing people and other animals, in the ruthless pursuit of profit. The elite of this racialised, patriarchal, capitalist system have arrogated for themselves an assumption of entitlement, placing themselves at the apex of a hierarchy based on the deluded belief that they have dominion over all, heedless of the fact that the system is destroying the very raw materials it relies on: capitalism eating itself.
‘That is the Copernican shift we should be seeking: not us at the center of the universe but the universe as the frame in which all living things live.’ – Adam Nicolson, August 2018
We can only wonder what sort of person looks at natural and wild spaces, beautiful landscapes, acres of earth with its networks of waterways, and instead of seeing life, understanding themselves to be a part of it, sees only emptiness (‘muddy fields,’ as a representative of the company planning to destroy Graveney Marshes was overheard to say.) Who, rather than seeing millions of living forms, herons, earthworms, larks, insects, eels and voles, or hearing the air full of birdsong – sees only a blank space awaiting exploitation, ripe for the extractivist mentality to maximise financial value? Who looks at the sun – which shines on all equally, the source of all our life – and instead of seeing that light and energy as part of the commons, which could pour into and energise society through the conduits of rooftop panels, plans to privatise and monetise it?
Someone who simply calculates how much power they can harness and siphon off in speculative energy markets, presumably. Who hacks down trees and plants unaware that they provide our oxygen and recycle carbon, oblivious to the everyday miracles of photosynthesis. Who is indifferent to the voracious piecemeal killing of the earth which sustains all life. Who pretends that they don’t know the climate of the planet is out of control, in order to perpetuate business as usual. Who considers themselves so separate from the rest of nature, so broken is their relationship to it, they turn it into commodities, assets, private property. And then pretends to care about renewable energy generation when clearly corporate interests are the real concern.
Perhaps it is a person who has not stood on our coast in the stillness of night silence and gazed up at the stars wheeling overhead, or followed an owl drifting ghostly in moonlight across the marshes, or sat enjoying sunshine to admire the slow growth of orange lichen splashes on sea walls, or watched flocks of geese arriving by the thousand after long migrations, or sat on grass amid butterflies and dragonflies, listening to breezes in the reeds, and has never felt a profound sense of awe and awareness of the oneness of all living things.
A person produced by a society that wrenches people apart into atomised competitive units, a society which has given corporates so much power they can act with impunity and indifference. A society with no feeling for the harmonious web of relationships between all living things in their infinite diversity, and evincing no sense of a responsibility to care for land or for other people of current or future generations. Which doesn’t realise, or care, that the soil that it carelessly bulldozes out of its way is alive, or that a handful of such soil can be home to more living organisms than there are people on earth. Who is ignorant of carbon and nitrogen cycles.
These are people who need to go back to school, to be educated in basic facts of biology and ecology. Yet they continue to destroy their own home planet, and planning officials, politicians and landowners collude with them. The schoolchildren protesting to save us all from destruction could provide much-needed lessons to such people.
New research shows the devastating damage to every organ in the body from toxic air, the fatal extent of which the WHO deems a global public health emergency. The pollution caused by thousands of HGV and LGV journeys traversing local roads in Graveney during years of construction of this industrialised site and subsequently in itself constitutes an argument against this ludicrous idea.
There is a saying attributed to a Native American leader: ‘Only when the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten, and the last stream poisoned, will you realize that you cannot eat money.’ Perhaps the insatiable profiteers realise that truth of that, hence the schemes to colonise moons, asteroids and other planets to extract yet more resources and become even richer, indifferent to the devastation, poverty and crisis left in their wake. So great is the extent of this hubris that some scientists have begun warning of a need for legal protection to guard against this expansion into space!
An open-mindedness to ways of relating to the world that differ from the dominant western view is desperately needed. ‘Interconnection is a central core of First Nations, Inuit and Metis worldviews and ways of knowing. Some First Nations sum this up with the phrase “all my relations”. This approach reflects people who are aware that everything in the universe is connected. It also reinforces the knowledge that everyone and everything has a purpose, is worthy of respect and caring, and has a place in the grand scheme of life.‘
The western model of land ownership, dividing it into parcels of individually owned sections, spread through European colonisation across the globe, is so normalised as to be unremarked. Yet to those people who know that we belong to the earth, and not it to us, it is absurd. Ultimately the concept of owning sunlight is as absurd as owning the sea, soil or rivers. Does the earthworm know that its world, the earth it creates and refreshes (without which, again, no life can exist) is covered by a title deed on piece of paper? Water too is a natural resource ‘owned’ by and under control of privatised companies. And now the energy of the sun itself is being captured, stored, bought and sold, a commodity to speculate on in a callous system of exploitation which, like that of oil, gas and coal, rides roughshod over communities, indifferent to their suffering. The only hope is a change of direction to reverse the destruction. All over the world, this hope is provided by everyone who protests against the killing of the Earth by cynical corporate ventures.
We have precious little time to effect this necessary rethink of the human relationship to the land and all the other creatures with whom we share the planet. Government institutions such as the Planning Inspectorate have made the choice to further the destruction not help to halt it. They may know, somewhere, that it is wrong to cover hundreds of acres of countryside with metal and concrete. But what hope of enlightened thinking or action to repair our shared world from those currently in power, of recognition that it is time for a radical paradigm shift, a reimagining our relationship to our unique planet and its life? In Britain’s current arid political landscape, it’s hardly likely that those in power will widen their remit to match the scale and appropriateness of action that needs to be taken and join those on the right side of history, rather than choosing to contribute to its ending. Nevertheless, we persist, and must fight on.
In the expanding solidarity networks of movements for economic justice, social justice, racial justice, environmental justice, at local and global levels – in kinship with grassroots movements of all ages and cultures, the ideals of HS2 protesters living in the trees, anti-fracking and anti-mining campaigners, indigenous peoples for decolonisation like the First Nations of the Americas and Aotearoa and the dispossessed Palestinians, the Black Lives Matter movement – we can see ongoing, worldwide work building links towards ending patriarchal violence, state violence, racist violence, ecological violence, and there find great inspiration.